Havana (film)

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Havana imp.jpg
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Produced by Sydney Pollack
Richard Roth
Written by Judith Rascoe
David Rayfiel
Music by Dave Grusin
Cinematography Owen Roizman
Edited by Fredric Steinkamp
William Steinkamp
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • December 14, 1990 (1990-12-14)
Running time
140 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $40 million
Box office $9,243,140

Havana is a 1990 American drama film starring Robert Redford, Lena Olin and Raúl Juliá, directed by Sydney Pollack with music by Dave Grusin. The film's plot concerns Jack Weil (Redford), an American professional gambler who decides to visit Havana, Cuba to gamble. En route to Havana, he meets Roberta Duran (Olin), the wife of a revolutionary, Arturo (Juliá). Shortly after their arrival, Arturo is taken away by the secret police, and Roberta is captured and tortured. Jack frees her, but she continues to support the revolution.


The film is set on the eve of the Cuban Revolution's victory, on January 1, 1959.

On Christmas Eve, 1958, aboard the boat from Miami to Havana, Roberta Duran (Lena Olin) enlists the aid of Jack Weil (Robert Redford) in smuggling in U.S. Army Signal Corps radios destined for the revolutionaries, in the hills. Weil agrees only because he is romantically interested in Roberta Duran. When they rendezvous for the "payoff," Roberta reveals tha she is married, dashing Weil's hopes.

Weil meets up with a Cuban journalist acquaintance (Tony Plana) and during a night on the town, they run into Roberta and her husband, Dr. Arturo Duran. Duran (Raúl Juliá) is a Revolutionary leader. When Roberta points Weil out to him, Duran invites Weil to join them for dinner and asks Weil for further aid to the cause. Weil turns him down, even after Duran outlines the desperate situation confronting the Cuban majority.

The next morning, after a night of debauchery for Weil but a night of arrests of Revolutionaries by the police, Weil reads a newspaper account of Duran's arrest and death. In shock, he continues with the planned poker game, and he meets the head of the secret police. He learns that Roberta was also arrested and held; she was also tortured. Weil uses the debt that one of the other players (a lieutenant) owes him to obtain Roberta's release. In shock from her husband's death and her own experience in jail, she agrees to let him shelter her in his apartment but disappears that afternoon.

Realizing that he is in love with Roberta and encouraged by an old gambling friend, Weil drives into Cuba's interior to find her at Druran's old estate. He persuades her to return with him to Havana and to leave Cuba with him. When she asks, he explains that a lump on his arm contains a diamond that he had sewn into his arm in his youth, as insurance that no matter what happens in life, one always has that diamond.

He makes arrangements for her to leave Cuba via boat, but on his return to the apartment, he is assaulted by two Cubans, who inform him that Arturo demands for him to get Roberta out of the country. In amazement that Duran is still alive, he wrestles with himself and pretends to Roberta that nothing is amiss. He uses the time bought to confirm the story with a CIA agent, Marion Chigwell (Daniel Davis), he knows. He obtains the information by threatening to blow the agent's cover of gourmet magazine writer and then uses it also to make a deal with him regarding Duran. Pretending to work for the CIA, Weil goes to see Dr. Duran, who is held by the chief of the secret police (SIM). He tells the chief that Washington, DC, has new plans for Duran and wants him released, with a payoff of $50,000. He "orders" the chief to have Duran cleaned up and dressed (Duran had been tortured and was in extremely bad shape) and taken to his house. Weil goes to a doctor and then a jeweler to sell the diamond to raise the cash for Duran's release.

Back at his apartment, he informs Roberta, who had decided to make a life with him, of her husband being still alive. In shock, she leaves on her own to find her husband. Meanwhile, Weil had blown the big game with high rollers, for whom he had been angling since the day he arrived in Havana. The casino manager Joe Volpi (Alan Arkin) forgives him, knowing he had made rescuing Roberta his priority.

That night, New Year's Eve, 1959, the insurrection is won by the Revolutionaries. The upper class, the government and the secret police all leave their lavish New Year's Eve parties to make a mad dash to the ports and airport to leave the country. The people pour into the streets, celebrating the victory by trashing the casinos and dancing. Weil and Joe agree that it is a new day and time for them to go.

The next morning, Weil is in a restaurant preparing to depart. He sees Marion who informs him that he is working on a new book now, "The Cuisine of Indochina." Not long after, Roberta shows up to wish him farewell. She sees the bandage on his arm and discovers it had cost him to save her husband for her. They hug goodbye. She remains with the Revolution, and he has been changed by it.

