At Have og Ikke Have
Usually I can and do find faults with almost any film. Not because they necessarily are bad, but because that is just the nature of things. There is always something good and something less good. However this time with “To Have and Have Not” I cannot find any faults with this film. Or rather, I will not find any faults. In my eyes this film is perfect. I love it, as simply as that.
What makes this film so perfect is the pairing of Humphrey Bogart as Captain Steve Morgan and Lauren Bacall as Marie “Slim” Browning. Individually they steal the scenes. Together the burn the celluloid. I cannot think of a Hollywood pairing as hot as these two. Humphrey Bogart is more man than most can ever dream of being. Tough on the outside, mushy on the inside and very very competent at whatever he is doing, which in this case is handling a boat, line fishing, handling the local authorities and incidentally treating gunshot wounds. Lauren Bacall need no competence, she is presence enough on her own. She is of course drop-dead gorgeous, but different from most of her contemporaries. Although in many ways “To Have and Have Not” links back to “Casablanca” Bacall is really what makes it different. Where Bergman is a submissive type, caught up in conflicting interests and unable to let go, Bacall is the opposite. Bacall’s characters in general and “Slim” in particular create their own world. She does not submit, but make the stage and people on it submit to her. Not like a bulldozer or with manipulations, but by sheer presence. She is there and she takes control and put her together with a man who got his act together we get a worthy tango. That dance, played out through the entire length of the film is 80% of “To Have and Have Not” and I need no more than that.
Take the “whistle scene” for example. Who is in control? Bacall? Bogart? Well, she is calling the shots, but he is dancing along and when she says “You do know how to whistle, don’t you” and give him that sultry look, we know something extraordinary may happen in that bedroom and Bogie you are the luckiest guy in the world. And he knows it.
The story itself, yes there is a story and it is a worthy one, was written by Hemmingway. Howard Hawks boasted that he could turn the worst of Hemmingway’s junk into a successful movie and chose “To Have and Have Not”. The story he actually shot however was heavily modified, from criminals on Cuba to La Resistance on Martinique. The Roosevelt administration did not want to insult it neighbors, there was sort trouble enough as it was with a war going on, but the Vichy collaborators on Martinique was another matter and very handy when you need some bad guys: French AND nazi collaborators. Ah, that is not really fair. La Resistance are the heroes of the story and while they are described as a bunch of amateurs they fight with honor and integrity and in the end do make an impact on a self-sufficient Captain Morgan.
In this story Bogart is again an expat in enemy controlled land, this time making a living as a captain of a fishing boat taking wealthy clients fishing for big game. Again Bogart is strictly neutral. He complies with the rules to avoid trouble and in this way stays under the radar. All very Casablanca. His toughness is first demonstrated with his client, a Mr. Johnson (Walter Sande), who is trying to avoid paying for two weeks of fishing, while his soft side is demonstrated by his care for Eddie (Walter Brennan), his generally useless assistant on the boat. To begin with I was a bit annoyed with Eddie. What was the use of this character? Bogart does not need a funny sidekick. But Eddie is like a child to Captain Morgan, part of his luggage and a representation of his caring side. Without Eddie Morgan would have been too harsh a character.
Three things happen to Captain Morgan simultaneously that changes his life:
“Slim” Browning walks into his life. Do they know each other? Probably not. But they fit so well it seems they go way back. “Slim” is a wanderer and now she is stranded on Martinique apparently without money. While we get to know very little of her past it is hinted that there is stuff there she would rather forget. She is in other words as homeless as Morgan, staying on a hotel in enemy territory. The two of them take an immediate interest in each other although they are loath to admit it.
Secondly Morgan is contacted by La Resistance. They urgently need him and his boat. Morgan has no interest in this certain source of trouble and persistently rejects them until the third incident. Johnson gets killed by a stray bullet before he gets to pay Morgan and whatever funds Morgan has are confiscated by the mean looking police inspector Captain Renard (Dan Seymour) leaving Morgan broke. Several members of the cell who tried to employ Morgan die in the attempt at contacting him and a combination of these events persuades Morgan to act. In Casablanca it was a woman begging him, here it is brutal circumstance.
Once involved Morgan is committed and “Slim” rather than trailing along is his companion. It turns out Morgan is pretty good at this line of business indicating that he too has a past better left alone. His expert knowledge of gunshot wounds is testimony of that.
An indication of the strength of Bacall and her character are the scenes with Helene de Bursac (Dolores Moran). She is one of the two Resistance people Morgan has to pick up. Originally she was supposed to have a larger role as a potential romantic interest for Morgan, but pretty as the might be, she is a dwarf next to Bacall and “Slim” eats that kind of women for breakfast. Hawks wisely reduced her role. Where she faints at the sight of the gun wound, “Slim” is entirely cool and makes herself useful. No one needs to carry her around.
If you are still not convinced check out Bacall with the band in the hotel bar. To excellent jazz accompaniment Bacall sings her way into the pants of everybody there. That deep sultry voice, wow. Bogie, you were a very very lucky fellow.