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movie: To Have and Have Not

The Howard Hawks movie To Have and Have Not is based loosely on Hemingway’s novel by the same name, which received a lukewarm-at-best reaction from critics. Faulkner was involved in working on the script, making this a pretty literary movie; add to this mix Humphrey Bogart, fresh off the success of Casablanca, and throw in Lauren Bacall’s first movie appearance, and you have a hell of a recipe. Bacall & Bogart met on the set, developing the on-screen chemistry they would be known for, and the off-screen romance that would end Bogart’s marriage to Mayo Methot so that he could marry Bacall.

And Bacall at 19 is a formidable screen presence. It was hard for me to believe her age – although, as Husband pointed out, 19 was a little older then than it is now.

she lights a cigarette for him...

The plot resembles that of the novel, but with a number of changes. The two agree: Harry Morgan (Bogart) is a charter fishing boat captain, accompanied by his drunken mate Eddie. A customer named Johnson has just walked out on his bill after fishing with Harry for several weeks, which financial hardship leads Harry to reluctantly take on the smuggling of illegal passengers onto his island. From here, they differ. The novel’s Cuba becomes the movie’s Martinique, under Vichy rule, just after the fall of France. The Chinese passengers in the novel become a French resistance couple in the movie; and most importantly, Bacall’s character is wholly a creation of the film. Harry’s family life in the book is quite different.

he lights a cigarette for her...

Bacall’s character is Marie but we know her as “Slim” (and she calls Harry “Steve,” for reasons I never grasped). She has shown up in Martinique alone and broke, and immediately she and Harry feel an attraction to one another. She sort of hangs around as Harry’s drama with the French develops. He goes ahead and transports the resistance fighters, out of financial necessity but also out of friendship with hotel owner “Frenchy.” The local Vichy government harasses him for his apparent sympathies. When one of his illicit passengers is shot, he is reluctantly convinced to play doctor, involving him momentarily with the French wife, which makes Slim jealous. Slim briefly takes a gig singing in the hotel lounge, giving us one great scene. Harry has a sweet, not entirely explained loyalty to the drunken Eddie; things wrap up with the three – Harry, Slim and Eddie – about to sail into the sunset together.

Not surprisingly, I was a little disappointed to not find a little more Hemingway in the movie, but that didn’t last long. To Have and Have Not is a snapshot into a moment in film history with iconic stars, smoldering romance, and likeable piano-playing sidekicks. It was very enjoyable.

2 Responses

  1. I love this movie (and I have to mention that Faulkner co-wrote the script with Jules Furthman who worked on many of Hawks’ films over several decades). Not much Hemingway, but wonderful performances, endlessly quotable dialogue, a tough, smart plot, and Bogart at his best.

    To answer your question, Bacall’s character is called “Slim” after Slim Keith, Hawks’ wife at the time (that’s who the character was based on), and “Steve” was Slim Keith’s nickname for Hawks. The “Hawksian woman” is now a recognized film archetype, and Hawks used that type of character in a lot of his films (before and after this one), but Bacall is the standard.

    • She deserves to be! Thanks for clearing that up (sort of – I still don’t know where Steve came from, in Keith’s case, but sometimes these things are born in a void I guess). It was a hell of an iconic film in many elements.

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