Four years later in 1963, Jack drives down to the Florida Keys and gazes across the sea toward Havana, hoping to see a boat that might bring Roberta on board. He knows the ferry is no longer running. However, he does this every year in the hopes he may someday see Roberta again. He also realizes that the changes in Cuba were being echoed in the changes of the 1960s happening in the United States. It is a new decade.


  • Robert Redford as Jack Weil: A professional gambler, Jack used to be in the U.S. Navy and served in World War II's Pacific Theater, stating that he was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed. Jack comes to Havana to gamble but finds himself getting caught up in the Cuban Revolution.
  • Lena Olin as Bobby Durán: Swedish by birth, Bobby moved to California to become an actress then went to Mexico when her first husband got black listed. When she came to Havana, she soon married Arturo Duran.
  • Alan Arkin as Joe Volpi: Manager of a popular Havana casino, Joe works for infamous Jewish-American mobster Meyer Lansky. Joe is an old friend of Jack's.
  • Raúl Juliá (Uncredited) as Arturo Durán: A member of an old, wealthy family, Arturo is a figurehead in the Revolution but must keep his activities to a minimum in Havana.
  • Tomás Milián as Menocal: A colonel in the secret police, Menocal answers to Batista and tries to keep Havana under control through abduction and murder. Menocal is against the Revolution because he believes no matter who is in charge someone will always suffer.
  • Daniel Davis as Marion Chigwell: A writer for Gourmet magazine, Marion is frequently seen around Havana trying food at restaurants.
  • Tony Plana as Julio Ramos: A friend of Jack's and a reporter, Julio is sympathetic to the Revolution.
  • Betsy Brantley as Diane: An American tourist who meets Jack at a bar.
  • Lise Cutter as Patty: Diane's friend.
  • Richard Farnsworth as the Professor: An old gambler who gives Jack relationship advice.
  • Mark Rydell as Meyer Lansky: The infamous Jewish mobster, he is head of Mafia operations in Havana, owning many of Havana's casinos.
  • Vasek Simek as Willy
  • Fred Asparagus as Baby Hernández
  • Richard Portnow as Mike MacClaney
  • Dion Anderson as Roy Forbes
  • Carmine Caridi as Captain Potts


The reviews were generally negative. The film has a 24% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 25 reviews. On a budget of $40 million, Havana made only $9 million domestically, making it a box office bomb.

The musical score received Golden Globe, Oscar, and Grammy nominations. It was one of Dave Grusin's most acclaimed scores.


Re-created Prado as seen in the film
The film's Havana street under construction prior to production
  • Filming began on November 22, 1989 and completed on April 28, 1990.
  • Raúl Juliá chose to remain uncredited because the film's producers would not give him above-the-title credit alongside Robert Redford and Lena Olin.[1]
  • Tony Plana and Tomás Milián are Cuban-American actors who lived in Cuba during the 1950s. Milián commented that the film recreated 1958 Havana in great detail during the Batista regime's last days. Many of the extras were exiled Cubans who had moved to the Dominican Republic. According to Sydney Pollack, "The atmosphere became quite emotional... They remembered the old days in Havana. Our set took them back 30 years."
  • Sydney Pollack hoped to film in Havana. However, U.S. law would not allow the producers to spend any U.S. dollars in Cuba, U.S. citizens could not legally enter Cuba, and relations between the U.S. and Cuba in 1989 were not conducive to filming an American motion picture in Havana.
  • It was decided to make the entire film in the Dominican Republic. The vegetation was the same, and Santo Domingo offered certain architectural similarities, though not a wide boulevard like Havana's famous Prado (Paseo de Marti). The end scene was filmed in Key West, Florida.
  • The film's main set, called "The Big Set", was a quarter-mile long street surrounded by facades representing casinos, restaurants and hotels. Interior scenes were shot in replicated casino floors, room suites and cafes. The Prado was replicated by the producers at a former air base in the Dominican Republic. To replicate the Prado, a team of about 300 tradesmen was used over 80 neon signs which needed to be made in the U.S. and shipped to the Dominican Republic. It took 20 weeks to construct "The Big Set".
  • Costume designer Bernie Pollock had to outfit 2,000 extras with costumes, and needed 8000–10,000 costumes for frequent changes during different scenes of the film. Besides 1950s period clothing, there were large numbers of hats, accessories, jewellery, gloves, along with 1950s Cuban military uniforms. The wardrobe items were brought in from both Los Angeles and England.
  • About one hundred 1950s vintage American automobiles, buses and trucks appear in the film.
  • The version of Rum and Coca-Cola by The Andrews Sisters is a re-recorded version from 1961 from their DOT Records album Greatest Hits (recorded two years after the film's setting).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fox, David J. (16 December 1990). "So There!". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 

External links[edit]