Havana (1990)




Director: Sydney Pollack.

Starring: Robert Redford (Jack Weil), Lena Olin (Bobby Duran), Raul Julia (Arturo Duran), Alan Arkin (Joe Volpi), Mark Rydell (Meyer Lansky)

a self-centered gambler falls in love with a revolutionary in Havana, Cuba



Pretty good movie.  The setting is Havana, Cuba in 1958. Jack Weil, a professional gambler, takes a ship to head for Havana to get in on some of the big action there. On the way, however, he falls in infatuated with a Swedish woman, Bobby Duran, living in Cuba. Once in Cuba, Jack soon realizes that both the woman is married and that she and her husband are deeply involved in radical politics, supporting the forces of Castro against the Cuban dictator Batista.  Jack has to give up on Bobby.

When, however, Jack learns that her husband has been reported murdered by the Batista police and that Bobby has been imprisoned, he intervenes to get Bobby out of jail.  But Jack has still not won Bobby's heart.  He is determined to win her over with his charm and so he follows her into places of danger associated with the attempt to overthrow Batista.  Will Jack find Bobby and true happiness or will they both be overwhelmed by political events in Cuba?

Along the way we get to see a bit of the playboy-style, high roller night life of Havana and meet Meyer Lansky, a big man in the American Mafia and in the development of Havana night life.


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

(from "The Godfathers of Havana" on the History Channel)

1958 –Mafia had a kingdom called Cuba. The government under Batista had given the American mobsters the run of the gambling industry.


1920 – ban on alcohol in the U.S.; Cuba was famous for rum; ships would come to the 12 mile limit, mob run runners; battles were fought out on the waters

Lucky Lucian was the top guy, considered the organizer of organized crime.

Lansky was the soft glove on the financial side of the mob.

1933 – mob has foothold in Cuba; need a man to do business with;

1933 (Sept. 4) – a motley group of people come together to oppose the government; they needed some troops; Batista offers to organize the troops; Batista seizes presidential power: they occupied the main military barracks. Thus began an 11 year Batisa dictatorship.

He has the military and the police; he kills his opponents.

Cuba soon becomes an island of vice.

Lansky makes a deal with Batista. Batista was seen as a kindred spirit to the mafia.

1935 – Batista’s power grows; he is more gangster than leader.

Batista skims from the national lottery; no accounts had to be rendered; he used it to bribe journalists, etc. And he build ups the Cuban military.

1936 -- Thomas Dewey targets Luciano, who was facing serious jail time. Luciano got 30-50 years for running a prostitution ring. The Mafia needs options; Lansky knows what to do; NY became too hot so he moved to Florida.

Lansky saw that the benefit of Cuba; namely that Batista was a close friend; In Cuba the mob was free from the FBI; Lansky dealt with the finances; he teamed up with Santo Tafficante Senior, who provided the muscle.

In Cuba the government was on the take and the conquest of Havana was about to begin.

1936 – prohibition is over; Lansky looking for new territory to make money; Luciano still gives the orders (even from prison)

Lansky did the negotiating personally. He was a workaholic. He asks the Cuban dictator for permission to run the gambling casinos.

Then WWII broke out and it cut down on travel. WWII put everything on hold.

The Mafia shows its patriotism. The US Navy was worried about sabotage in the port of New York. So they talked with the Mafia. The Mafia granted the Navy access to the waterfront to head off Nazi saboteurs

The government even asked the Mafia for contacts in Italy to help the plans of the invasion of that country.

1944 – Batista holds elections. Lansky is the go-between. The US government goes through Lansky to tell Batista to hold a free election. He did and he lost the election.

1946 – Dewey pardons Luciano for what he did for the nation in WWII.

Luciano promised to go to Italy, but he went to Cuba instead. He set up a house in suburban Havana.

1946 (November) – Batista still advises and helps the mob, with a house just blocks away from the house of Luciano

Mob conference held at the Hotel Nacional. Among the attendees were Trafficante Jr, Joe Adonis, Frank Costello, Luciano. And tagging along was Frank Sinatra. The conference crowns Luciano as king in Cuba.

1946 Dec – Batista plots his return to power in Cuba. Mafia guys get together for a conference. Sinatra entertains the top dogs. Who was going to invest in Cuba? How do we deal with problems in New York?

They would get rid of opposition such as from Anastasia and Vito Genovesse (who thought he should be mafia king).

