Thursday, May 28, 2020

To Have and Have Not

Ernest Hemingway

William Faulkner

Lauren Bacall magazine cover

Bogie and Walter Brennan

Hawks on the set with Bogie and Bacall

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT      B                    
USA  (100 mi)  1944  d:  Howard Hawks

You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don't have to say anything, and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together, and blow.
—Marie “Slim” Browning (Lauren Bacall)

While CASABLANCA (1942) is a beloved film and a timeless classic, filled with memorable dialogue, this is an offshoot of that film with Howard Hawks trying to resurrect that same kind of romantic fervor during wartime, but it feels trivial in comparison, lacking the darker themes so apparent in the original, becoming something of a bemused, lightweight spin-off that is notable for introducing 19-year old Lauren Bacall to the silver screen, while also using the collective talents of two Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning authors, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner.  Hawks was good friends with both men, where the story goes that on a fishing trip together, Hawks challenged Hemingway that he could make a successful film out of his worst novel, calling To Have and Have Not “a bunch of junk” (a dark and brutal Depression era story that is endlessly bleak, where the protagonist refers to blacks as “niggers”), which was his way of urging Hemingway to come to Hollywood, write for the movies, and make a boatload of money.  Hemingway refused, of course, but Hawks was up for the challenge, first employing screenwriter Jules Furthman, then prestigious novelist William Faulkner to write adaptations, completely altering the original novel, where only the opening scenes with would-be big-game fisherman Mr. Johnson (Walter Sande) resemble the source material.  While Faulkner is one of America’s greatest novelists, he was a Hollywood screenwriter for hire since the early 30’s and did it largely for the money, working out of necessity because his income as a novelist was woefully insufficient.  As a result, his Hollywood screenplays are uneven and never rise to his stature as a novelist, but he worked well with Howard Hawks, writing five of his six credited screenplays.  Ironically, the screenplay he was most proud of received no screen credit, Jean Renoir’s THE SOUTHERNER (1945), because technically he was under contract by a different studio.  Despite the stature of the writers, Hawks was known for changing scripts as he went along, adapting the material to his shooting needs, where according to Bacall’s autobiography, she described the director’s “brilliantly creative work method” each morning on the set, where Hawks would sit in a circle with Bacall and Bogart and others in the scene with a script girl reading the scene.  Hawks would spice up the dialogue until he and Bogart felt comfortable before discussing the camera set-ups with the cinematographer Sidney Hickox.  This process explains the Hawks working method, always catering to the needs of his actors, making them feel comfortable, giving them the needed assurances.  It was Hawks idea to pair Bogart with Bacall, who was actually discovered as an 18-year old model on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar magazine by Hawks’ wife Nancy "Slim" Keith, bringing their own pet names for each other into the film (which the Hollywood couple continued to use in real life), with Bogart calling her Slim, while she calls him Steve.  Sparks were literally flying between Bogart and Bacall on and off the set, falling in love during the production, with Bogart reportedly “giggling” whenever he was around her, so Hawks eliminated all the other love interests in the storyline, making them the romantic centerpiece of the film.  During the shoot Bacall was age 19, while Bogart was 45, with Bacall never reaching these cinematic heights again, as she would never get better lines, marrying a year after the film was released.  Forever known as Bogie and Bacall, they became the most romantic couple that existed in Hollywood during the 40’s and 50’s, embracing their role as the ultimate Hollywood power couple.  In October 1947, they led a Washington delegation of two dozen others that included John Huston, William Wyler, Gene Kelly, Danny Kaye, Sterling Hayden, Ira Gershwin, Geraldine Brooks, and Judy Garland (Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and “the Hollywood elite ...), all protesting McCarthyism and the era of Hollywood blacklisting announced just a month later, only to end up on subsequent blacklists themselves, having to openly denounce and repudiate communism before working again in the industry, with some, like Hayden, forced into naming names, an act he regretted for the rest of his life. 

