Hollywood director Douglas Sirk, who came to the forefront with his lush and extravagant melodramas in the 50s, was actually named Detlef Sierck, and had worked in Germany where he had made himself a name 20 years prior to his fame. La Habanera was the last film he completed before he left his homeland for good.
The film is said to have been constructed basically as a device for the lead actress, Swede-export Zarah Leander, who was to replace Marlene Dietrich as the new star in German theaters. The connection is easy to make, as Leander has a similar figure and face and a characteristically deep voice which is also showcased numerous times during the film. The exotic locations and the love-triangle in which the heroine finds herself are also a weak attempt to recreate some of the hypnotic atmosphere of Dietrichs collaboration with Sternberg from the early thirties. As with Sternbergs films the plot is paper-thin, but sadly La Habanera has nothing else to offer instead. Zarah Leander cant act (at least not in this film) the dialogue is mostly forgettable, and Douglas Sirk and his cinematographer seem not really interested in finding a way out of this mess. This isnt to say that there arent some interesting aspects to the film - three or four moments which let us glimpse some of the directorial genius that is to come in the later work of Sirk - but they are so few that mentioning them means already giving too much credit to a product that doesnt deserve it.
Because of the indifference of most, if not all of the crew towards the film, what we get in 100 minutes on screen is basically 100 minutes of boredom. As absolutely no risks are taken we get stereotypes and clichees en masse, without the panache that would have been needed to put this film above the standard productions of the year.
Nevertheless the film was a success in Germany and remains somewhat of a classic amongst the many films that were produced during the Third Reich. Zarah Leander became a huge star and other films with similar topics followed.
For people interested in the propaganda machine of the Nazis this is certainly worth a look, but if you came to witness some early brilliance by Douglas Sirk, you would be better off watching the notable material (ca. 2 to 4 minutes) as a bonus section on a DVD. Maybe Criterion will do us the favor. If not, you can safely skip the film.
I watched the film on german TV with a bad sound quality. The image was pretty good, given the films age.
The film is also available with english subtitles on DVD from Kino.
Personal rating: 42 out of 100