Monday, May 21, 2007

To Have and Have Not (1944)

Directed by: Howard Hawks
Written by: Jules Furthman, William Faulkner, based on story by Ernest Hemingway
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan

Black & White, 100 minutes

Grade: A

Think about it. Bogie, Bacall, Hawks, Hemingway, Faulkner. What could go wrong with a line up like that? Honestly, not a whole lot. In the summer of 1940 on the island of Martinique, fisherman Harry Morgan (Bogart) is doing his best to make it. He and his alcoholic pal Eddie (Brennan) are giving fishing lessons to high rollers and they aren't too interested in the local political climate. In a bar, Harry meets Marie (Bacall), a curvaceous pickpocket that can work any man she meets, except Harry of course. During their flirtatious exchanges, a shootout occurs in the bar between Vichy forces and members of the Resistance. Afterwards, the patrons of the bar are interrogated, and Harry is suspected of being a sympathizer of the Resistance. With his money and passport taken from him, Harry does take a job helping the resistance and he develops a conscience, as well as a romance, along the way.

To Have and Have Not is basically Hawks' version of Casablanca. Similar in both story and tone, it's easy to see that Hawks' film is the more stylish of the two, but it doesn't have the grandeur of the Curtiz film. Both films are very laid back in their storytelling approach, and that would be my one complaint about this film. Technically speaking the film is superb, but, unlike Casablanca, the lazy feeling tends to hamper the plot. Now, this is a very minor complaint, and the Furthman and Faulkner layer the film with sharp, biting dialogue that is worthy of Wilder's best work, and the actors eat it up. Bacall practically defines sex appeal when she tells Bogie how to whistle ("put your lips together and... blow").

Although I've unfairly compared this film to Casablanca, there is very little competition for Howard Hawks. Here was a director who was seemingly unstoppable. He had the ability to not only work in any genre he wanted, but to work extremely well in any genre. A list of his masterpieces would consist of gangster films (Scarface), comedies (Bringing up Baby), westerns (Red River), noir (The Big Sleep), and even sci-fi/horror (The Thing from Another World). He may not have been the visionary that John Ford was, and he surely wasn't as groundbreaking as Orson Welles was, but it is no question that his work influenced every filmmaker who followed him. This film could be seen as a minor success for him, but that doesn't make it any less worthy of your time.

Besides being the film that introduced 19 year old Lauren Bacall to audiences, To Have and Have Not is the film that introduced her to Bogart. They would marry soon after, and would work together three more times, most notably in The Big Sleep. Her role here is tailor made for a star. Not only does she gets the best lines in the film, she gets to sing alongside Hoagy Carmichael. This film makes it very easy to see why Bogart fell for her, she is completely magnetic and the chemistry between the two of them practically emanates from the screen. Bogart is his typically reliable self, which is great, and Walter Brennan plays comedic relief like it's second nature. Hawks, aided immensely by editor Christian Nyby, handles the action scenes perfectly, and makes sure that the characters never take a back seat for the sake of the story or locale.

While it would make a great double bill with Casablanca, To Have and Have Not also serves as a nice warm up for what this team would eventually pull of in The Big Sleep. The sparks are there, but it would take another two years before the blaze really caught on. This film doesn't get as much press as some of Bogie's other efforts, but it certainly should. He would push his performances to new heights later in his career with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, In a Lonely Place, and The African Queen, but he would never be matched on screen the way he is here. Bacall is every bit as sassy and tough as he is, and it's a joy to watch.

1 comment:

H. Stewart said...

It's been a little while since I've seen this, but this movie definitely lives in the shadow of Casablanca; I call it the rough draft, right down to Hoagey Carmichael in the Dooley Wilson role, though of course Hawks had nothing to do with Curtiz's film.

Nevertheless, I've always loved To Have and Have Not, a great moment for Bogart, Bacall, Hawks, and American film in general. Just because, as I say, it easily brings Casablanca to mind doesn't mean that it's any less enjoyable or well-crafted. Definitely worth the A!