Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Movies I've Missed (Until Now): Club Havana

I heard about the movie DETOUR and its director, Edgar G. Ulmer, for years, and when I finally got around to watching it, I liked it a lot. Now I’ve watched another Ulmer film, the much more obscure CLUB HAVANA, and it’s . . . interesting.

CLUB HAVANA is basically a Grand Hotel sort of movie, introducing the viewer to a number of different characters who show up at the opulent Miami nightclub of the title. There’s the idealistic young doctor, the married couple on the verge of breaking up, the middle-aged society woman with three very creepy grown children, the gangster who’s suspected of murder, the piano player, assorted other musicians, the somewhat shady switchboard operator . . . You get the idea. Ulmer gives each of these characters a little time in the spotlight, so to speak, and then lets them interact and their storylines intertwine.

The biggest problem with this movie is that at 62 minutes, it’s just too short to do justice to all the plot that Ulmer tries to cram into it. Watching it you get the sense that if it had been thirty or forty minutes longer, it would have been a much better movie. As it is, it’s really rushed, and the fact that at least ten minutes get taken up by a couple of musical numbers doesn’t help matters. Still, there are some striking scenes and genuinely suspenseful moments. The big ending, which takes place in the club’s parking lot, is marred by photography that’s too dark and murky to tell what’s going on most of the time.

Tom Neal, one of the stars of DETOUR, plays the young doctor, and while Neal’s tragic personal life later on inevitably resonates for the modern viewer in these early roles, he’s not given much to do here. Marc Lawrence as the gangster turns in the best performance and the movie would have benefited if his role had been bigger.

Overall, CLUB HAVANA would have been better if it had been longer and had better production values . . . but if it had had those things, then it wouldn’t really be an Ulmer film, now would it? This one’s hard to find, but if you come across a copy it’s worth watching, as a curiosity if nothing else.


Rittster said...

A funny thing about this movie is that I think the mustache on Tom Neal makes him look like a gigolo. A short, unsophisticated gigolo, but a gigolo nonetheless.

For Ulmer fans who haven't seen it, I'd recommend renting the documenarty "Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen." I won't reveal any of it's juicy secrets, but will just say that Ulmer's daughter explodes two
long-standing myths--one
about "Detour" and one about why her father worked for poverty row studios for most of his career.

Great description of a not-easy-to-describe movie, James.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Didn't almost all movies of that era include a night club scene?

Ed Gorman said...

Great post, James. Thanks to you I have a copy and hope to get to it next week. The difference between Ulmer and many of the B directors is that he PRETENDED to have large budget, doing camera set-ups that were damned difficult particularly on his five day shoots. I saw the film Rittser mentioned. I always pictured Ulmer as this quiet, introspective guy who accepted his lot with humility. Uh-uh. He was a true artist with a true artist's ego and love for the grand statement. I was wrong when I said Gale Storm had a dance number in it. That's the problem with a drink and drugged memory of forty years ago (or so), the last time I saw it. Come to think of it maybe that Gale Storm dance number was in Ben-Hur. I haven't seen that for forty years either..