Tropic Sprockets / Cuba Crossing

By Ian Brockway

This week’s Key West Centennial film is “Cuba Crossing” from 1980, directed by the documentary filmmaker Chuck Workman. This campy and not so politically correct film features a fictional version of Key West legend Captain Tony portrayed by 1950s actor Stuart Whitman (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Longest Day). 

[Cuba Crossing is playing at the Tropic on July 30-31. Check for showtimes.]

Famed bar-owner Captain Tony (Whitman) has PTSD from The Bay of Pigs. In Key West, he holds court in the darkened refuge of his bar, a local legend. He is an icon; everyone knows him.

One day he is approached by his old gun-running friend Rossellini (Michael Gazzo, Godfather II) about a plot to assassinate Castro for three thousand dollars. As Tony figures, he doesn’t care for Castro at all, not to mention he owes his friend Rossellini a favor. A formidable agent with a linen suit and sunglasses enters the scene, a man known as Hud (Robert Vaughn) to make a covert deal with the suave Mr. Bell (Raymond St. Jacques, Rawhide). It doesn’t take Captain Tony long to see that Hud and Bell are into nefarious activities, beyond overthrowing a dictator. 

Bell and Hud agree to plant a female agent Tracy (Caren Kaye, The Mary Tyler Moore Show) on Tony (but of course) in the hopes of either killing him or putting him in prison for life. 

Tony takes matters in his own hands.

Though some ocean scenes are lethargic with the sense of time slowing to a crawl, there are giggly campy moments featuring the television personality Monti Rock the Third as Tony’s bar patron, a silly bar fight and a surreal cameo from The Key West Iguana Man, a real person who frequented the once iconic Deli Restaurant in the 1970s and 80s. Here he is once more with at least two leather-harnessed reptiles against his neck like Stavro Blofeld with a Persian cat.

Stuart Whitman, although he does not look like Captain Tony, passably captures Tony’s Popeye aura. Michael Gazzo plays a boorish gangster to a tee. He is a thoroughly obnoxious character, a man you would love to see get thrown overboard.

If you can hang on through the choppy flash-backs and hammy acting, the film’s climax is a very comic spoof of a James Bond murder scene that only Key West can do right.

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