Red Zone Cuba (a.k.a. Night Train to Mundo Fine)

Year 1969

Coleman Francis   as Griffin/Narrator
Anthony Cardoza as  Landis/Fidel Castro  
Tom Hanson as  Bailey Chastain
John Carradine as Mr. Wilson
George Prince as Cherokee Jack
Director - Coleman Francis
Screenwriter - Coleman Francis

Red Zone Cuba a.k.a. Night Train to Mundo Fine (NTMF) is not the worst movie ever made. That distinction still goes to Chicago.

NTMF is not even worse than The Creeping Terror or Manos: The Hands of Fate. I don't care what IMDB says! In fact, this movie almost made it onto my At Least Once list. It has to be seen to be believed.

But it is special, in a special yellow schoolbus kind of way.

Let's put this into some personal perspective.

Would you rather:
A) Watch Chicago 
B) Have your eyes plucked from their sockets
C) Watch NTMF
D) Be seated next to a crying baby on a plane
E) Watch Oceans 12
F) Get a speeding ticket
G) Watch The Creeping Terror
H) Eat food that will have you "compromised" starting at 2 A.M.
I) Watch U-571
J) Drink a "lite" American beer
K) Watch Manos: The Hands of Fate
L) Visit Quebec City in February

Each has its own downside. Which do you pick? I'd pick "C" and watch the movie again. Although, with a posh hotel room, option "L" woudn't be that bad. Joyeaux Carnivale!

To re-order the items so that the least painful is first,
A) Watch NTMF
B) Watch Manos: The Hands of Fate
C) Watch The Creeping Terror
D) Drink a "lite" American beer
E) Eat food that will have me "compromised" starting at 2 A.M.
F) Visit Quebec City in February and have to stay in a youth hostel
G) Get a speeding ticket (I can still take the driving class.)
H) Be seated next to a crying baby on a plane (assuming that it's at least a 4 hour flight)
I) Watch U-571
J) Watch Oceans 12
K) Watch Chicago
L) Have my eyes plucked from their sockets

Seriously. Did anyone really put eyes plucked from their sockets ahead of anything else? No one in their right mind would have put that anything but last. So-o-o if you put that anywhere but last on your Oh, nothing.

Anyway, why am I saying that NTMF might not be the worst movie ever? Because Coleman Francis tried! That's why.

He didn't just "mail it in" or "earn a paycheck". You can tell when you watch this movie that, as much of a stinkeroo as it is, Coleman Francis wanted to create something artistic.

Coleman Francis (or is that Francis Coleman? or anything further, father?) kind of had this pseudo vision about a sort of tough guy who eventually came to a bad end. "Not soon enough!" quip the wags. Alright, show me your movie. You don't have one, do you? Coleman Francis did. In fact, he had three!

So what's the movie about? One way to describe it is that it has an anti-"Cool Hand Luke" kind of vibe.

Griffin (Coleman Francis) is an escaped prisoner who decides to become a mercenary to make some quick cash. After the mercenaries lose, he ends up as a POW (in something that might or might not be a prison), escapes, attempts to bilk a squadmate's supposed widow out of a fortune, and is finally hunted down and killed.

NTMF could have been existential, but Francis didn't have the skills to write something layered. It could have been a slice of life, but Francis didn't have the imagination to construct something coherent. It could have been surreal, but Francis didn't have the wherewithal to contemplate that. It could have been tragic, but Francis didn't have a shred of pathos about him.

So, what's left? How about incredulity?

Griffin talks two guys, Landis and Chastain, into joining a bunch of mercenaries. They're supposedly doing if for the money which they never see.

The full compliment of mercenaries, about eight guys in total, train for a couple of days so that they can invade, get this, Cuba! Yep. Eight guys are the primary force for the invasion of Cuba that came to be known as "The Bay of Pigs".

The Bay of Pigs, which is the name of an inlet as well as a massacre, actually happened back in 1961. It was so chaotic and such an embarrassment that the true story didn't come out until years after.

After Castro took over Cuba, U.S. Army generals talked then President Kennedy into believing that a small force of troops could invade the island and once there could gather enough local support to overthrow the dictator. Things did not go according to plan. I remember reading an article in Life magazine about it and what still sticks with me is the observation, complete with drawing, I think it said, "At night the tanks would crush their own wounded."

Hey! Look what I found from 1963! Considering it's a nearly fifty year old memory, I was pretty darned close!

Proof that I Shouldn't Be Declared Feeble...Yet

It was a disaster of heroic proportions. What good came of it? Well, Kennedy quit believing the generals and when, in one special October, the generals said, "Invade! Invade!" Kennedy said, "Let's think of something else" and an exchange of nuclear destruction was avoided. True story!

