Huston's follow-up to THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and KEY LARGO doesn't rank with either of those classics but is certainly entertaining in its own right. It is 1933 and Garfield, an American citizen, is returning to his native Cuba to join his people's revolution. Knowing that some
government officials are about to attend a funeral, Garfield plans to assassinate them by detonating explosives hidden in an underground tunnel beneath a cemetery (an idea that was successfully used in real life to blow up the automobile carrying an heir to Generalissimo Franco in Spain). Garfield
and three comrades begin to build the tunnel, though one of the men, Roland, nearly ruins the plan, objecting that innocent people might be killed. Garfield insists that their scheme is for the good of the revolution and they go ahead with the plan, but things fall apart when officials change the
location of the funeral and the police descend on the revolutionaries. Garfield dies in a terrific gun battle, hearing the sounds of the masses' revolt in the nearby streets.
WE WERE STRANGERS starts out strong, but the film never succeeds in fulfilling its early promise. Huston's characteristic focus on men bonding together under dangerous conditions (that ultimately lead to death) permeates the picture, but his direction never pulls the material together with the
needed excitement. Political themes introduced in the beginning are almost entirely forgotten by the film's end. Still, Huston does know how to tell a story and holds viewer interest throughout. Garfield is good (though at times he seems uncomfortable with the part); Jones, as one of Garfield's
comrades, does a convincing Cuban accent and delivers a nice supporting performance. (Garfield and Huston both had another actress in mind for Jones's role: the then-unknown Marilyn Monroe. Huston set up a color screen test, with Garfield to play opposite her, but for inexplicable reasons it was
canceled by producer Spiegel. Huston ended up using Monroe in his next film, THE ASPHALT JUNGLE.) For some second-unit photography to be done in Havana, Huston and cowriter Viertel went down to scout locations in Cuba, where they looked up Viertel's friend Ernest Hemingway and spent a few days on
the writer's boat, Pilar. Shooting of this serious film was not without its lighter moments: as a gag, Huston planted a prop hand in a grave and then, under moody lighting, instructed Jones to dig. The effect was perfect, giving the actress quite a scare.
Huston intended this film to be a political allegory aimed at the House Un-American Activities Committee, but this point was missed by both right- and left-wing factions at home. The conservative Hollywood Reporter accused Huston of serving up "the heaviest dish of Red theory ever served to
audiences outside the Soviet Union," while the Daily Worker dismissed the film as "capitalistic propaganda." "I was," wrote Huston in his autobiography, An Open Book, "able to laugh the whole thing off as utter nonsense." As it turned out, viewers of all political persuasions were uninterested in
the film, and Columbia pulled it from release shortly after its premiere because of the poor turnout at the box office.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Huston's follow-up to THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and KEY LARGO doesn't rank with either of those classics but is certainly entertaining in its own right. It is 1933 and Garfield, an American citizen, is returning to his native Cuba to join his people… (more)