One of the legendary Bogart movies, this is the picture that never fades thanks to Bogey and Bacall's romantic sparring, knowing it's being echoed off camera in their real lives. Hollywood fantasies get crimped a bit when we find out that Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh or Bogie and Bergman were really just professionals feigning all the love stuff; but here we can imagine the depth of glossy romance behind the surface of the story.
Howard Hawks makes To Have and Have Not one of his classier pictures, again sketching a man's world where a laconic pro can stack his wits against personalities and politics and seldom bat an eye. There's a lovable sidekick, colorful bit players with nicknames, and surly villains that talk big put are really pushovers for our charismatic hero. And don't forget the Hawksian singalongs! Here we have Hoagy Carmichael, a real pro to make the Hollywood slickery go down even smoother.
Everyone went to Ricks, but we still keep coming back to To Have and Have Not to watch Bogie hike his pants up like a tough guy (he almost makes us think he isn't a creampuff) and Bacall slink around with a trampy-but-classy swagger that hasn't dated in 60 years. Bogart is the star but it's really her picture; the nervy teenage model from New York got a new name (bye bye Betty Joan Perske) and a ticket to immortality by having the perfect look and the perfect voice and a sexy attitude that made older femme fatale types like Marlene Dietrich suddenly look like your Aunt Bessie.
Bacall's 19 year-old thin face was a collection of outsized features, with lips and a mouth that seemed bigger than her jaw. When the cartoons lampooned her, she was difficult to exaggerate, but it all looked terrific. She doesn't date because she combines an aura of class with a knowing, experience-filled look in her eyes - that can change instantly to confess her real age and honesty. Part of the fun of watching To Have and Have Not is seeing the teenager peek through the vamp act at regular intervals. Her screen persona has a transparency that reveals a person we like.
To Have and Have Not has all of Howard Hawks' strengths as a story-teller. The even flow of scenes downplays structure to emphasize his pleasant mood of adventure and manly-man camaraderie. Harry Morgan's little fishing boat is not exactly glamorous, but his loyalty to his alcoholic sidekick Eddie (one of the defining roles for Walter Brennan) makes us side with Morgan unconditionally. Now of course, we think he'd be a better pal by somehow helping Eddie dry out, but in Hawks' world, a man has to decide for himself when to get on the wagon and reestablish his dignity. There must have been a lot more ignorant drunks back then.
Hawks downplays the moral and political issues and just lets Morgan's loyalties slide to where they'll naturally come to rest anyway. Morgan doesn't lose sleep deciding to help the good guys, he's just that kind of self-sacrificing guy. Again, Hawks' manly-man world is a fantasy that's too attractive not to like.
Audiences adored the atmosphere of saloons and cigarette smoke where attractive types like Bogie and Bacall stayed witty and sexy no matter how much they drank. Bogie's Morgan is a professional who respects Slim's status as a pro player in her own league - she's an orphan in the woods who gets by by playing the barroom tout for drinks and favors. What little character tension exists comes when Morgan accepts her independent Hays-Code-tamed promiscuity for what it is. She would rather he get jealous or possessive. The Hawks world of female equality hides his repeated assertion that modern woman's posture of independence is yet another clever bid to hook her man.
It's a fantasy. It works well, and makes plot a secondary concern. The best thing to be said for Howard Hawks movies is that they work as movies and not literature with themes to promote. The lumpy progress of To Have and Have Not seems a lot longer than its 100 minutes, but it's a relaxing and entertaining ride.
Better than that, it's a key Hawks movie that breaks ground instead of repeating themes as he did later in his career. So called 'classics' from Rio Bravo on recycle bits and ideas as if the director had nothing more to give. For that matter, Hawks was prone to repeat himself even earlier - compare Bogie's hand-shaking after a gundown ("See how close you came?") to Montgomery Clift's, Ricky Nelson's and even James Caan's identical schtick in much later films. These older pictures are sometimes considered fossils, but when Hawks really cooked, titles like Only Angels Have Wings and Air Force seemed the height of masculinity for the generation that preceded us.
Warner's DVD of To Have and Have Not is a sensibly scaled, excellent reissue of a studio tentpeg classic. The transfer is a huge improvement over the 90s laser disc, with a punchy picture and great audio: Bacall's (or her singing double's) voice no longer distorts on the deep notes.
Frankly, I'm not ready to wade through hours of special edition material for every title, and this release is given a refreshingly brief overview featurette on the basic facts of To Have and Have Not and the whirlwind romance that pried Bogart from his wife and into the arms of Betty Joan. Also on board is a radio reprise of the story, that speeds things up considerably. The original trailer sells the movie as an action blockbuster, carefully choosing every gunshot, punch, push, shove and twitchy body movement in the movie to make its case. It also sells Bacall and the forgotten Dolores Moran with equal emphasis; I wonder what Moran thought when she realized her big opportunity was to be steamrolled into oblivion by the collision of Hollywood galaxies that were Bogie and Bacall. That's the breaks, kid.
Was Hollywood more aware and respectful of Val Lewton than I thought they were? Actors Sir Lancelot, Chef Milani and Marguerita Sylva are all transplanted from Lewton's The Seventh Victim and I Walked with a Zombie for bits in To Have and Have Not.
Hemingway's basic story has been done several times. 1950's excellent The Breaking Point makes the Morgan character a working stiff up against economic problems, and seems a critique of America that didn't help star John Garfield's political problems. 1976's Islands in the Stream is a soggy ode to Hemingway with George C Scott that's more faithful to the original story. The useless rummy character in that one is played by David Hemmings, who proves his mettle by saving Scott's kids - shooting a killer shark with a Browning B.A.R. rifle. It not only explains Scott's loyalty to the drunkard, but provides a nice coda to the Jaws phenomenon: take that, Bruce.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
To Have and Have Not rates: