While To Have and Have Not is supposedly based on Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the same name, it’s really much more like Casablanca gone Hawksian. Stripped of the romanticism and sentiment of the latter picture, Hawks set out to make a version of Casablanca that was suited to his style and temperament. As the story goes, he thought Hemingway’s book was “a bunch of junk,” so he enlisted his old pal William Faulkner to work on the script, guaranteeing he’d turn this so-called junk into a hit. The picture is set in the French colony of Martinique shortly after the fall of France in 1940. It’s here that Bogey’s Harry Morgan operates a private fishing charter, along with his rummy friend Eddie (played by Walter Brennan who has to be reckoned as one of Hollywood’s greatest character actors). Brennan used to joke that he gives two kinds of performances: teeth-in or teeth-out. In this picture it’s mostly a teeth-in performance. Hawks’s Rio Bravo is Brennan’s best example of a teeth-out performance, with his one-of-a-kind hoot and holler.
Feb 27-Mar 1
Director: Howard Hawks
Producer: Jack L. Warner
Writers: Jules Furthman, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway (novel)
Cinematographer: Sidney Hickox
Editor: Christian Nyby
Cast: Humphrey Bogard, Walter Brennan, Lauren Bacall, Dolores Moran, Hoagy Carmichael, Sheldon Leonard
US Theatrical Release: January 20, 1945
US Distributor: Warner Bros.
Exactly how Harry and Eddie ended up in war-torn Martinique is something of a mystery, but one thing is certain: their sympathies aren’t with the French or the Germans. They’re simply minding their own business down there, looking to make a buck, while rumming it up and staying out of trouble. When it comes to film appreciation, no one is greater or more knowledgeable than Peter Bogdanovich, and here’s how he eloquently described Bogey: “whether it was Sirocco or Casablanca, Martinique or Sahara, he was the only American around, except maybe for the girl, and you didn’t ask him how he got there, and he always worked alone—except for the fellow who thought he took care of him, the rummy, the piano player, the one he took care of, the one you didn’t mess with. His expression was usually sour. Unsentimental was a good word for him.” That’s really a perfect summation of the types of characters Bogey played throughout the ‘40s, and it was in these roles that Bogey developed the persona we are all so familiar with. It nicely matched Hawks’ no-nonsense, no-flash directorial style. Hawks himself was the kind of director who approached picture-making with the same kind of professionalism as one of his heroes. He never considered movies an art form. That was a bunch of claptrap. For him, it was a job, and he was a damn pro.
Hawks selected three actors from Casablanca to wash up on the island of Martinique for his actioner. Bogey is of course the lead in both pictures, but the other two actors are of equal interest. Even if they’re lesser know—and in smaller parts in Casablanca—their faces are certainly familiar to any cinephile. Marcel Dalio (most famous for his astonishing roles in Renoir’s Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game) plays Frenchy, the proprietor of a hotel and bar much in the style of Rick’s Cafe Americain in Casablanca. Like Rick’s, Frenchy’s place serves as the dramatic centerpiece of the picture, and it even has a similar piano man (played with sultry flair by jazzman Hoagy Carmichael) to spice up the atmosphere. The other actor is Dan Seymour, a man who specialized in playing hulking villains. Here he’s cast as a Pro Vichy captain; it’s the same watchful role Claude Raines played in Casablanca, but Seymour’s captain is not nearly as friendly toward Bogey or the French freedom fighters.
The casting in the picture is truly first-rate, and as if it couldn’t get any better, it does as Hawks manages to outdo himself by casting nineteen-year-old Lauren Bacall in her first screen performance. In the Golden days of Hollywood, directors were always scurrying about for the next big star. Or if you were a great director, perhaps you made the star. Josef von Sternberg once said it was he who was in fact Marlene Dietrich. Somehow I doubt Hawks would say the same. Regardless, Bacall makes quite a first impression all on her own. According to film history, she was so nervous she had to read her lines with her face buried in her chest, her eyes rolled up. The effect betrays a swaggering confidence. It’s a well known fact that Bogey and Bacall fell in love on the set of To Have and Have Not, giving their scenes an elevated realism and power. Bacall also plays a girl with a mysterious past, and despite her youth, she’s tough, cracking as wise as Bogey himself.
Like Rick in Casablanca, Bogey’s Harry Morgan pretends he doesn’t have a moral compass. He’s indifferent to politics, to people, even money. Frenchy, along with other freedom fighters, wants to enlist Harry and his boat on a mission to rescue a French couple from Devil’s Island. Bogey replies with a curt no. He’s not the type to meddle around in anyone else’s affairs, even if they’re good guys. He’s really the closest thing to an antihero Hollywood had in its golden years. Eventually, when he’s hard up for cash, he gives in to their request but only because he needs the money or so he says, and the similarities to Casablanca only continue to increase.
To Have and Have Not is the first and, to my mind, the best of the four Bogey-Bacall collaborations, though they’re all well-crafted and entertaining. In the Hawksian universe, the hero more often than not gets the girl, and if his name is Bogey, he most certainly does. Hawks is famous for saying he liked a picture when you could tell who the devil made it! And this picture has all his trademark themes: friendship, loyalty, professionalism and doing the right thing. Is To Have and Have Not actually better than Casablanca? Well, that really depends on whether you prefer Hawks’ non-nonsense professionalism to Curtiz’s stylized romanticism. I myself would say, here’s looking at you, Casablanca.