28 May 2017 | tomsview
Wake me when the revolution starts
Even as a 9-year old in 1956, looking up at the screen in a suburban Sydney theatre on a Saturday afternoon, I knew "Santiago" was lacklustre.
Set during the 1898 Cuban revolution against Spain, enemies and gunrunners Cash Adams (Alan Ladd) and Clay Pike (Lloyd Nolan) join forces to ship guns to the rebels. However "Santiago" had the same predictable formula of many an Alan Ladd film at the time. Although they opened with an action sequence, they soon settled into an interminable gabfest while Ladd's character (usually embittered by something) sorted out the romantic situation with the girl in the movie - Rosanna Podestà in this case.
Rosanna had just launched a thousand ships as Helen in "Helen of Troy" (still a favourite). Apparently she couldn't speak English and learned her lines by rote for that movie. In "Santiago" she may have been dubbed; her voice has a rather detached quality.
The novel element in "Santiago" is that the guns are being taken to Cuba on a Mississippi paddle steamer captained by 'Sidewheel' Jones (Chill Wills). In those days, Alan Ladd and Chill Wills were actors I knew better than Laurence Olivier or Marlon Brando.
It didn't take a particularly demanding critic to see that the interiors and much else in "Santiago" were filmed in a flat, artless manner, more or less matching the story.
The movie came to life a little at the end with a shootout between Cash and Clay Pike (who homages Burt Lancaster's death scene in the much better "Vera Cruz").
Incidentally, the Spanish soldiers in "Santiago" are cast in pretty much the same role as the stormtroopers in "Star Wars"; cannon fodder for Cash, Clay and Co. They get taken down so easily by flying knives and bullets that they hardly project any sense of menace at all.
At those Saturday afternoon matinees, I caught Alan Ladd at the tail end of his career. Now I can appreciate his work more objectively. Good as he was in "This Gun for Hire" and "Shane" he was just about perfect in "The Great Gatsby". It seems he was a nice guy and loyal. Decades later, his movies always remind me of those much-anticipated afternoons at the 'pictures' even if expectations weren't always met.