Well, the Bay of Pigs, sort of a small scale Gallipoli, was the ugliest fiasco in American history to be focused on by the media up to that point. Even though Francis could only show eight guys invading, it could be courteously observed that the portrayal of a small contingent was symbolic of what really happened. Or maybe grudgingly granted.

Still, it's no less symbolic than identical plot devices used in major blockbusters. No? How many guys were involved in actually "Saving Private Ryan"? About eight is what I remember.

Don't think in any way that NTMF is in the same category as Saving Private Ryan (SPR). SPR had buckets more blood...but, uh, not much more plot. Uh-oh.

Did I just write that? Did I just write that?! Let's examine this closely and see if I'm the guy who answered "L" in the previous survey.

SPR begins with the invasion of France and follows a group of guys as they resourcefully do heroic things to bring Private Ryan home. NTMF begins with an escaped prisoner (Griffin) and follows him through the invasion of Cuba, his escape, his attempt to leave squadmate Chastain behind, steal the rights to Chastain's uranium mine (or something) as he resourcefully does craven things to bring his hide home.

Even the title drives home the point that Griffin is headed for a terminal end. "Mundo Fine" means "End of the World" or "World's End" or something having to do with the end of one's world. So "Night Train to the World's End" is one translation of the title. Is there a better title for a violent man who is on rails to his own death?

Whoa, Nelly! NTMF is more deeply layered than SPR.

So why is this movie ranked so low? Well, it's one thing to have good ideas and it's another to translate those ideas into art, or even something coherent. Two days training for an invasion? By over age men? Escaping from a "jail" by asking for water at midnight? ("Mommy? I'm thirsty." Disgustedly, "For the last time, go back to bed, Billy, uh, Francis, uh, Coleman Francis!")

How about a firing squad where the shooters are a good twenty yards away from the target? Why? So the squad members could be under the leaves of a tree. Probably a lighting issue for the film "crew".

If that doesn't warn you about the movie, let's try this actual line that someone uttered without laughing. First, let me set up the scene. Griffin and Landis have escaped from Cuba and are in some remote gulf coast town. Presumably it's the gulf coast because of all of the seafood that's for sale and presumably in the U.S. because the signs are in English. The two enter a seafood diner and sit at the counter. There's the sound of a piano playing. There's a cut shot to a thirty-something woman playing a wooden piano with a wooden expression and equally stiff hands. She's seated in some fifth dimensional corner of the building because the place is too small to hold her and her piano otherwise.

Cliff the Proprietor: That's my daughter. She's been blind and all ever since her husband was killed in the war.

Does that even make sense? Is there such a type of hysterical blindness? The death of a loved one makes you blind? Or maybe there's some Greek mythology reference or something that I'm missing.

Is this sort of disablitity progressive? I mean, maybe you only go blind if you lose a husband in a war. Maybe your vision only gets sparkles in it if say, your dog gets hit by a car. Or maybe you can't taste vanilla if your favorite team loses the big one. Or your palm itches if you're going to come into money.

Who knows? Maybe it's just some Coleman Francis urban legend.

And what war? Vietnam was still a conflict and I think Korea was still being called a police action at the time of this movie. Was he talking about the "Big One"? Old double-ya double-ya two? That would make that thirty-something daughter a WWII war widow? I know that they marry young in the South, but we're talking Jerry Lee Lewis young if this girl was married during WWII. Maybe she has "historical" blindness, like the screenwriter.

But what follows is the only scene in this movie that makes sense. After hearing that line about the reason for the girl's blindness, Griffin and Landis kill Cliff and dump his body in a well. Based on the piano playing plus the failure to notice her father being beaten to death, the girl must be deaf as well as blind. (Comparisons to Helen Keller and Tommy are too obvious.) Bad dialogue has to be the reason for the murder unless it's just one more event on the <pause> "Night Train to Mundo Fine". (You can sing it if you know the tune.)

Speaking of which, the best thing about the movie is John Carradine who is in the first scene and then sings (yes, sings!) the theme song. That alone keeps this from the trash heap. Combine that with the cool title and this movie is nearly respectable.

Only nearly, though. In the end, in true Coleman Francis fashion, the villain is shot by the authorities. Forget about any warning or the villain being armed, the pursuers just open fire.

Police: "There he is!" Bam! Bam! Bam! Run, run, run. Bam! Bam! Bam!

Narrator: Griffin ran all the way to hell...with a penny, and a broken cigarette.

That last line sums up the movie. What did I mean by that?!

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