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Director: Sydney Pollak

Rating **1/2

This 1990 movie tries valiantly to re-create Cuba on the eve of its 1959 takeover by anti-Batista revolutionaries. While it's a good period piece that manages to insert some actual footage of Old Havana, it feels like just another guerrillas-against-government-troops movie. In this Casablanca of the Caribbean, an American falls in love with a high-minded Socialist babe who is married to someone famous. He chases after her while dodging bullets and then loses her to a greater cause.

The cast is pretty solid, but it doesn't have much original material to work with. Robert Redford is professional gambler Jack Weil; Lena Olin is his love interest Bobby Duran; and Raul Julia is her husband, Arturo Duran. Others in the cast include Alan Arkin as Joe Volpi and Mark Rydell as mobster Meyer Lansky.

What I found most interesting about the movie is its portrayal of pre-Castro Havana, "the pearl of the Antilles; the Paris of the Caribbean." It was a town owned by gangsters, patronized by famous writers and movie stars, populated by men in black ties and women in glitzy gowns. It was one big nightclub, dominated by gambling, graft, drugs, sex, booze and cigars. The movie gives us glimpses into that world: We have a drink in La Floridita (Hemingway's favorite bar) and the Ambos Mundos (Hemingway's favorite hotel). We attend black-tie events at the Lido Hotel, visit a sex club, and party in the streets of the "city of columns."

It was a bustling, prosperous place then, much different from the Havana of today. Then, ferries buzzed back and forth between Key West and the harbor. Today, those waters are virtually empty. Then, the magnificent building interiors were defined by awesome art deco. Today, we can only imagine what now lies beyond the dark entryways and the balconies hung with washing. And in 1958, the giant American cars, such as Jack's Cadillac convertible, gleamed with fresh paint and magnificent bumpers. Today, the tattered remains of those splendid vehicles limp along half-empty roads.

But the waves continue to pound relentlessly against the seawall of the Malecón. Havana's fortresses still stand on guard. Cigar smoke scents the air. And tourist footsteps still echo on the cobblestone streets as they search out the haunts of the rich and famous.

Havana is available on video in the GreatestEscapes.com store: www.greatestescapesstore.com/videos_1.html.

Editors Note: Ernest Hemingway's Cuba is portrayed in the newly released guidebook Literary Trips: Following in the Footsteps of Fame, edited by Victoria Brooks and published by GreatestEscapes.com Publishing. For information on how to order, visit www.literarytrips.com.