Red Zone Cuba (1966, directed by Coleman Francis)

An escaped convict named Griffin (Coleman Francis) meets up with two other men (Anthony Cardoza and Harold Samuels) and, for some reason, all three of the fly down to Cuba where they join up with the mercenaries who are planning on overthrowing Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion.  That doesn’t work out so, after escaping from a Cuban POW camp, they decide to fly back to America so that they can rob a mine.  Along the way, they shoot several people and they run into John Carradine who gives them a ride on a train and also sings the film’s theme song, Night Train to Mondo Fine.  “He ran all the way to Hell,” Carradine says about Griffin, even though Griffin spends most of the film either flying or moving at an ambling gait.

Red Zone Cuba is best known for being one of three Coleman Francis films to be showcased on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Watching this film with Mike and the Bots commenting on the action is a lot of fun.  Trying to watch it without Mike the and the Bots is a different experience all together.  I always assumed that the plot seemed incoherent because I was distracted by Mike, Tom Servo, and Crow talking through the film but it turns out that the plot is incoherent regardless of how you watch the film.  Coleman Francis tried to make a tough and gritty desert noir but the only part he got right was the desert.  There’s a lot of desert in this movie.

Red Zone Cuba is a painfully slow movie but at least John Carradine’s in it for a few minutes.  A reporter shows up to interview him about the three men who rode his train all the way to Hell and Carradine answers his questions with the type of grim determination that briefly fools you into thinking Red Zone Cuba is going to be better than its reputation.  Carradine exits the film quickly, though.  He got his paycheck and then headed off to his next role, leaving Coleman Francis to carry the weight of the film.

Red Zone Cuba is a slow mess of a film that’s not even entertainingly bad but I do have to wonder: was this the first narrative film to use the Bay of Pigs as a plot point?  Hats off to Coleman Francis if it was.


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