Sunday, January 18, 2009

Week-End in Havana

Week-End in HavanaThis 1941 Fox romance musical is a Technicolor delight - and the backdrops were filmed in the real Cuba! The light comedic plot of Week-End in Havana begins when a cruise ship of the McCracken Cruise Company runs aground on a reef off of Florida and cruise company employee Jay Williams (John Payne) is sent down to ensure there are no lawsuits. He leaves his anxious fiancée, the daughter of the company’s boss, behind. The only guest on the ship who refuses to sign a waiver is Nan Spencer (Alice Faye), a Macy’s department store salesgirl who insists she have her vacation NOW. . . and refuses to sign until after she's had a good time in Cuba at the McCracken Cruise Company's expense! Jay is instructed to take Nan to Havana, put her up in a fancy hotel, and keep her entertained until he can get the waiver out of her.

In Havana, they go to a flashy nightclub where Rosita Rivas, played by a hip-swinging Carmen Miranda, is the main dancing and singing attraction. Bored of Jay’s bland conversation, Nan goes off to find some excitement. Enter Monte Blanca (Cesar Romero), a sleazy, comedic Cuban and Rosita’s manager and lover, who mistakes Nan for a filthy-rich American who can solve his money troubles, namely the gambling debts he owes to the nightclub’s owner, Sheldon Leonard. Blanca charms Nan into a date the following night at the club, where he takes her to the casino on the upper floor, hoping she will lose enough money at roulette to get Leonard to forgive his debt. When Nan loses $3000 and Blanca realizes she cannot pay for it, he is called to Leonard’s office, where he finds Jay Williams. Jay offers to make good Blanca's debt if Blanca keeps Nan entertained for the remainder of her stay in Havana. Blanca agrees, and proceeds with his courtship of Nan.

When Rosita Rivas finds out, she is enraged, and it is Jay's job to keep her away from Blanca and Nan. He fails, however, and in a comedic scene in a colonial restaurant, Rosita and Nan uncover the deal between Blanca and Jay. Furious with Jay, Nan demands he drive her back to the hotel. On the way, the car breaks down, and they are stuck in the balmy Cuban night to find their way home. A romantic, music-filled adventure ensues and they end up spending the night together. In the morning, Jay realizes he has made a grave mistake, and as he is about to tell Nan that he is in fact engaged, his fiancée storms into the room. Pushing her anger aside surprisingly quickly, she pays an insulted Nan to sign the waiver and takes Jay home to New York with her, despite his reluctance to leave the situation in such a state. Nan gives the money to Blanca so he can pay off his debts, and stays in Havana to continue her good time there. In the last scene, Nan, Blanca, and Rosita Rivas are all dancing rhumba on the colourful dance floor in the club when Jay shows up and professes his affection for Nan. They live happily ever after, in a perfectly choreographed sequence of singing, fruit-laden dancers led by Rosita.

The Cuba of the movie is an idyllic, colonial holiday destination with fancy hotels and tuxedo-clad, mustachioed locals mingling with rich Americans at nightclubs. Havana is a place to party, and to meet romantic Cuban men, who according to Jay are “experts at romance”. One of these men is the comedic Blanca, who is a harmless gambler with greased-back hair and a thin mustache. Despite the fact that Blanca spends all Rosita’s money at the casino, the passion between them keeps them together. Rosita is a hot-blooded, vivacious singer with constantly gyrating hips and an endless collection of charmingly misused English expressions. The porter in the hotel, whose goofy grin and comments get a few laughs, is the only other Cuban character who is prominent in the film.

The tropical nights in Havana provide inspiration for romance and the rich, polished hotels and clubs foster a gay, music-filled atmosphere. For this reason, Nan has the time of her life and ends up falling in love with Jay, who, despite his serious and businesslike character, finds himself inspired by Cuban passion as well.

See also: Copacabana, That Night in Rio, The Gang's All Here, Carmen Miranda.

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