Club Havana (Edgar G. Ulmer / U.S., 1945):

The Edgar G. Ulmer nightspot, not a lounge but a chamber, a stupendous mockery of luxury and leisure. "They don't come here for the entertainment, honey." Pitch-black darkness outside and veils and wandering spotlights indoors, the right stage for four or five crisscrossing tragicomedies in just over an hour. The house pianist (Eric Sinclair) is also a jittery witness, his eyes are on the murderous racketeer (Marc Lawrence) in the audience, between them is the receptionist (Sonia Sorel) with a hidden flash of valor. In one corner is the giddy widow (Renie Riano) savoring her grip on the gambling gigolo (Paul Cavanagh), in another is the gray philanderer (Ernest Truex) fumbling through a reconciliation. "Harmonies and discords," plus songs: Lita Baron warbles "Tico Tico" against bare scrims to muffled off-screen applause, "Besame Mucho" is timed to the heartbroken divorcee (Margaret Lindsay) expiring from an overdose of sleeping pills. Camera movements following cuts on action lend a veneer of polish yet Ulmer never forgets that his club is a netherworld of unsteady illusions, shoestring cinema as pretend-ritzy revue—a peeling mural of Caribbean skies, or, better yet, Tom Neal vainly trying to cloak the scent of doom with pomade and a pencil-thin mustache. (The kinship to Buñuel's Gran Casino is a marked one.) Redemption comes brutally and tenderly at the close, sometimes it's a bullet to the face and sometimes it's the wink that breaks the nightmare ("We're both awake now..."). With Don Douglas, Dorothy Morris, Gertrude Michael, and Pedro de Cordoba. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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