In the wake of the Cuban revolution, Steve Daggett (Cameron Mitchell) is travelling from Miami to Havana. An old friend, Hank Miller (Logan Field), has disappeared after living in Cuba for several years. Steve hopes to find out what happened to Hank.
Upon arrival in Cuba, Steve is greeted by a police lieutenant named Garcia (Michael Granger) who acknowledges Hank’s disappearance and seems at least somewhat willing to aid Steve in solving the mystery. Garcia introduces Steve to Hank’s connections in Cuba, including his wife, a singer named Monica (Allison Hayes) with whom Steve is already acquainted; and Monica’s wealthy new beau Fernando (Eduardo Noriega).
The journey to unravel the mystery of Hank’s disappearance turns out to be quite a complicated one. Will Steve ever be able to find his friend?
Edward L. Cahn directs 1959’s Pier 5, Havana. Based on a story by Joseph Hoffman, it was written for the screen by James B. Gordon.
The film opens with narration describing the Cuban revolution and explaining why Steve feels that he must travel to Havana. Spurts of narration continue throughout the remainder of the film for further clarification of what’s happening on screen.
This narration and the film’s energetic score lend a unique mood to the film. The narration has a very matter-of-fact and serious tone, and the score sometimes seems frantic in comparison. The combination of the two can be a bit perplexing for the viewer, but in general it works in the film’s favor. It would have worked even better had the film’s pace been quicker in the first half.
Pier 5, Havana boasts a pretty good level of drama and an engrossing plot. There are some of the typical low-budget scenes of action and fist-fighting madness that always seem to be present in lesser-known crime dramas. These serve as very slight pace pick-ups tossed at the viewer to keep us on our toes, and they successfully do so.
The real draw for this film, though, is its odd historical significance. It was actually filmed (in part, at least) on location in Cuba, which is pretty rare for post-Revolution Hollywood films (according to the New York Times).
In addition, the “bad guys” are not suspected to be Castro’s supporters — rather, Steve suspects that Hank has been targeted by anti-Castro forces. America’s attitudes toward Cuba and Castro were rapidly flip-flopping during the late 1950s, and the Bay of Pigs debacle was only a couple years away. The fact that counterrevolutionaries are painted as “the enemy” here is certainly a fascinating element to the film’s story.
In the beginning there isn’t exactly a heavy pro-Castro element to the film, despite the fact that his enemies are the film’s scapegoat. In its earliest scenes the film takes an ambivalent attitude toward the revolution. This changes somewhat later on due to a surprising development to the plot, which I don’t want to spoil here. All I can say, in my quest to avoid spoiling, is that by the end the film has a pretty unique perspective (for an American film) on the Cuban revolution and on Castro as a leader.
Pier 5, Havana has some pacing problems and does drag a bit from time to time, but it is worth watching if for no other reason than as an interesting slice of the changing attitudes about the Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro. The score: 3/5