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To Have and Have Not
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by Jay Seaver

"Faulkner and Hemingway - and they ignore the writing - and it's still good!"
4 stars

So, it's World War II. Humphrey Bogart is playing an expatriate American running a small business in an occupied French colony, more or less minding his own business until an important resistance figure and his wife show up and turn his world upside down. This sounds awful familiar, but the action takes place not in Morocco, but Martinique.

Truthfully, To Have and Have Not really only resembles Casablanca in broad outline. Bogart's Harry Morgan operates a small fishing boat, and business isn't nearly so good as it is at Rick's Café. His first mate Eddie (Walter Brennan) drinks most of the profits, and his most recent customer (Walter Sande) refuses to pay up. The beautiful Marie Browning (Lauren Bacall) arrives on the island just as the war starts to come in earnest - a trip to secretly transport de Gaule lieutenant Paul de Bursac (Walter Szurovy) and his wife Hellene (Dolores Moran) ends with de Bursac wounded and the authorities hot on their trail.

Though based on a novel by Ernest Hemingway and featuring a screenplay by Jules Furthman and William Faulkner, the film is famous for not being constrained by its pedigree. The events of the film are only alluded to in the novel, the cast improvised many of their lines, and the focus of the story changed with the discovery that Bogart had much more chemistry with future wife Bacall than with Ms. Moran. By the time it was all said and done, the film Howard Hawks made bears scant resemblance to Hemingway's novel.

But, it works quite well as a movie, thanks in large part to how Hawks lets his costars' chemistry dictate the movie he makes. So you get the sort of love at first sight between Harry and Marie that reveals itself via sarcasm and teasing; you also get a sense of long-held caramarderie between Harry and Eddie. At times, Harry is in the position of a child dealing with a parent who has lost his faculties, holding on to what initially made him admire his old mentor, even if all anyone else can see is a sad drunk.

Indeed, even though we're trained to look at the romance as the central relationship in a movie, it's Harry's caretaking of Eddie that serves as the film's main metaphor. After all, it's easy to fall in love with a girl as attractive as young Lauren Bacall, especially when she takes the lead in flirting and just refuses to ignore requests that she go away for her own safety. Eddie's aware that he's a burden, though, and if Harry were to tell him to go away and not come back until he'd dried up, he'd probably understand and slink away. It's sticking by the Eddies of the world, even when they do nothing but cause trouble, that define a man's character, and suggest that he'll do the right thing by the fugitive de Bursacs, even when it would be simpler to turn them in.

Still, Walter Brennan's Eddie grows on us fairly quickly; he's a genial drunk with a core of sadness. This sort of performance looks somewhat outdated now, but it gets the core of the character across without us having to deal with a great deal of exposition about how Eddie got to this point. Bogart, meanwhile, plays Morgan as a curmudgeon - short-tempered with everyone but Eddie but practical about his reliability once he's left the room. Bogart has a very recognizable way of delivering his lines which suits Morgan well: Dry as a bone most of the time, until something gets the character angry, at which point his speed picks up and the words gain an edge that hits the audience like a physical blow. Bacall, meanwhile, is unflappable; the actress was only about nineteen years old when this film shot, but she projects much more confidence. Her character (nicknamed "Slim", which would stick with Bacall afterward) can trade wit with Morgan without being intimidated, and Bacall makes herself a movie star through sheer force of personality.

That an off-screen romance developed isn't surprising - while this sort of on-screen passion can be simulated between two actors, what would make these two movie stars is the larger than life charisma that they brought to the screen in their various roles, and that probably doesn't come from nowhere. Saying it shows on the screen is probably just interpreting data to fit a known conclusion, but knowing that this film is where one of Hollywood's biggest romances started certainly adds interest.

Of course, even without that factor, "To Have and Have Not" is still a highly entertaining movie, well worth checking out. The talent involved, both in front of the cameras and at the typewriter, just grabs one's attention.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=6185&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/10/06 12:42:56
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User Comments

8/31/19 Suzanne Lauren Bacall is breath-taking, and Bogie's not bad either. 4 stars
6/21/15 David Hollingsworth Excellent film with Bogie and Bacall's smoldering chemistry 5 stars
7/06/05 John MacKendrick IMHO, Bogart's best film 5 stars
1/27/05 bjtomko excellent 4 stars
10/02/02 Charles Tatum B&B outclass standard material 4 stars
10/02/02 R.W. Welch So-so Hemingway book makes a fine flick thanks to the sizzle between Bogart & Bacall 5 stars
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  11-Oct-1994 (NR)
  DVD: 05-Oct-2010



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