It is ironic that with such an elite corps of writers, this is such an overly contrived and poorly written film, where the electric chemistry fueling Bogart and Bacall was captured with beguiling eye contact and some snappy dialogue, becoming the essence of the film, particularly the distinguished element of Bacall, who more than holds her own, pulling her own weight in a relationship, openly honest, tough, smart, and seductively alluring, in every respect Bogart’s equal, where she even sings, but the overall story feels hackneyed, where performances alone don’t make a film.  Without her presence this would be a really dull and insipid affair, as she’s the reason to see this film, steamrolling over everyone else, including Bogart, becoming one of the great breakout performances (how was she not nominated during awards season, as the Academy waited until 2009 to award her a Lifetime Achievement Award), catapulting her into instant stardom, with Hawks on a roll, delivering eleven consecutive box office hits from 1939 to 1951.  An intriguing Vertigo (1958) variation, Hawks claimed Bogart fell in love with Bacall’s character in the film, so she had to keep on playing her all her life.  The film is set during war time in 1940 on the small Caribbean island of Martinique, a French colony, after the fall of France, resulting in a Vichy government under a lengthy occupation by the Nazi’s.  This same balance of power was taking place on the island, where almost all the action takes place inside the Hotel Marquis, the film’s principal location.  Bogart is Harry Morgan, who runs a charter fishing boat renting excursions to tourist fishermen, like Mr. Johnson, who openly mocks the boat presence of Eddy (Walter Brennan), Harry’s alcoholic first mate, who spends most of the trip drinking beer or sleeping it off.  Johnson hooks a big game marlin on two occasions, but loses each one, as he’s unwilling to follow the instructions of the skipper, even losing the fishing rod and gear, accidentally dropping it overboard.  In a dour mood afterwards, he prickles at the thought of what he owes, claiming he can’t pay until the bank opens the next morning, with everyone meeting back at the hotel which features Hoagy Carmichael as Crickett the piano player.  Marcel Dalio plays the hotel owner Gérard (aka Frenchy), having a word with Harry in his room, asking if he could transport some “friends of friends,” a request he refuses, not wishing to get involved in the touchy political divide.  Across the hall, however, Marie (aka Slim) famously asks if anybody has a match, quickly disappearing afterwards.  Yet she’s seen again at a table having drinks with a drunken Mr. Johnson, under the curiously watchful eye of Harry, evading his lecherous grasp while moving quickly to the piano for a song, Am I Blue (1944) Hoagy Carmichael YouTube (1:40), then picking his pocket immediately afterwards.  Having a stake in the contents, Harry follows her upstairs and confronts her about the incident, which she doesn’t deny, offering reasons Harry can understand, discovering Johnson has more than enough money to pay Harry what he owes in travelers’ checks, also finding an early morning ticket for a flight out the next morning.  Meanwhile, the friends Gérard mentioned arrive at his door, upset how easily they are dismissed, but Harry is firm in his position, returning to the scene of the crime with Slim and the wallet, finding an embarrassed Mr. Johnson at their discovery.  As the friends exit the hotel, however, shots ring out, with police chasing after them, leading to mayhem, where Johnson is killed by a stray bullet before he has a chance to repay Harry.  Mopping up the scene is an enormously large Vichy police official, Captain Rénard (Dan Seymour), hauling in Harry and Slim for questioning, taking all of Harry’s money and his passport while slapping Slim in the face for perceived insolence, their fates seemingly linked together.

While the two take to each other immediately, Harry is impressed how she didn’t flinch during the police interrogation, “That slap in the face you took.  Well, you hardly blinked an eye.  It takes a lot of practice to be able to do that.”  After fleecing a customer for a bottle of wine, there is an introductory cat and mouse game played, pursuing, then deferring, with each asserting themselves at some point, then pulling back when they don’t get the expected reaction, but by the end of the evening they are a couple.  The most interesting part of the film is the spontaneous interplay between Bogart and Bacall, which is easygoing and pleasurable, like eye candy to watch, among the truly great screen couples, where the origins of their great love affair takes place on camera, where an unparalleled coolness sharing cigarettes becomes a metaphor for sexual foreplay (contributing to his early death from esophageal cancer at the age of 57, leaving her a widow at the age of 32).  Like a Bogart character, Bacall is equally rebellious and individualistic, a woman with a past, viewed as an unattached loner, a drifter visiting South American who happened to arrive on the island when she ran out of money.  Her slim figure and husky voice fit all the femme fatale requirements, defiant, tough as nails, yet intuitively smart and perceptive, offering what studios described as “The Look.”  She doesn’t have to guard herself as she has nothing to hide, openly confessing her attraction to Bogart with the infamous whistle line, Lauren Bacall Whistle YouTube (55 seconds).  In this film, it doesn’t have the depth of magnitude of Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in CASABLANCA, who share a back story, where the atmosphere is so much murkier.  It’s also not one of Bogart’s better films, as his character is a little brutish and sadistic.  This film is all about Bacall’s deadly eye contact and her slow murmuring purrs when she comes on to him.  But with no money left, Harry is forced to reconsider Gérard’s earlier offer, taking money up front, buying a ticket for Slim out of the country that afternoon, while agreeing to transport resistance fugitives under cover of darkness, picking up Paul and Hélène de Bursac (Walter Surovy and Dolores Moran) at a designated off-island location, but they are intercepted by a patrol boat, with Paul cowardly trying to turn himself in, getting shot in the process, but Harry shoots out the searchlight and escapes in the fog, all meeting back in the hotel cellar, with Harry tending to the feverish man’s wound, discovering Slim has not left, wanting instead to be near him, assisting him in removing the bullet, with the patient making a miraculous overnight recovery.  By the next day, however, Eddy is in the clutches of the police, with Rénard and his goons soon visiting Harry at his hotel room asking questions about the de Bursacs, threatening to withhold alcohol from Eddy, which could leave him seriously harmed.  Harry has apparently heard enough, grabbing a gun in his desk, shooting one of the goons, placing the other two in handcuffs, ordering a release of Eddy.  When they refuse he brutally pistol whips each one of them until they comply, also signing “letters of transport” allowing the de Bursac’s free passage.  Baffled by his change of heart and sudden transformation, Gérard wonders what made him change his mind.  Harry reveals, simply, “Well, I like you and I don’t like them,” which is all that seems to matter.  Diverging dramatically from Hemingway’s novel, removing the tragic tone of despair, where there was a feeling that the novel had been betrayed, with a title about the economic disparity between classes making little sense here, where the film is anything but tragic, offering a lighthearted and even happy conclusion, including a joyous hip-wiggle from Bacall, a shuffle from Brennan, and a festive jazz free-for-all from the band sending them off in high style, "To have and have not" (1944) – Final scene (HD) - YouTube (58 seconds).     

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