A tribute to Howard Hawks’ classic film To Have and Have Not that is celebrating it’s 75th anniversary. The film marked the debut of Lauren Bacall and set the stage for her romance and marriage to Humphrey Bogart.
You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together – and blow.
Lauren Bacall as Slim in To Have and Have Not
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall are the typical May-December pairing. He is 25 years older than her (add to that a few inches shorter then her) , but they turned out to be an endearing and enduring couple, whose on screen chemistry still sizzles and off screen relationship lasted till the end of Bogart’s life. Howard Hawks’ 1944 film ‘To Have and Have not’ turned out to be the meeting ground for this couple .the film paired then 45 year old (and thrice married) Bogart with 19 year old Lauren Bacall. The film itself is hard to classify. its a mix of Noir, romantic melodrama and an adventure story. It’s also a remixed version of Casablanca with a happy ending . But 2 things are crystal clear about the film,
One, its a quintessential Howard Hawks picture;Bogart’s Harry ‘Steve’ Morgan is the typical Hawks’ hero and Bacall’s Marie ‘Slim’ is the typical Hawks’ heroine .The film is filled with long dialogue scenes , including sexy romantic banter between the lead couple, which is typical of Hawks.
Second, the film. Though not intended, turns out to be an elaborate mating ritual for Bogart and Bacall, with extended scenes of courtship between the two. We see the effect Bacall has on Bogart. he lights up and lightens up in her company. By the way, lighting (each other’s) cigarettes is a major motif throughout the film . ‘Come on baby,light my fire ‘ kept playing in my head while watching this film.
The film, like many Hawks’ Films isn’t big on plot. Whatever there is, is rehashed from Casablanca, which was a big hit with Bogart, and from previous Hawks films,mainly Only Angels have wings (He reproduces an exact line of dialogue from that film here) with Cary Grant and Jean Arthur. The film follows Hawks’ philosophy ;that a good film is one where there are Four good scenes and no bad scenes. So he just goes on creating one great scene after another, with great dialogue and great staging, with stars who possess great screen presence and work well together.
More than half of the 100 minute film is devoted to the Bogart Bacall courtship. It mostly include the couple romantically sparring with each other as they are walking in and out of each other’s rooms.
Bacall was Hawks’protegee, whom he had carefully groomed for her debut in this film. Her introduction scene is also the scene where Bogart’s character meets her for the first time in the film .Which means that the first time a movie audience see her is also the first time Bogart’s character Steve sees her in the film. Her first line in the movie (and in movies) is ‘Has anybody got a match’. Bogart throws her the matchbox. She lights up and throws the box back.Bacall’s Slim is an American drifter who after wandering through a lot of countries, has now reached Martinique(where the film takes place). She has run out of money to go any further . The next time Bogart see her, she is lifting the wallet of Bogart’s client. Bogart follows her to her room,grabs her and take her to his room and forces her to give up the Wallet. From the Wallet, Bogart finds out that his client, who owes him a lot of money, was going to run out on him without paying him. So it turned out to be good for him that she lifted his wallet. He makes her return the Wallet and accompanies her to his client . They follow a similar routine later, when Bacall walks in with a bottle of champagne into Bogart’s room. They banter, she gets annoyed and walks out. He goes into her room to return the bottle,comes back, she follows him back into his room. Then the first kiss happen between them and this back and forth goes on. Now in the hands of any other Director and another group of actors,all this would have been awfully boring. But Hawks is a master in staging these kind of scenes and Bogart-Bacall chemistry is electrifying. They make the Hawksian dialogue – layered with sexual innuendo- sing.
It’s only halfway through the film that we get a semblance of a plot. Just as in Casablanca,There is a conflict going on in Martinique between the Vichy and the free French.Bogart is hired by the free french group to smuggle a freedom fighter and his wife to the island. He takes it up reluctantly as he needs the money. His client , who owes him money,got killed in a shootout . In the ensuing investigation, the authorities confiscate his money and his passport.So in spite of not having any sympathies for the free french cause, he decides to accept their offer. there is also the thing that he is falling in love with Bacall and he likes to see her off the island safely. He is successful in his mission, but Complications arise when the Vichy authorities finds out about it.They capture Eddie(Walter Brennan) who is Steve’s close friend and mate who was with him on the boat on the night of the mission . Eddie is a drunkard and the police captain threatens to withhold liquor from him until Steve confesses to the whereabouts of the freedom fighters. But he manages to overcome the odds with the help of Slim. The film ends with Steve and Slim escaping the island together with Eddie.
The film originated out of a boast made by Hawks to his friend Earnest Hemingway that he is going to make a great film out of his worst novel, which according to Hawks was ‘To Have and Have Not’ published in 1937.Hawks got William Faulkner to write the screenplay. So this became the sole literary collaboration between Hemingway and Faulkner. Just fifteen percent of Hemingway’s novel remained in the film. Hawks intentionally added themes from Casablanca into the film. Obviously Bogart was the only choice for the lead role. It was Hawks’wife who brought Bacall to Hawks’attention. He signed her on an exclusive personal contract and decided to launch her through the film.Bogart, who was married at the time started an affair with Bacall, much to the chagrin of Hawks who tried his best to stop it. But it didn’t work and Bogart and Bacall got married after the release of the film. To have and have not turned out to be a big hit, thus making Bacall a star. Hawks would repeat the couple in next film The Big sleep, which turned out to be even better than To have and have not, both artistically and commercially.Hawks would go on to use the characters and scenes from the film in many of his future films, especially Rio Bravo. Bogart and Bacall would go on to work together again in Films like john Huston’s Key Largo. They would stay married till Bogart’s death in 1957.