“If you thought about anything but snatch and poker, you’d be a remarkable man,” Alan Arkin’s character says near the beginning of Havana, maybe the least-known, least-talked about of the Robert Redford-Sydney Pollack collaborations.
It isn’t a great film and it doesn’t need to be. It is enough that it tries to be good and often succeeds. Perhaps it did not have the power to sweep up critics and audiences at the time of its release. In its Casablanca-like plot (a lone wolf American expatriate who falls for a married woman surrounded by political turmoil), I don’t think it tries to replicate that classic’s large cinematic moments. Instead, it remains quiet, subtle even in the scope of its historical setting.
There is no way that I can describe the film better than to include some dialogue from the scenes I like most:
When Redford saves his love interest (Lena Olin) from torture at the hands of the Cuban secret police, they discuss their backgrounds while he fries her an egg sandwich.
Redford: What happened to California?
Olin: I married a writer. He was blacklisted so we had to leave the States.
Redford: A commie, huh? I’ve known goods ones and I’ve known bad ones.
Olin: He wrote westerns.
Redford: I like westerns. I don’t know what they have to do with anything but I like them.
Later, Redford meets up with a character named the Professor, a permanent expatriate with loads of wisdom played the Richard Farnsworth. I can’t help but feel that Redford’s experience with him on The Natural led to this great choice in casting. In the scene, the younger man tells the older that he has met a woman, maybe the most important woman of his life.
Richard Farnsworth: You stick with her. Take the advice of an old man: there’s nothing like a woman… or two. They love men, even jerks. The biggest jerk you ever knew somewhere somehow has a woman who’s nuts over him. Women are perfect, the rest is bullshit.
Richard Farnsworth (left) in The Natural
Later, Redford and Olin get into an argument over politics. Even more than Bogie’s Rick, Redford’s Jack cares nothing for affairs of the state. If he does anything political, it is purely for the love of this woman. Here is a line from the film that I think works very well.
Redford: Jesus, you can’t live ideas. Most things that are alive don’t even have ideas. What’s really going on happens before ideas, before talk, before anybody says anything.
Director Pollack and Havana stars
Written by Judith Rascoe and David Rayfiel, directed by the late great Sydney Pollack, Havana is a good film, worth-watching. It deserves a second chance.