Our Man in Havana is an excellent, sly black comedy with a screenplay by Graham Greene and directed by Carol Reed. James Wormold (Alec Guinness) is a vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana. He's getting by but needs more money to take care of his teen-aged daughter. He's recruited as a spy for Britain by Noel Coward. He doesn't really know what's wanted, but he can use the money. Since he doesn't know anything of value, he begins making up stories and inventing plans, and mentioning the names of people supposedly involved. The names, of course, are just names he picked at random. His masterpiece is his "discovery" of a giant military complex, the plans of which he gets to his controller (Coward), who sends them on to London. The plans are actually the diagrams of one of his vacuum cleaners. This first part of the movie is a funny, sharp-edged parody of British pomposity and the thick headedness of "intelligence."
But then people begin to die.
It seems there may be more than British spies in Havana, spies who also believe the plans are genuine, and who are a lot more ruthless than the British. The second half of the film is darker, less funny and much more sardonic.
The cast is a strange grouping of disparate acting styles, but somehow they all work very well together. In addition to Guinness and Coward, there is Burl Ives, Ernie Kovacs, Maureen O'Hara and Ralph Richardson. Coward is priceless as a mannered, fatuous, obliviously incompetent spy. Kovacs for once is less Kovacs and more the part. He plays the Cuban police's main man in catching spies. He's amusing, and so are his lines. Among them, "There are two classes of people: those who can be tortured and those who can't." He and Guinness share a great scene where Guinness, who has to get away from Kovacs, challenges him to a checkers match with the pieces being miniature liquor bottles. Each time a piece is taken, the victor has to drink it. Guinness manages to lose regularly. Kovacs preens on his victories and only gradually, and increasingly incoherently, begins to suspect.
For Reed, who directed The Third Man, Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol and other classic films, this is, in my opinion, the last of his first-rate movies. For years it has needed a Region 1 DVD release. There is a fine Region 2 DVD which I have. I'll add to this review if there are any significant differences or extras.