One of Humphrey Bogart’s most famous films, and the one where he flirts with Lauren Bacall whenever they are on screen.
This has always been Casablanca Lite, in my book. Both films have heavy atmosphere, quirky characters, a piano-playing pal, Nazis, a world-weary American who doesn’t want to dirty his hands with current politics. To Have And Have Not is just not as original and sentimental as Casablanca, made two years before.
Loosely based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway, the film has a lot of originality, as directed with flair by Howard Hawks. Instead of Cuba, the film took place in Vichy France. William Faulkner was one of the credited writers adapting Hemingway’s novel. Filming began with on only a portion of the completed script, even though it had gone through several full drafts. The script continued to be written during filming, with Hawks and Bogart serving as the script approvers for each day’s shooting. Hemingway originally sold the book to Howard Hughes, before passing to Hawks.
In many ways, To Have And Have Not stands on its own feet, a wartime romance that shows Bogart playing a version of his best character. Whether he is Rick or Steve, he’s the American who can’t keep the war from his business or his personal life. Against his better judgement, he allows himself to get involved in other people’s business, at the risk of his own security. Bogart is the worldly, jaded, tough, but weak for certain kinds of women. He navigates in neutral waters, fiercely independent, but quickly stands up for his friends. These two films established Bogart in action films as one of the first, and most complex anti-heroes. Hard-edged, but putty for a woman with starch who can figure out his code.
In Casablanca, Elsa turned Rick to jelly, broke his heart and stayed buried deep in his soul. In To Have And Have Not, Slim was young, but old beyond her years, disarming Steve from the first time they met. It was her that kissed him first and had all the best lines. Steve was no match for her.
Slim: You know, Steve, you’re not very hard to figure. Only at times. Sometimes I know exactly what you’re going to say – most of the time. The other times [She sits in his lap], the other times you’re just a stinker. [She plants a kiss on his lips]
Steve: What’d you do that for?
Slim: Been wondering whether I’d like it.
Steve: What’s the decision?
Slim: I don’t know yet. [She kisses him again]
Slim: It’s even better when you help.
The first half of the film is the setup for the film’s real narrative. Hawks spends the first hour introducing the characters and winding up the drama, and the fire in the romance. Steve is forced by circumstances to get into the war by helping transport two people for the French resistance. Naturally, things go wrong and a simple haul in his boat gets Steve deeply involved in the action.
The cast includes many fine characters actors including Walter Brennan, who like Bacall, hijacks every scene. Also in the cast are Hoagy Carmichael and Sheldon Leonard.
On the list of Bogart films, where does this one rank? Certainly below Casablanca, The African Queen, The Caine Mutiny, Sahara, The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Big Sleep, Action in the North Atlantic and They Drive By Night.