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To Have and Have Not (1944)

August 30th, 2006 · No Comments

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In 1940 on the Vichy controlled Caribbean island of Martinique, Captain Steve Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) ekes out a living operating a fishing boat, with help from his barely sober sidekick Eddie (Walter Brennan). Concerned that their client might skip town without paying them, Steve keeps an eye on him at the bar of the Hotel Martinique, and catches the alluring Marie Browning (Lauren Bacall) lifting the deadbeat’s wallet.

As sparks fly between the captain and “Slim” (as he starts calling her), Steve is approached by patriots loyal to France who want to employ his services. Steve refuses, wanting to stay out of politics. But when the local Gestapo chief (Sheldon Leonard) confiscates his passport and his money, Steve has no choice, and takes the job of picking up a married couple who belong to the resistance and ferrying them back to the island.

Our hero gradually becomes more deeply involved, shooting at a patrol boat and later, dressing one of the resistance fighters’ gunshot wounds. The Gestapo retaliates by grabbing Eddie, which finally pushes the reluctant captain too far.

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Directed by Howard Hawks, with a screenplay adapted by Jules Furthman and William Faulkner from the novel by Ernest Hemingway, To Have and Have Not was the first of four pairings between Bogie & Bacall. According to legend, Hawks and Hemingway were on a fishing trip when the director bet the author he could make a picture out of Hemingway’s worst story. Hawks’ selection was “That god damned bunch of junk called To Have and To Have Not.”

Hawks made good on his wager by ensuring that the film version had little to do with Hemingway. Consisting of two loosely linked short stories and a novella, Hawks liberated the book’s title and the idea of Captain Steve, moving the story from the Depression era Florida Keys to Martinique of World War II. Instead of focusing on Hemingway’s class struggle, Nazis became the bad guys.

Anyone who believes a film needs to respect and adhere closely to its literary source to be successful never heard of this movie. Instead of trying to adapt Hemingway, Hawks’ primary focus appears to have been making a rousing, wartime crowd pleaser that mimics Casablanca in almost criminal ways.

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Bogie is once again a world weary American who looks out for number one and would rather not get mixed up in politics. He spends his spare time at a cantina that caters to a multinational clientele, but instead of Sam tickling the ivories, now it’s a songwriter-pianist named Cricket (Hoagy Carmichael). Add a drop dead gorgeous dame and Nazi scum and start counting the box office take.

There’s not much of a story here, very little intrigue (Bacall seems to be hanging around Martinique purely for the convenience of the movie) and not much action. The reason the film is so good is the atmosphere – Hawks does a terrific job rivaling the exotic feel of Casablanca – and the electricity generated between Bogie & Bacall.

Walter Brennan is outstanding as a cantankerous old drunk obsessed with asking strangers if they’ve ever been stung by a dead bee, but the punchy chemistry between Bogart & Bacall is the chief reason to see the film. Legend has it that Bogart brought the 19-year-old to Warner Bros’ attention when his wife at the time, Mayo Methot, picked her out of a stack of headshots. One of Bacall’s lines became immortal:

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“You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.”

Hawks scores again by getting the fishing right. Even if he had to shoot on a sound stage and use stock footage of a marlin, the nautical scenes bring an exhilarated vibe to the film. At its best, To Have and Have Not is “really good.” I’d recommend Casablanca and The Big Sleep over this one any day, but the film’s atmosphere and the chemistry between its stars make it worth staying up for.

Tags: Famous line · Golden Age of Hollywood

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