To Have and Have Not (1944)
“LOVE IN THE RAW!”
To Have and Have Not (1944)
Director: Howard Hawks
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan
Synopsis: During WWII, American expatriate Harry Morgan helps transport a Free French Resistance leader and his beautiful wife to Martinique while romancing a sexy lounge singer.
The story goes that Howard Hawks bet Ernest Hemingway he could make a good movie out of Papa’s worst novel, which he considered to be To Have and Have Not. Although it’s a wager that Hawks won, Hemingway could be forgiven for feeling a little cheated. Gone was the Depression-era socio-political commentary of his novel about the smuggling of immigrants and booze from Cuba to the States, replaced instead by a tough love story set against the backdrop of local resistance to pro-German Vichy France in the Caribbean island of Martinique. The lovers are rugged boat captain Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart – The Big Sleep, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) and sultry drifter Marie ‘Slim’ Browning (Lauren Bacall – The Shootist). Harry scratches out a living watching the inept attempts of a fat American tourist to land marlin on his charter boat. Marie’s past remains a mystery, although Jules Furthman and William Faulkner’s smart screenplay hints that she’s not above the occasional exchange of immoral intimacies in order to get by.
Gerard (Marcel Dalio- La regle du jeu, Sabrina), the manager of the hotel in which Harry lives, has ties to the local resistance, and has friends who want Harry to pick up someone on the run from the Gestapo and deliver him to safety on Martinique. Before meeting Marie he refused, but now he wants money to help her get back home. The job doesn’t go well. The passenger (Walter Molnar) is wounded, and is secreted in the basement of the hotel to recuperate. The Gestapo, in the corpulent form of Captain Renard (Dan Seymour – Human Desire, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy) start sniffing around. They know Harry was involved – they just have to prove it…
The story’s pretty thin. Hawks was clearly trying to recreate an atmospheric love story reminiscent of Casablanca, and while the romance between Harry and Slim surpasses that of Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund, the screenplay struggles to emulate the rich texture of the Epstein’s work. The irresistible chemistry between Bogart and Bacall elevates To Have and Have Not to an undeserved plane. She regards him from beneath lowered lashes – a pleasant and unexpected consequence of her attempt to tame her nerves – while he admires her through a haze of smoke from the cigarette jammed into the corner of his mouth. Check out that little shimmy she treats him to in the movie’s final scene and try to think of one other 40s movie that captured so succinctly the sexual desire beneath girlish flirtation. It’s just a shame she can’t hold a tune the way she holds Bogie’s gaze in that scene.
Morgan is a less tragic figure than Blaine, and Bogart is the better for it. He has a friend, Eddie (Walter Brennan – Affairs of Cappy Ricks, My Darling Clementine), a hopeless rummy who was once a good man. For Morgan, that’s reason enough to tolerate his drinking (he’s a tame drunk, anyway; we never see him bothering women or throwing up over the side of Harry’s boat). His principles remain intact throughout the movie, while Blaine spent much of Casablanca fighting what he knew to be the right thing to do. The importance of Brennan’s role is inflated beyond that which is necessary, and he’s borderline irritating most of the time. He even received second billing, with newcomer Bacall in third. That doesn’t seem right, somehow. The film would survive without Eddie – might even, in fact, be better – but Bacall is crucial. Without her, the guts of the movie are removed. When you watch To Have and Have Not you’re not watching two people fall in love, but four.
(Reviewed 12th December 2015)