The film, set in 1933, concerns a group of revolutionaries attempting to overthrow the Cuban regime. The story is based loosely on of Robert Sylvester's novel Rough Sketch.
Huston originally wanted to cast then-unknown Marilyn Monroe for a part.
In between making the classics Treasure of the Sierre Madre (1948) and The Asphalt Jungle (1950), John Huston made "We Were Strangers," which virtually vanished and was never released on VHS and seldom shown on television. At the time of the film's release, which was right at the beginning of the HUAC Committee and American political paranoia, it predictably received unfavorable and questionable attention. It was released in April of 1949 but audiences were perplexed by it and it quickly vanished from theaters.
Based on the overthrow of Cuban dictator Geraldo Machado 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 motives 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. Most of the movie is concentrated on the digging of the tunnel as Garfield and Jones' develop a romantic interest in each other. However, the film never lets the romantic issues overpower the film's basic purposes of depicting the desperation of the Cuban terrorists and the film ends with a violent and exciting shoot-out sequence.
The film often 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 chemisty with Garfield. The supporting players are unusually fine. Pedro Armendariz, as the corrupt police chief, is deliciously menacing. Look for silent greats Gilbert Roland and Ramon Navarro 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 noticable. The film, however, achieves an almost documentary-like feel with its stark black and white photography.
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