To Have and Have Not, Howard Hawks’s more or less in-name-only adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “worst novel,” has more in common with Casablanca (including nearly half a dozen players) than with its ostensible source material. Its real claim to fame, though, is the first pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who appeared together in only three other films but remained ever after linked off the screen.
The witty screenplay by Jules Furthman and William Faulkner samples from the novel’s dialogue, plot points, and character names, but the setting has been shifted from 1930s Cuba to WWII-era Martinique, and the drama of a broke sea captain forced to smuggle illegal immigrants to support his family has been replaced with a heroic romance about a hard-bitten ship captain asked to smuggle a French resistance leader past Vichy agents.
Lauren Bacall was an 18-year-old unknown when she signed up to play 22-year-old Marie “Slim” Browning opposite established star Bogart, and was so intimidated by the older man that they had to keep reshooting the scene where she casually catches a matchbook from him because she kept dropping it. But their onscreen chemistry is palpable, all but overshadowing the fictional back story that made Rick and Ilsa's dance in Casablanca so memorable.
In spite of this, To Have and Have Not doesn’t have the elements that make Casablanca immortal: lovers with a complex history, a romantic triangle with equally sympathetic rivals, noble sacrifice for a higher cause, and one classic line after another (Walter Brennan’s “Was you ever bit by a dead bee?” doesn’t quite cut it, although Bacall’s “maybe just whistle” line comes close).
Dan Seymour exudes smooth menace as Vichy Captain Renard, Brennan’s sweet rummy is amusing and ingratiating, and songwriter Hoagy Carmichael plays “Hong Kong Blues” and “How Little We Know” with Bacall herself singing the latter. It may be Casablanca lite, but To Have and Have Not generates its own modest charm.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.