We Were Strangers

We Were Strangers is a 1949 adventure–drama film directed by John Huston and starring Jennifer Jones and John Garfield.

The film, set in 1933, concerns a group of revolutionaries attempting to overthrow the Cuban regime. The story is based loosely on Robert Sylvester's novel Rough Sketch.

In between making the classics Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and The Asphalt Jungle (1950), John Huston made "We Were Strangers." The film was released in April 1949 at the beginning of the HUAC Committee hearings on communist infiltration in the U.S.A. It predictably received mixed reviews, and soon vanished from theaters. American audiences were perplexed by it, its largely Hispanic cast did not resonate with white Americans, and its shocking presidential assassination theme may have offended some sensibilities.

Based on the overthrow of Cuban dictator Gerardo Machado y Morales in 1933, the story is about a group of revolutionaries who plot to bring down their corrupt government. China (pronounced Cheena) Valdez witnesses her brother's murder after he distributes leftist pamphlets and vows that she will kill his assassin. At his funeral, however, she is persuaded to join an underground group whose moves are more carefully orchestrated. China's house is next door to a cemetery and the leader of the group (John Garfield) devises a scheme to assassinate an official whose family plot is in the cemetery and detonate a bomb at the man's funeral thereby killing as many officials as possible. To do this, they must dig a tunnel from China's house to the cemetery. Much of the movie focuses on the digging of the tunnel while Garfield and Jones develop a romantic interest in each other. However, the film never lets the romantic issues overpower its basic theme of the desperation of the Cuban terrorists. It ends with a violent shoot-out sequence.

The film suffers in a few places from sluggish pacing, but the performances are all first-rate. Jennifer Jones, doing a convincing Cuban accent, is radiant but intense as China and has good chemistry with Garfield. The supporting players are very fine. Pedro Armendariz, as the corrupt police chief, is deliciously menacing. Look for silent greats Gilbert Roland and Ramon Novarro in strong supporting parts as members of the resistance. Look for a cameo appearance by director John Huston who appears as a bank teller.

Many of the film's outdoor scenes are shot against rear projections, which are quite noticeable. The film, however, achieves an almost documentary-like feel with its stark black-and-white photography.

We Were Strangers, for whatever reasons, was virtually unavailable for viewing for decades. One indication of its long shelved status is that it was only first made available on VHS/DVD in 2005, two decades after almost all of John Huston's other films were made available.

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Famous quotes containing the word strangers:

    A city on whom plenty held full hand,
    For riches strewed herself even in her streets;
    Whose towers bore heads so high they kissed the clouds,
    And strangers ne’er beheld but wondered at.
    William Shakespeare (1564–1616)