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.
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.
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.