Monday, June 18, 2012

To Have and Have Not (1944)

“You know Steve, you're not very hard to figure, only at times. Sometimes I know exactly what you're going to say. Most of the time. The other times... the other times, you're just a stinker.” 

            To Have and Have Not is not a very well known classic unless you happen to be a fan of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. They are the only reasons I ever heard of the film and even own it (I own all Bogart and Bacall’s films together). There is probably a reason why To Have and Have Not is often overlooked as a very good top notch classic film… it is pretty much Casablanca set in French Martinique instead of French Morocco. Instead of Ingrid Bergman as the leading lady it’s Lauren Bacall. Humphrey Bogart is Rick Blaine with a name change and a gruffer look.
            Bogart is an American boat owner named Harry Morgan who lives in Martinique during World War II. The island is full of political tensions between the pro-Vichy supporters and the Free French supporters. Harry has no sympathies he just cares about himself and making money taking people fishing. He has a friend named Eddie (Walter Brennan) who is a drunkard but a very sweet man who would do anything for Harry.
            At his hotel the owner Frenchy (as Harry calls him) comes to Harry asking him to help bring an important Free French leader to the island. I swear if Harry said “I stick my neck out for nobody” it would have been perfect. At times that line seems almost to be on the tip of his tongue. Harry does not want to get in trouble and, after all, he is an American he has no reason to be helping the French.  That same night he meets a beautiful young American girl named Marie Browning (Bacall) who he quickly nicknames Slim and she for some reason nicknames him Steve.
            So as in Casablanca Bogart’s character winds up helping out the Free French and risks his life in the process. The police are on his back in this one too watching his every move. The ending is different though this time Bogart gets the girl and they live happily ever after.
            Humphrey Bogart is an actor I like but at the same time I can take him or leave him. He played a great tough good guy. To me Bogart is one of the least romantic leading men in classic Hollywood and he always seemed to play the same kinds of characters over and over again and here he literally does play the same character for a second time. There was one scene where Harry was asked what his nationality was and again it was almost like you wanted him to answer "I'm a drunkard." 
            This film truly belongs to Lauren Bacall. This was Bacall’s film debut and she was a knock out. I personally think that her character has one of the greatest introductions ever. When we first see her she is walking out of the door to her room as if she was just a minor character. The camera is on her for two seconds as she opens the door as Harry is walking into his and that is it for a few minutes until she comes back. I do not know why I like this entrance I guess because I see it as the director fooling the audience in some way. Anyway, Bacall completely dominates the film whenever she is in a scene because she was gorgeous and had such a presence. My favorite scene is the one where she says her most famous line: “You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow.” That line is to die it is so genius especially for its time. Not only is the line genius it is made by the way Bacall speaks it and how she looks at Bogart when she says and Bogart’s reaction when she walks out of the room.

            To Have and Have Not is a good film that was excellently directed by the brilliant Howard Hawks. The film’s only flaw is that it is way too similar to Casablanca which makes viewers compare the two and leaves the plot a bit boring at some moments. With a great cast directed by a great director To Have and Have Not deserves to be given a chance.