The Art of Dallas: ‘Cuba Libre’

Cuba Libre, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Soldiers seize J.R. (Larry Hagman) upon his arrival in Havana in this 1983 publicity shot from “Cuba Libre,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 127 — ‘Cuba Libre’

Cuba Libre, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Black box

J.R. hopscotches across the Caribbean in “Cuba Libre,” making this one of the first “Dallas” episodes that require location subtitles. Our hero flies first to Puerto Rico, where he persuades Garcia, the greedy middleman in his Cuban oil deal, to slash his “fee” by 90 percent. Next, J.R. visits Havana to claim the $40 million owed to him by the mysterious moneyman Perez. This trip doesn’t go as smoothly. As soon as J.R. arrives at the airport, Cuban soldiers seize him with no explanation. J.R. protests his treatment loudly, and in the memorable final scene, as the soldiers toss him into a jail cell and slam the door, we hear him shout, “Hey! Hey! My name is J.R. Ewing!”

None of J.R.’s scenes are actually filmed in foreign locales, but the producers do an adequate job faking it. (This is also true of the scenes involving Pam, who spends this hour in the French Riviera, where Mark Graison shamelessly ignores his promise to leave her alone while she’s on vacation.) Stock footage is used for the establishing shots, with most of the scenes filmed on soundstages. One shot is nifty. Before the Cubans jail J.R., they interrogate him in a room that is pitch black, except for the ceiling light that shines on him. Filmmakers have been using this trick in interrogation scenes for years, but when it’s a scowl-faced Larry Hagman surrounded by darkness, the effect is especially sinister. (Almost three decades later, Marc Roskin would discover this for himself when he shoots a wizened Hagman in a pitch-black room in the TNT episode “The Last Hurrah.”)

The international intrigue in “Cuba Libre” is nicely balanced with several scenes that showcase the warmth within the family Ewing. Donna encourages Miss Ellie to admit that she might be developing feelings for Clayton, while Ray gently assures Mickey that his visiting mother, the homespun Lil Trotter, will have no trouble fitting in with the wealthy Ewings. I also like the scene where Sue Ellen visits Ewing Oil to quiz Bobby about J.R.’s relationship with Holly Harwood. The exchange, which draws on the easy rapport between Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy, ends with Bobby admiring Sue Ellen’s loyalty to her husband. “It’s not very often that I envy J.R. Maybe today I do, just a little,” he says before giving her a sweet peck on the cheek.

Duffy and Gray also figure into this episode’s sharpest scenes. In the first, Bobby visits the Cattleman’s Club and runs into Cliff, who offers to buy his frozen Canadian property. “Barnes, hell will freeze a lot colder than that field before I sell anything to you,” Bobby says. Cliff’s below-the-belt response: “So will your marriage.” Meanwhile, Sue Ellen visits Holly and tells her she doesn’t believe Holly’s claim that she’s having an affair with J.R. “You are a very sick little girl,” Sue Ellen seethes. I probably should feel sorry for Sue Ellen in this scene, since her faith in her husband is obviously misplaced. Yet somehow, this feels like a moment of triumph for Sue Ellen. Maybe it’s because no one delivers bitchy dialogue better than Gray.

The true champ in “Cuba Libre,” though, is Katherine Wentworth. She arranges for Bobby to use the Tundra Torque, an experiment drill bit developed by Wentworth Tool and Die, to penetrate his frozen Canadian field. Cliff finds out and refuses to give his blessing, but no matter. Bobby still seems mighty impressed by Katherine’s efforts to help him win the contest for Ewing Oil. Indeed, twice in this episode, Katherine brings high-ranking executives from the Wentworth companies to Bobby’s office to help him solve his Canadian drilling problem. Neither meeting lasts more than two minutes, making me wonder why these conversations couldn’t have been conducted over the phone.

Maybe these men know something the “Dallas” characters have yet to figure out: When Katherine Wentworth asks you to do something, you don’t turn her down.

Grade: B


Cuba Libre, Dallas, Katherine Wentworth, Morgan Brittany

Never say never


Season 6, Episode 24

Airdate: March 25, 1983

Audience: 20.9 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Robert C. Thompson

Synopsis: J.R. pays off Garcia and travels to Cuba, where he’s thrown in jail. Katherine tells Bobby he can use the Tundra Torque, a cold-weather drill bit being developed by Wentworth Tool and Die, but Cliff refuses to give his blessing. After Bobby tells Sue Ellen that Holly has a vendetta against J.R., Sue Ellen concludes Holly is lying about her affair with J.R. Mark charms Pam during their trip to France. Lil visits and questions Mickey’s relationship with Lucy.

Cast: John Anderson (Richard McIntyre), Rita Rogers Aragon (Cuban guide), Terrence Beasor (businessman), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Henry Darrow (Garcia), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Erwin Fuller (businessman), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Britt Leach (Sperry), Santos Morales (Cuban leader), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Robert Pinkerton (Elliot), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Hansford Rowe (Andrew Forrest), Susan Saldivar (Maria), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Thomas Thomas (businessman), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“Cuba Libre” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.