Oblong Books’ “Fiction into Film” dissects Our Man in Havana

Upstate Films and Oblong Books are co-presenting a “Fiction into Film” series that will offer the opportunity to debate that age-old question: “Which was better, the book or the movie?”

Upstate Films in Rhinebeck will host a film screening of Our Man in Havana (1960) on Sunday, January 15 at 12:30 p.m. Those planning to attend are invited to read the book on which the film is based (available at Oblong Books) beforehand, sign up for Oblong’s book group, then stay after the screening for a book-versus-movie discussion.

Participation in the book discussion is free; the movie screening will require the purchase of a ticket. Admission costs $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students and $6 for members of Upstate Films and kids under age 16. Tickets to the film are available on the day-of at the box office, by cash or check only. Those wishing to participate in the book group must preregister at www.oblongbooks.com.

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The novel Our Man in Havana (1958), written by British author Graham Greene, makes fun of intelligence services, especially the British MI6, and their willingness to believe reports from their local informants. The book predates the Cuban Missile Crisis, but certain aspects of the plot – notably the parts involving missile installations – appear to anticipate the events of 1962.

It was adapted into a film of the same name in 1960, directed by Carol Reed, starring Sir Alec Guinness as Jim Wormold, Noel Coward as Hawthorne, Jo Morrow as Milly, Maureen O’Hara as Beatrice Severn and Ernie Kovacs as Captain Segura. Graham Greene wrote the screenplay. The cast also features Burl Ives and Sir Ralph Richardson. The film runs one hour and 55 minutes.

The humorous plot follows the misadventures of a vacuum cleaner salesman who finds himself becoming an agent in the British Secret Service. Jim Wormold (Guinness) is an expatriate Englishman living in pre-revolutionary Havana with his teenage daughter Milly (Jo Morrow). He owns a vacuum cleaner shop, but isn’t very successful; so when a British intelligence agent (Noel Coward) who’s looking for information on Cuban affairs recruits Jim to act as a spy, he accepts. With no experience in espionage and no useful knowledge to pass along, he turns in reports on the Cuban revolution that are copied from public documents, “hires” additional agents who don’t exist and presents blueprints of secret weapons that are actually schematics of his carpet sweepers.

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