Manolo Valdes (Tito Renaldo) is an outspoken opponent of President Machado’s regime in Cuba and is working to bring revolution to his country by passing out literature to spread his message. One day, he and his fellow revolution-wanting students are caught distributing the leaflets and chased by the corrupt police.
Manolo manages to evade capture and goes into hiding out of fear, but is soon tracked down by the police and killed. His sister, China (Jennifer Jones), decides to join the revolutionary effort in order to avenge Manolo’s death.
Meeting with an underground group of men seeking change at any cost, China agrees to assist Tony Fenner (John Garfield) and his men with an assassination plan targeting Machado’s right-hand men.
John Huston directs 1949’s We Were Strangers.
The tone of We Were Strangers is suitably dark to match the subject matter. Death, crime, and corruption are the norm in this tale of Cuba’s “white terror” (as opening text refers to it) which stretched from the mid-1920s through 1933. Since the film’s characters are all either fighting for political and social change or fighting to avenge the death of a relative, a lighter take on the story wouldn’t have been appropriate. Freedom may be achieved, but at high cost, with plenty of violence involved.
The film is moderately paced, but tension builds when the bomb plot comes in, adding even higher stakes to the story. There are a few genuinely heart-pounding scenes, including one which involves a game of Russian roulette. The photography also adds plenty of mood, making great use of shadow and high contrast.
Garfield and Jones make an interesting screen pair. Garfield’s character is American, a hard-edged man bent on freedom for a country that isn’t his own. Jones’ character is driven by the loss of her brother. Both are quite disillusioned. Their performances (aside from Jones’ accent) are generally good, though the spark between them could be stronger.
I watched this film through a box set of eight romance films and it’s an interesting addition to that set. There is a romance involved, but the criminal and political intrigue of the plot is much more memorable. Perhaps it isn’t as sweetly romantic as the other films in the set, but it does at least add a bit of variety.
I wouldn’t class We Were Strangers as a highly gripping political thriller, but it is an interesting watch, and I especially appreciate it for the fact that it taught me a little bit about a part of history I’d never known much about. The score: 3/5