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Carol Reed’s Comedy of Pre-Revolutionary Cuba, Plus “The Singing Revolution”

Carol Reed’s Comedy of Pre-Revolutionary Cuba, Plus “The Singing Revolution” (photo)

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Filmmaking is all about collaboration and fortuity, as much as we genuflect faithfully to the sacredness of the auteur. Take Carol Reed — a career that spanned almost four decades, encompassing 33 features, and yet only a few are memorable (not, God knows, his late-career Oscar-winner “Oliver!”). Essentially, Reed finds his way onto the pantheon’s higher shelves on the strength of only a handful of films, starting with the trio of startling, precise, infinitely rich features he made in the late ’40s, one after the other — “Odd Man Out” (1947), “The Fallen Idol” (1948) and “The Third Man” (1949) — and ending a little less auspiciously with “Our Man in Havana” (1959). The rogue factor here is that three out of the four were written by Graham Greene, whose particular ironic-tension story skills gave many a medium-boil filmmaker his best shot at sublimity. The first three — certainly one of film history’s loveliest and most fecund three-year sprees — have been hailed enough, but the last of the list, an outright Boulting-style comedy set in the Greene-ish world of pre-revolutionary Cuba, remains forgotten. So much so that its DVD release has been folded into the bizarre Sony marketing campaign dubbed “Martini Movies,” which in the current batch entail everything from Arch Oboler’s 1951 sci-fier “Five” to Richard Rush’s 1970 flower-power “Getting Straight,” and which slaps each individual film with its own customized martini recipe, printed right on the disc.

At least “Our Man in Havana” has a robust amount of tippling. (It also evokes the palm trees & pools imagery of Kalatozov’s “I Am Cuba,” coming five years later.) Alec Guinness plays Wormold, a disaffected but far from dim vacuum cleaner salesman stuck in Havana with his luscious but oddly immature teenage daughter (Jo Morrow); he’s accosted by dapper OSI agent Noël Coward (the only man in Cuba constantly plagued by panhandling mariachi bands), and, because the money is tempting, agrees to become a field agent, even though he has no idea what he’s watching for or whom he’s spying on. Soon it becomes apparent that the easy-street situation will collapse unless Wormold recruits some sub-agents and does some espionage, or so he fabricates, and fabricates enough to warrant more attention and actual staff members (including Maureen O’Hara as the least pretentious woman spy ever). So he must fabricate further, to extricate himself from the grips of genuine political trouble.

It’s a quiet movie (too quiet, actually — it’s plagued by those eerie, no-ambient-noise post-dubbing patches common to midcentury British movies), and Guinness plays his sweating fool-in-the-middle so drolly he actually tamps the potential comedy down to a chucklesome hum. But Coward, winding up his spy master expositions with a flurry of hands and an “all that rubbish,” is crisply hilarious, OSI chief Ralph Richardson makes every line of his sound like a hard-boiled egg thrown through a window, Ernie Kovacs chews his scenery like a cigar butt as a corrupt and horny head of Havana police, and Greene has planted racy running jokes throughout the movie like land mines. Four years before “Dr. No,” but in the bestseller heyday of Ian Fleming’s pulp geyser, Brit spy culture gets a vinegar pie in the face. The movie’s political position towards British intelligence bungling and Batista-era corruption is uniquely relevant — the Castro revolution had wrapped up only three months before filming began, and Castro was so content with the movie’s slant that filming in Havana wasn’t interfered with, and its filmmakers were never painted as Communist in the middle of the Red-scare Cold War era. Given the criminal foot-tripping of spies in and around Cuba in the ’60s, maybe they were simply right.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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