Saturday, January 3, 2009


"To Have and Have Not" (***1/2 out of ****)grew out of a conversation between Ernest Hemingway and Howard Hawks. Hawks had tried to persuade Hemingway to write screenplays, but Hemingway refused. Hawks told Hemingway, "I can make a picture out of your worst story." Hemingway asked, "What's my worst story?" Hawks replied "a bunch of junk" called "To Have and Have Not." "You can't make anything out of that," Hemingway argued. Hawks retorted, "Yes, I can." The novel "To Have and Have Not" concerned a charter boat captain, Harry Morgan, who loses the money owed to him by a client who leaves him in the lurch without paying his bill. Reluctantly, Morgan accepts money from rumrunners to ship their contraband merchandise. He gets shot-up, loses an arm, and his boat. Later, Morgan dies after he contends with bank robbers who force him to take them to safety using his boat. Hawks sold the story for a quarter interest in the movie to Warner Brothers, and in 1943 the studio cast Humphrey Bogart as the lead.

Initially, when Howard Hawks began work on the film, the U.S. Government objected to the use of Cuba as the setting. They worried that audiences might confuse the political regime in the Hemingway novel with America's current ally, the Batista government running Cuba. Hawks and his good friend William Faulkner changed the setting to the French territory of Martinique. Furthermore, Faulkner advised Hawks to rewrite the politics of the movie so that it dealt with the clashing aims of Vichy France and Free France.

Like Hemingway's novel, the film "To Have and Have Not" opens with professional skipper Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) taking his client, Mr. Johnson (Walter Sande), fishing off the coast of Fort de France, Martinique. After sixteen days of bad luck, Johnson quits, lies about having no money, and tries to leave Morgan without paying his bill. When Harry discovers Johnson's lies, he confronts him and Johnson is about to sign over $825 worth of traveler's checks. During a shoot out between Vichy police and suspected Free French resistance agents, Johnson is caught in the crossfire and dies. Earlier, the Free French had tried to hire Harry to smuggle one of their members onto the island. Reluctantly, since the police have confiscated his cash and the money owed him by Johnson, Harry accepts the Free French offer. By this time, Harry has gotten involved with a beautiful but mysterious woman, Marie Browning (Lauren Bacall), only recently arrived in Martinique and short of finances herself. She had tried to steal Johnson's wallet, but Harry caught her and discovered Johnson's financial solvency.

Harry and his longtime alcoholic sidekick Eddie (Walter Brennan) pick up Helene De Bursac (Dolores Moran) and her husband Paul (Walter Szurovy) but encounter a Vichy patrol boat. Harry shoots out its search light and loses the patrol boat in the fog. Unfortunately, Paul De Bursac catches a slug in his chest. Predictably, Vichy Police Captain Renard (Dan Seymour) questions our heroes at their hotel about their trip. Harry and Eddie lie that they were fishing for marlin when a German U-boat frightened them. Later, Harry digs the spent bullet out of De Bursac's chest with Marie's help. Captain Renard renews his suspicions and arrests Eddie. Later, Renard and his agents corner Harry at the hotel where he lives when he is not taking customers on fishing trips. Harry catches the dastardly Renard with his guard down, kills one of his henchmen, and then claps Renard and company in handcuffs. After slugging the police captain on the head, Harry convinces Renard to turn Eddie loose. Eddie, Marie, and Harry get De Bursac off the island to safety.

"To Have and Have Not" deals with the usual themes that obsessed Hawks. All good Hawksian characters are professionals in the strictest sense and a later scene between Harry and Paul De Bursac establishes the quintessential characteristics of the Hawks hero. De Bursac describes the chief characteristic, "When you meet danger, you never think of anything except how you will circumvent it. The word failure does not even exist for you . . ." "To Have and Have Not" boasts some memorable dialogue, especially between Bogart and Bacall. The "whistle" scene is now the stuff of legends, like the horse race dialogue in their next movie "The Big Sleep." Interestingly, Bogart and Bacall fell in love during filming while Bogart was still married to his alcoholic wife actress Mayo Methot. Eventually, Bogart divorced Methot and married Bacall. Walter Brennan's shtick about "was you ever bit by a dead bee?" is hilarious.

Enough similarities exist between "To Have and Have Not" and "Casablanca" to make comparisons inevitable. Like the Bogart hero in "Casablanca," necessity compels Harry to abandon his isolationist attitude and aid the Free French. Unlike "Casablanca," no actual Nazi German characters appear in "To Have and Have Not," but Madame De Bursac does mention them in passing. Furthermore, World War II does not play a major role in the story apart from the street shoot-out between Vichy authorities and the Free French as well as Renard's search for De Bursac. Unlike the doomed "Casablanca" romance between Rick and Ilsa, Marie and Harry have never met, and nobody comes between Harry and Marie. Unlike Rick, Harry owns a charter fishing boat rather than a tavern. Indeed, Paul De Bursac and his wife do resemble fugitive Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo, but De Bursac has come to Martinique to rescue a Free Frenchman imprisoned on Devil's Island.

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