Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Jules Furthman & William Faulkner
The Hollywood legend of Humphrey Bogart is pretty extensive. It is hard to peek out from the veil of being a movie buff into the world of the average movie goer these days, especially those my age, but I would wager a guess that Humphrey Bogart, along with maybe actors like Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant, is the most recognizable star of old Hollywood to people in this day and age. And the reason they stand above the rest is simply because they were actually that good. Part of Bogart will always be Lauren Bacall. The two were one of the original star couples, lasting until Bogey’s death in 1957. Well this Howard Hawks film was the beginning of it all for these two, as it marked the first film appearance by Bacall, and the two would wed the year after the film was released.
Harry Morgan is an American expatriate, as it seems Bogart always seems to play whether he actually does or not. Harry is living in Martinique in the Caribbean during World War II, just after France fell to the Nazis to be more specific. After losing a high end client on his deep sea fishing venture with friend Eddie (Walter Brennan), Harry is hard up for money and is forced to take a job sneaking in a couple Free French Resistance Fighters despite Harry’s wish to remain neutral. Involved in something he never wished to be, Harry must juggle the threat of the authorities as well as the intriguing lounge singer (Lauren Bacall) with whom he has begun a relationship.
My experience with Howard Hawks is limited, but it has been a good experience filled with fast and witty dialogue from films like Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday, both of which star Cary Grant in the lead role. This film, with Bogey in the lead, has a decidedly different feel to it. Gone are the quick fire remarks and the riotous comedy and in are the classic elements of almost any Bogart film: tension and romantic intrigue. I really applaud Hawks for showing me something different, even if I have come to love his other style, but this story acts almost like a ticking time bomb with precise pacing. As the story slowly evolved, so to did my level of attention and sense of enjoyment. It slowly built as the relationship between Harry, or Steve, and ‘Slim’ (Bacall) slowly lit and as the political drama came to fruition.
I was really surprised by this film to the point that it reminded me of another classic Bogart film, Casablanca. I am sure I am not the first to point out the similarities and at this point in the timeline of the world if you have seen To Have and Have Not, you have probably also seen Casablanca, so I will avoid pointing out the similarities. The main difference between the two, however, is that To Have and Have Not feels much smaller. It is not as epic, or important, or melodramatic as Casablanca, but I mean that in the best of ways because each film works marvelously for what it is. I think, in part, what makes this film feel a bit smaller is not only its setting, Martinque, but also the performance and presence of Lauren Bacall.
Humphrey Bogart is a wonderful actor and a giant of the screen, despite his lilliputian size in real life, but the star here has to be the debut of Lauren Bacall. I have seen her in other things, but never as good as she was here. She has such a way of carrying herself that is at once normal and yet so sexy, which is one of her greatest attributes. She is not as pretty as some of the other starlets, but her confidence and the way she carries herself on screen contribute to her sexiness which works extremely well towards convincing me that she is a lounge singer capable of seducing any man for a drink or romancing Humphrey Bogart. It is hard to judge something like this against the comedies of Hawks which I have seen, but to this point I have not been let down by Howard Hawks.