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02 December 2005

To Have and Have Not (1944)

Humphrey Bogart (Harry "Steve" Morgan), Walter Brennan (Eddie), Lauren Bacall (Marie "Slim" Browning)

Directed by Howard Hawks (Bringing Up Baby)

Plot outline: Loosely based on Ernest Hemingway's novel, To Have and Have Not tells the story of Harry "Steve" Morgan, a fishing- boat captain working out of Martinique in 1940. There, he meets Marie "Slim" Browning, an American woman drifting from port to port and working as a pick-pocket and lounge singer. The two become involved in ferrying Free France rebels even as they become more entangled with each other.

I saw Key Largo about seven years ago, and I fell asleep in the middle. So for the purposes of this review, that Bogey & Bacall film remains in my "yet to be seen" category. That makes To Have and Have Not the third of their on-screen pairings I have watched (there are four in all, including Dark Passage and The Big Sleep), and this is far and away my favorite.

But why? After all, several annoying elements clutter an otherwise wonderful film. Brennan's predictably drunk puppy-dog style sidekick gets old very quickly. Bacall's bizarre and husky singing voice makes for a few strange solo numbers. And musician Hoagy Carmichael's random piano interludes must have been more popular (and not to mention more acceptable in terms of racial stereotyping in the song lyrics) when the film was released.

No, this film is entirely about the rapport between Bogey and Bacall, and it cast them as both on- and off-screen lovers for the first time. As the story goes, Bacall fashioned her "Slim" persona after director Howard Hawks' wife, and both Bogey and Hawks fell in love with her. Bogey left his third wife in order to marry Bacall, they were together until his death twelve years later, and she wound up playing the part of "Slim" for the rest of her life. I like to think their relationship was based on more than a particular movie persona, but who knows.

Anyway, the report is sharp and sexually charged, even for today. Classic lines abound, with my personal favorite: "I'm hard to get, Steve. You just have to ask." Maybe it was acting, or maybe it was being in love, but Bogey is lively and quick to smile, making his character much less dour (but no less intense) than other roles. He's nearly comic, and Bacall's constant smirk suits him perfectly. Playfulness abounds, and I swear that George Lucas got all of his ideas for Han Solo (self-serving but good-hearted captain with a sidekick turns into an accidental good guy) and his relationship with Princess Leia from this movie.

Keven suggested that the best parts of the film are those that steer clear of its superior predecessor, Casablanca, and I tend to agree. When Slim is sarcastic and naughty, or when Bogey laughs and makes wise-cracks - this is where the film sparkles with wit and snappy dialogue. When it strays closer to political intrigue, a man singing at a piano, or resistance against stand-in Nazis (in this case, Vichy administrators), comparisons to Casablanca are unavoidable and do not favor To Have and Have Not. But I suppose they felt obligated to include some manner of plot from Hemingway's novel!

This film is proof as to why Bogey and Bacall became such popular, adored film stars, and why their romantic relationship sparked so many imaginations. At the film's conclusion, when Slim does her little shimmy, takes Bogey's arm, and they walk away from Martinique forever, they became legends.

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