Our Man in Havana (film)

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Our Man in Havana
Our man in Havana (film) poster.jpg
theatrical poster
Directed byCarol Reed
Written byGraham Greene
Produced byCarol Reed
StarringAlec Guinness
Burl Ives
Ralph Richardson
Noël Coward
Maureen O'Hara
Ernie Kovacs
CinematographyOswald Morris
Edited byBert Bates
Music byFrank Deniz
Laurence Deniz
Kingsmead Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 30 December 1959 (1959-12-30)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$2,000,000 (US/ Canada)[1]

Our Man in Havana is a 1959 British spy comedy film shot in CinemaScope, directed and produced by Carol Reed, and starring Alec Guinness, Burl Ives, Maureen O'Hara, Ralph Richardson, Noël Coward and Ernie Kovacs.[2][3][4] The film is adapted from the 1958 novel Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene. The film takes the action of the novel and gives it a more comedic touch. The movie marks Reed's third collaboration with Greene.[5]


In pre-revolutionary Cuba, James Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman, is recruited by Hawthorne of the British Secret Intelligence Service to be their Havana operative. Instead of recruiting his own agents, Wormold invents agents from men he knows only by sight and sketches "plans" for a rocket-launching pad based on vacuum cleaner parts to increase his value to the service and to procure more money for himself and his expensive daughter Milly.

Because his importance grows, he is sent a secretary, Beatrice, and a radioman from London to be under his command. With their arrival, it becomes much harder for Wormold to maintain his facade. However, all of his invented information begins to come true: his cables home are intercepted and believed to be true by enemy agents who then act against his "cell". One of his "agents" is killed, and he is targeted for assassination. He admits what he has done to his secretary, and he is recalled to London. At the film's conclusion, rather than telling the truth to the Prime Minister and other military intelligence services, Wormold's commanders (led by Ralph Richardson) agree to fabricate a story claiming his imagined machines had been dismantled. They bestow an OBE on Wormold and offer him a position teaching espionage classes in London.



Alfred Hitchcock tried to get the film rights to the novel but felt they were too expensive. A deal was done with Carol Reed, who had made several successful films based on Graham Greene's novels, and Columbia Studios, for whom Reed had just made The Key. Greene and Reed worked on the script together in Brighton and London.[6]

Columbia wanted actors in the cast familiar to American audiences, which led to the casting of such names as Maureen O'Hara, Burl Ives, and Ernie Kovacs, and making the daughter character American. Reed wanted the daughter played by Jean Seberg but she had signed to make Breathless. Kovacs recommend Jo Morrow, who was under contract to Columbia.[7]

Filming started on location in Havana in March 1959 just two months after the overthrow of the Batista regime. Shooting was relatively smooth, with some difficulties.[8] Fidel Castro visited the film crew on 13 May 1959, while they shot scenes at Havana's Cathedral Square.[9] The unit then moved to London and filmed at Shepperton Studios.

Alec Guiness wrote that Reed wanted him to play his part differently to how the actor envisioned.

I had seen, partly suggested by the name, an untidy, shambling, middle-aged man with worn shoes, who might have bits of string in his pocket, and perhaps the New Statesman under his arm, exuding an air of innocence, defeat and general inefficiency. When I explained this Carol said, ‘We don’t want any of your character acting. Play it straight. Don’t act.’ That might be okay for some wooden dish perhaps but was disastrous for me. ‘Mustn’t act, mustn’t act,’ I kept repeating to myself; and didn’t. The director, particularly a world-famous one like Carol, is always right. Or often so.[10]

Graham Greene later said:

My books don’t in fact make good films, and when I write a novel I never think about whether it might adapt to the screen. The only book written with the screen in mind, It’s a Battlefield, was never made into a film. The only good films, The Third Man and The Fallen Idol, are those which I wrote as screenplays. The rest were nearly all made in America and were, with one exception, deplorable. As for Our Man in Havana and Brighton Rock, this may sound pretentious, but all that saved them was the fact that I took a close hand in their production.[11]



Our Man in Havana was positively received by film critics; it has a "fresh" rating of 95% (with 20 reviews) at the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.[12] However according to Guiness:

When the film was released we both received a well-deserved poor press. On the morning the critics flayed us Carol invited me round to his Chelsea home for a drink. We stood side by side rather despondently, looking out of a window at small children scampering in the Kings Road. ‘At least they can’t read,’ Carol said. We shrugged the whole thing off. The only person I felt sorry for was Graham, who had been lucky with Carol in the past but was to continue to be unlucky with me.[10]

Sight and Sound magazine later said:

Sir Carol Reed, resuming his partnership with Greene after several years, has been given a subject more or less hand-made for him. He dould scarcely go wrong; but it is a little sad, when one looks back to the evenly matched teamwork of The Third Man, to note that the writer now seems more agile than the director. Greene’s novel scored as cleanly as a knock-out. Sir Carol’s film wins on points, but it is sometimes a near thing; and it is the director’s footwork, his ability to manoeuvre his way through all the shifting moods of the story, which seems to have slowed up with the years.[13]

Graham Greene blamed the performance of Jo Morrow for wrecking the film.[14]


The film was nominated for the Golden Globe best picture (comedy or musical) award, and Reed was nominated for best director by the Directors Guild of America, losing both prizes to The Apartment.

Box Office[edit]

Kine Weekly called it a "money maker" at the British box office in 1960.[15]


  1. ^ "Rental Potentials of 1960", Variety, 4 January 1961 p 47. Please note figures are rentals as opposed to total gross.
  2. ^ Variety film review; 13 January 1960, page 7.
  3. ^ Monthly Film Bulletin review; 1960, page 4.
  4. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; 30 January 1960, page 18.
  5. ^ Before was The Fallen Idol (1948), The Third Man (1949)
  6. ^ Wapshott p 285-286
  7. ^ Wapshott p 287
  8. ^ Raines, Halsey (13 May 1959). "Shooting 'Our Man in (Troubled) Havana". Variety. p. 17.
  9. ^ "Fidel Castro, Maureen O'Hara and Alec Guinness". 16 January 2009. Retrieved 24 January 2021 – via Flickr.
  10. ^ a b Guinness, Alec (1987). Blessings in disguise. Warner Books. p. 206.
  11. ^ Greene, Graham (1991). Conversations with Graham Greene. Penguin Books. p. 146.
  12. ^ Our Man in Havana at Rotten Tomatoes
  13. ^ Houston, Penelope (January 1960). "Our Man in Havana". Sight and Sound. p. 35.
  14. ^ Wapshott p 293
  15. ^ Billings, Josh (15 December 1960). "It's Britain 1, 2, 3 again in the 1960 box office stakes". Kine Weekly. p. 9.


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