Bugsy Siegel had fallen out of favor because he was wasting money in Las Vegas. A contract goes out for Siegel.

Used Cuba as a base for the narcotics trade.

1947 (Feb) – the government learns that Luciano is not in Italy, as he promised. A Cuban newspaper ran a story on Luciano. The federal narcotic agency arrested Luciano arrested and then deported him.

Batista returns to Cuba. Behind the scenes he works to overthrow the government. He cancels the June 1st election.

1952 – Batista returns to Cuba. He controls gambling. Cuban casinos got a reputation for cheating. The Razzel Dazzle game was a real big scandal. In the game they would let the customers win early, but when all their money was on the table, the customer would start losing.

Batista eventually closed it down.

The Mafia funded airline companies to help transport narcotics.

Lansky is appointed advisor on gambling reform. The mob now had one of their own in the Cuban government. The military and police kept the average Cubans in their places.

Hollywood loved Cuba. There were beautiful women, great music, and glamour. But the people of Cuba were not sharing in all this.

Batista centralized power personally. He felt no constraint in using government money. He would receive kick-backs from the casinos via the mob. Some casinos paid 10 percent, others 30 percent to Batista. .

1950 --Kefauver Hearings. The senator from Tennessee tried to exposed organized crime and the influence of the Mafia on American politicians.

In Hollywood, gangsters are glamorous. George Raft played gangsters. He himself was a personal friend of the mob.

1956 – there was Havana before Las Vegas; in the 1950s there no place hotter.

The mobsters were Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Sam Trafficante Sr., Ginovassi

1956 (Dec 31) – a bomb went off at the Tropicana; it was set by communist rebels; the rebels were targeting the godfathers of Havana. The explosion was contained to the bar area; one woman lost an arm.

The mob was making Havana an adults only theme park. Nat King Cole worked there along with Sinatra. Americans ate it up.

In Havana there were lots of bordellos and burlesque. The government looked the other way. Cuban women were pulled into a life of prostitution. There were many sex shows. Those in the know would go down to the basements or into private establishments; senators and other prominent people would show up.

Suddenly, every mobster wanted a pieces of the action. They came not only from New York but from cities like Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boston, and St Louis.

Anastasia was looking to get in on some of the action.

1957 (Oct 25) - the mob killed Anastasia in the A. Grasso barber shop in New York City.

There was a secret mob meeting in upstate New York. Someone tipped off the law about the meeting. Dozens of mobsters were arrested. The mob was exposed and humiliated.

1957 – Havana’s tourism doing better. It go better every year.

The mob felt they needed to get their act together and build facilities like one would find in Miami. The result was the Riviera Hotel. It was built and controlled by organized crime. It was a symbol of Lansky’s "legitimate" wealth.

The hotel was an extravagant structure. It was patronized by the finest people. $14 million came from the Cuban government.

Cuba had social problems. Half of the population were going hungry each night. And there were signs of revolution developing.

1958 – things heated up. A series of explosions scared away the tourists. The poor turned to Castro. Time was beginning to run out on the Mafia.

Protests built up, led by university students and many others. There were rebellions in the different mountain ranges of Cuba.

People were fed up with Batista.

Santo Traficante Jr. provided money to the rebels. He wanted to play it down the middle. The mobsters wanted to hedge their bets. They were funding both sides.

Batista struggled to hold on to power. His army was corrupt and falling apart.

Mid-1958 -- Batista makes the decision to use 10,000 troops against Castro. But many of the soldiers did not want to fight. Troops retreated and many surrendered. The armed forces collapsed: deserting, fleeing, surrendering.

Castro overruns Batista and his floundering army. Batista on New Years Eve, after a festive party, filled about six airplanes and fled Cuba.

1959 (January 1) – the people take to the streets. Mobs riot in the street. The mobsters are now sitting ducks. Their choices were either leave or stand and face the consequences.

Castro said he would shoot the American mobsters. The mobsters left. Lansky left. He left behind his beloved monument, the Hotel Rivera. He personally lost tens of millions of dollars, but no on knows for sure.

Santo Trafficante, Jr. remained, hoping he could cut a deal. Castro not interested. Castro said he was going to make an example of the mob. Santo was seen as a man involved with Batista. He is hunted down and arrested. Jack Ruby visits him there.

Trafficante, Jr. was on the list to be executed. A lawyer went down and got Santo’s release.

Luciano soon dies of a heart attack.

Batista dies in exile in Spain.

Lansky dies of cancer.



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