Wednesday, March 16, 2022

#2,724. To Have and Have Not (1944) - The Men Who Made the Movies


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

The story goes that, while on a fishing trip, Howard Hawks turned to his good friend Ernest Hemingway and said that he could make a great movie out of his worst book. When Hemingway asked which one Hawks was referring to, the director allegedly responded “that hunk of junk To Have and Have Not”.

True to his word, Hawks did his part to make this 1944 Warner Brothers production a great movie, but it was the chemistry generated by his two stars, Humphrey Bogart and newcomer Lauren Bacall, that ultimately transformed To Have and Have Not into a Hollywood classic.

The year is 1940. The setting: French-controlled Martinique. Captain Steve Morgan (Bogart), with the help of his good friend, the oft-drunk Eddie (Walter Brennan), charters his small boat for fishing trips, his most recent client being a wealthy, foul-tempered American named Johnson (Walter Sande).

The political climate in Martinique has changed in recent weeks, with the German-friendly Vichy government taking control and weeding out anyone sympathetic to the Free France movement. Morgan, who is first and foremost a businessman, remains neutral, going so far as to refuse to help hotel owner “Frenchy” Gerard (Marcel Dalio) when he and his Free France buddies attempt to hire his boat for a dangerous mission.

Morgan has a change of heart, however, when he meets and falls for “Slim” (Bacall), a pretty American con artist who wants desperately to leave Martinique. To raise money for her ticket home, Morgan assists Frenchy and the others by picking up rebel Paul de Bursac (Walter Surovy) and his wife Helene (Dolores Moran) and sneaking them into Fort-de-France.

But with Vichy policeman Capitaine Renard (Dan Seymour) hot on his trail, it’s going to take some quick thinking for Morgan to get Slim out of the country.

Having never read Hemingway’s novel, I can’t say how bad it was, yet what I do know is that the film version of To Have and Have Not (which changed the setting from Cuba to Vichy-controlled Martinique) is a briskly-paced, expertly acted motion picture, with a handful of exciting scenes. Chief among them is the nighttime sequence in which Morgan and Eddie shoot it out with a patrol boat. This 1944 film also features plenty of crisp, memorable dialogue, thanks in large part to another of Hawks’ buddies, William Faulkner, who helped pen the screenplay. The supporting cast is strong, chief among them Walter Brennan as the likable inebriate Eddie and Dolores Moran as Helene de Bursac, the dutiful, overly-cautious wife of a French patriot. 

But from the moment Slim asks Morgan for a light, To Have and Have Not belongs to Bogart and Bacall.

Bogart is predictably excellent as Morgan, playing a character not unlike his Rick in Casablanca: a businessman who doesn’t take sides, yet is willing to help his French buddies against the Vichy. Even more impressive, though, is Bacall, who at 19 was making her screen debut. Sultry and alluring, you simply can’t take your eyes off of her, and the scenes in which she and Bogart are together are the film’s best.

It’s no wonder that Bogart and Bacall fell in love while making To Have and Have Not; both were amazing actors, yet the chemistry between them was much too potent to have been a performance. They would make other movies together, including the noir thriller The Big Sleep and one of my all-time favorite films, 1948’s Key Largo.  But to see Bogart and Bacall at their absolute best, one need look no further than To Have and Have Not.
Rating: 10 out of 10

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