Review: To Have and Have Not

Set in the early 1940s on the (French) Caribbean island of Martinique as France falls under Nazi occupation. Bogey plays an apolitical ex-pat American fishing boat captain who catches Lauren Bacall swiping the wallet of his latest client (Walter Sande). However, he soon realises that said client was about to run out on him without paying him the money he’s owed. When Sande winds up dead, Gestapo captain Dan Seymour seizes Bogey’s passport. Bacall wants Bogey to take her on his boat and off the island. Bogey, having already turned down an offer to help out the French resistance movement, has a change of heart (he needs the cash), agreeing to smuggle some people into Martinique whilst also helping Bacall get back to America (i.e. He develops a thing for her). Walter Brennan plays Bogey’s soused right-hand man, whilst Hoagy Carmichael plays a piano player called Cricket.

Like the more famous “Casablanca”, this 1944 film from director Howard Hawks (“Red River”, “Rio Bravo”, “El Dorado”) has enough slow spots to pull it back from being a classic for me. However, the two stars work and if this is kind of a B-grade “Casablanca” (albeit pretty classy for B-grade), it’s probably about equal in terms of quality. The film gets bogged down in the second half (and it’s obvious that Bacall’s part has been beefed up at the expense of someone else’s at some point during filming), but Bogey is good and in her screen debut Lauren Bacall is actually pretty amazing. 19 at the time, Bacall somehow suggests a world-weariness that she surely couldn’t possibly have possessed at her age, you would think. The real-life couple obviously show a lot of chemistry here that can’t be faked. The only thing that makes Bacall’s debut perhaps a bit less auspicious is her rather awful singing. That was a bit of a shame. Walter Brennan, meanwhile is perfect…scary perfect, playing a well-meaning but pathetic drunk. Less effective is Dan Seymour, who isn’t my favourite character actor and here is playing a blend of at least two “Casablanca” characters…and not very memorably.

It’s obvious what has happened here, they’ve taken Hemingway’s text…and thrown it out, replacing it with “Casablanca” (right down to Hoagy Carmichael playing a white Sam the Bartender). Still, it proves to be a mostly very entertaining watch, especially whenever the two stars are on screen. It’s impossible not to compare this film to “Casablanca”, and while this one lacks a few of the big names of the earlier film, the result is of a fairly similar quality.

The second half is lesser than the first, but overall this is solid stuff. It also serves as a reminder to people who complain about such things these days, that Hollywood has forever been taking literary works and ignoring them for the most part when supposedly adapting them. This one only takes the title from Hemingway’s novel and pretty much nothing else. Excellent music score by Franz Waxman (“Bride of Frankenstein”, “Rebecca”, “Rope of Sand”, “My Cousin Rachel”) and William Lava (who worked on a lot of Looney Tunes cartoons and short films), both strangely uncredited. The screenplay is by Jules Furthman (“Mutiny on the Bounty”, “Rio Bravo”) and William Faulkner, kinda sorta not really from the Ernest Hemingway novel. See it for Bogey and Bacall, not the plot.

Rating: B-


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