From Our Man In Havana, from Graham Greene and Carol Reed

Great movie. As good as The Third Man? Maybe. A cross between Touch of Evil and The Quiet American, with Alec Guinees – that would be Sir Alec Guiness – trying to learn the ropes as a spy in the Cold War, while keeping track of his very elgible daughter, who is obsessed with horses … ahem …

Here’s a nice paragraph from Wikipedia, concerning his conversion:

While serving in the Royal Navy, Guinness had planned to become an Anglica priest. However, in 1954, while he was filming Father Brown in Burgundy, Guinness, who was in costume as a Catholic priest, was mistaken for a real priest by a local child. Guinness did not speak French, and the child apparently did not notice that Guinness did not understand him, but took his hand and chattered while the two strolled then waved and trotted off. The confidence and affection the clerical attire appeared to inspire in the boy left a deep impression on the actor. Alec and Merula Guinness were formally received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1956. They would remain devout and regular church-goers for the remainder of their lives. Their son Matthew had converted to Catholicism some time earlier. Every morning, Guinness recited a verse from Psalm 143, “Cause me to hear your loving kindness in the morning”. Alec Guinness consulted Tarot cards for a time, but came to the conclusion that the symbols of the cards mocked Christianity and burned the cards.

Well, watch the movie; it’s a good one.


  1. Matthew Lickona says

    That account of conversion is based on Guinness' own account in his autobiography. Piers Paul Ried's bio gives a much more thorough account. The incident with a child was a dramatic moment for the actor to latch upon, but the interest in the RC went way back. And do read the book – the movie softened some of its bite. He's not trying to learn the ropes – he's trying to game the system. It's a black comedy. And not as good, in my opinion, as The Third Man.

  2. Quin Finnegan says

    Thanks, Matthew. I liked the setting in the cold war, and it bugged me a little that they didn't refer to it more directly. I get the comedy, and it's black enough … but how ought one react to Our Man putting a horse bridle around his rather lithesome daughter's neck?

  3. Matthew Lickona says

    If you want to watch Guinness as a cold war operative, rent Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – it's a BBC miniseries. I'm halfway through. It's slow, but delicious.

    Here, the point isn't the cold war, it's paranoia – the sort that allows Our Man to game the system.

    Is not the bridle part of the comedy's blackness?

  4. Quin Finnegan says

    In redrafting the comment I left in the "but" – yes, that is the blackness of the comedy. It is funny – my immediate reaction just wasn't to laugh. My stomach was sinking to fast.

    Re: the cold war, I get the paranoia, but I'm generally wary of Greene's treatment of the US/Soviet conflict.

  5. Jonathan Webb says

    "Tinker…" is totally awesome, you'll like it a lot. Pre-when-anger-took-over LaCarre. Although "A Perfect Spy" has its moments. You may want to check out that mini-series.

    "Anyone know where we can find a good mixed grill?"

    HONOR Guiness played a big role in her brother's catholocism as well.

  6. Whenever I read that account of Guinness and the little boy it makes my stomach sink, because I wonder,"Could this happen today?" Probably not, and how sad.


  7. Jonathan Webb says

    Mrs. Webb and I have been discussing the friendlinesss (poor grammar) toward strangers issue and I've come to the conclusion that the risk isn't in being friendly, but in the tactical situation for the kid. This would apply to women as well. If the kid is around their parents, or people who will watch out for them, if they keep away from cars, from hidden spaces and if they know what to do if people grab them, then what is the risk in being friendly. In fact, it might make people safer to be friendly because they'll have more confidence to act when necessary and they might excercise better judgement (see Sydney Greenstreet's words to Spade in "The Maltese Falcon")

  8. Well, my point is that Guinness was impressed by the fact that the child was so trusting towards a priest–any priest. He had been raised in a society where a priest was, naturally, a safe person. Now, children won't be taught that. And the priest, unless he is entirely selfless, won't be willing to let a child latch onto him like that unless the parents are around. It's just sad.
    AMDG, Janet

  9. Jonathan Webb says

    You're right and I understand and agree.

  10. Jonathan Webb says

    Reed was a very modern director, very ahead of his time.

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