Havana, 1959, in the last days of Batista. A mercenary former British Army Major, Robert Dapes (Sean Connery) is enlisted by the head of a crumbling regime, to act as security adviser and rally the troops against Castro’s insurgent guerrillas. He is reunited with former flame Alexandra Pulido (Brooke Adams), a local tobacco factory manager with a playboy alcoholic for a husband (Chris Sarandon) and together they are swept up in a revolution which may tear them forever apart.
Review by Keith Lofthouse:
Over the years I’ve felt the need to apologise, in the face of fierce public misworship, for being a harsh and strident critic of (ugh!) Casablanca. But for Richard Lester’s perhaps accidental but thinly-veiled rehash of that delirious classic I make no such apology. The plotting is weak; the romance insipid; the politics are perfunctory. Nobody much liked it; nobody went to see it, and those who did hardly realised it was political satire. Some Latin American governments banned it for being pro-Castro, while others claimed that it “offends the Cuban revolution and people.”
And after they made it, the director and star, who had previously worked together quite harmoniously on Robin and Marian (1976), never spoke again.
Cuba, therefore, is fair game for criticism…but I remind you that this fictional love story could easily have been called Casavana! Dapes comes to Cuba at the request of a cynical General Bello (Martin Balsam) who, at the head of Batista’s corrupt regime, is clearly not to be trusted. Dapes faces a losing battle trying to rouse the dispirited troops from their apathy, but once he is ensconced in Bastista’s camp he finds that he is prey to a host of faceless assassins who may include a seedy American profiteer (Jack Weston) or a crop-duster (Denholm Elliott) who makes a more profitable living away from the fields. Dapes is easily distracted from the affairs of state by an affair of the heart…a rekindling of a bout of cradle-snatching from 15 years before when he was madly in lust with the teenage Alexandra, a female cuckold who now knows that she let “the big one” get away. “You were the most exotic, breath-stopping creature I’d ever known,” he purrs, clearly mistaking Brooke Adams for someone in an earlier 007 adventure. But that’s it, basically.
The characters have little more depth and hardly much understanding of the political crisis, as if they are reflecting Lester’s own confusion: whether to focus on this tedious love match, or stoke-up the revolution, or cloud the serious business with a shallow spectacle of escape and landscape. Diana Ross, incredibly, was the original love interest, but at the cost of a hasty rewrite she pulled out to be replaced by a tanned Adams, unconvincing as a Latin lovely that no sane man could lose his shorts over. At least two endings were written, debated and disputed, but the eventual compromise can be written off as a cop out. A concerned Connery himself wanted a hand in the cutting, trying to salvage something from his ill-fitting toupee, or his ineffectual character who surely rates only a 004-and-a-half on the hero meter. It didn’t work out. “I haven’t made too many mistakes,” Connery said in 1981, “but I made one with Cuba.” Well, even Casablanca had its critics…including its co-writer, Julius Epstein. “I can’t understand its staying power,” he said. “It’s such a phoney picture; if it were made today it would be laughed off the screen.” He died in 1952.
Published February 19, 2004
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CUBA: DVD (M15+)
CAST: Sean Connery, Brooke Adams, Martin Balsam
DIRECTOR: Richard Lester
SCRIPT: Charles Wood
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
PRESENTATION: 1.33:1; Dolby digital
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Kaleidoscope
DVD RELEASE: November 24, 2003