Week-End in Havana manages to entertain, but not by way of its musical numbers. For one, the songwriting is relatively lame and dated. Also, singing isn’t a forte for any of the performers. While Carmen Miranda certainly has a screen presence and a dynamic personality, her voice remains scratchy and flat – and she’s the best vocalist the film has to offer. But that doesn’t condemn it by any means. With films such as these that manage to function well as straight romance, the inclusion of musical numbers is mor… annoying than anything. Of course, without the numbers, Week-End would barely have cracked the one-hour running time mark. But at least all that remained would have been worthwhile. Once you do manage to cut through the padding of song-and-dance routines, the story provides a few nice surprises in the viewer’s journey. Instead of “will-they-or-won’t-they,” the film focuses on the question of “how will they?,” and it keeps things intriguing along that pathway.
John Payne plays leading man to Alicia Faye’s leading lady… but it’s not easy to tell this at first. Payne seems happy in his engagement, and Faye’s department store associate persona feels more than a little pathetic. She’s traveling to Havana alone, using Payne’s cruise liner company as her means of transportation. After an unforeseen occurrence ruins her trip, she plays hardball with the liner to get a free trip to Havana. But she won’t sign the waiver, which exonerates the company of any damages, until her vacation is in the bag, which means Payne has to come along for the ride. Contrived? Yes, but it’s also fun to see the complications that wait. Week-End in Havana is pure escapist fun in the nostalgic Jimmy Buffett sense of the words, and I’m sure no doubt influenced the great troubadour of beach and party tunes in his own professional journey.
The film is presented in 1.33:1 full-screen and boasts vibrant colors as well as a clean picture, free from grain, dirt, and other contaminants of age. The tropical settings used in establishing shots are superbly photographed, but the film’s small budget shows during the main action, switching to small sets, which easily give away their soundstage source, for the narrative.
The 2.0 track offers a solid balance between music, background noise, and dialogue levels. Bass doesn’t have as much punch to it, but it’s still there, slightly accented. Carmen Miranda has a number halfway through the film that really allows the strong points of the track to shine. (And on a side note, let me just say I really feel sorry for whoever had to transcribe the subtitles from her lyrics – very tough job, and you’ll know what I mean when you hear it.)
The strongest part of the bonus materials is the audio commentary by film historian Jeanine Basinger. Still, it’s unfortunate they were unable to get anyone from the film itself. Historians know their stuff, but their commentaries lack the same awe-inspiring insight of the actual participants. Other than that, there are trailers, collectible lobby cards, and a still gallery… light, but welcome, nonetheless.
Week-End in Havana is the kind of film you have to be in the mood for, and it’s not for everyone. If you like nostalgia, then you’ll probably enjoy it. Just be forewarned that the music doesn’t measure up to the engaging story. With a good A/V presentation and some worthwhile bonus materials, it’s a reasonable acquisition for the old-time movie buff.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Lobby Cards
- Still Gallery