Picture it: Hollywood – 1944. A young girl, barely established in her modeling aspirations departs Manhattan, determined to etch out a career in the movies. What she lacks in experience will be made up in her tenacity to succeed, and, by the Svengali-esque transformation under the auspices of her mentor, already well established in the industry; also, by an unlikely and enduring alliance cum whirlwind romance with one of movie land’s biggest box office names. Betty Joan Perske could not have dreamed a more perfect fairy tale kick start to her daring legacy. Under the tutelage of director, Howard Hawks, her transformation from naïve upstart into the mythological unicorn of smoldering sex appeal and sly impertinence, better known to movie fans around the world as Lauren Bacall, was made iconic in To Have and Have Not (1944). Not only did the picture bring Bacall to world renown, it inadvertently launched one of the most iconic love affairs Hollywood has ever known. It takes a lot to be immortalized in Hollywood. Indeed, had Hawks known of this latter wrinkle, he might never have given Betty Perske her big break; Hawks – magnanimous to a point, rather obsessively protective of ‘his discovery’ in this quid pro quo casting couch scenario, still being vetted and leveraged in the Hollywood of today. Too bad for Hawks, his grand seduction became the stuff of ‘lamb bites wolf’; Bacall moving on to bigger and better things. After all, why have part of the married grey fox’s swag and lolly when she could take it all with one of the most revered screen he-men of his era and in his prime; tough, with or without his gun.
There was, in fact, little to suggest Bacall, duly noted in Harper’s Bazaar for her feline grace and blue-green eyes, would become the object of Humphrey Bogart’s amorous attentions, much less his life companion and wife. Given their age disparity alone (Bacall barely twenty to Bogart’s forty-five), the likelihood of any lasting affection between the two seemed doomed from the start. And Bogart, who had taken the slow boat to becoming a major ‘name above the title’ (some 20 years in pursuit of the dream) was already married. The nightmare that was Bogart’s connubial martyrdom to Mayo Methot is legendary; Methot’s usually unwarranted jealousy (basically accusing him of having a notorious flagrante delicto with every leading lady in his repertoire) having the completely opposite effect on Bogart’s association with the women he costarred opposite in pictures. Ingrid Bergman, cast opposite Bogie in Casablanca (1942) famously insisted, “I kissed him, but I never knew him” – an astute assessment of Bogart’s remoteness between takes; usually to be found alone in his dressing room, drink in hand, indulging a game of solitaire.
By 1941, Mayo and Humphrey were dubbed ‘the feuding Bogarts’; their mutual animosities boiling over into infamous rows. Born in 1899, Bogart always considered himself a 19th century man, devoted to that more chivalrous period of manhood when commitment remained paramount – for better or worse. But then he met Lauren Bacall; the two famously hitting it off over Bacall’s bad case of upstart’s jitters and Bogart increasingly admiring the ingénue’s observant good nature; diverting and different from his usual heated exchanges with the opposite sex. Originally, Bacall’s role in To Have and Have Not was to have been very minor; secondary, in fact, to co-star, Dolores Moran; just a walk-on to test audience response: Bacall’s insolent pickpocket, Marie ‘Slim’ Browning asking for a match to light her cigarette, then, casually tossing a lighter back to Bogart’s Capt. Harry Morgan. Reportedly, Bacall was so utterly terrified during her first day her hands shook to an extent where it showed on camera. Empathetic to the newcomer’s jitters, Bogart taunt Bacall a trick to control her shakes, seeing her through this iconic introduction to the movies. After only a few days’ work, it became rather obvious to Hawks something more was brewing on the set. Bacall and Bogart had chemistry – the kind that not only ignites but incinerates movie screens. To capitalize on these unanticipated sparks, Howard Hawks recalled his screenwriters, Jules Furthman and William Faulkner to rework the screenplay, beefing up Bacall’s part at the expense of toning down Dolores Moran’s.
Hawks – a taciturn, if brilliant storyteller, already well on his way to establishing his iconic reputation as one of filmdom’s greatest directors, was likely – if obtusely – unaware the attraction roiling between Bogart and Bacall was genuine, already begun to spill over into their after hours’ badinage. Hawks could be a remote figure, invariably allowing his braggadocios to get the better of him. Indeed, he had even had the chutzpah to challenge Ernest Hemingway, the author of To Have and Have Not with the claim he – Hawks – could make a silk purse from what he deemed the author’s worst novel, openly referring to To Have and Have Not as “that bunch of junk.” Tossing out everything except a few names and, of course, the title, the cinematic To Have and Have Not would relocate the plot to Vichy-held Martinique after pressure was applied to Warner Bros. by the Roosevelt administration, encouraging Jules Furthman to temper Hemingway’s story – originally located in Cuba – and centered on an unrepentant rum runner/revolutionary who meets with an untimely end. Such alterations appeased and upheld the U.S.’s ‘good neighbor’ policy with its Latin American satellites.
Hawks was generally dissatisfied with the several drafts Furthman submitted to him, hiring William Faulkner to spruce up the situations and dialogue; Faulkner, then going through a fallow period, elated to be in collaboration with his idol, Ernest Hemingway. And truth be told, Hawks was as interested in hand-crafting the rough clay that was Betty Perske as to create one hell of a good picture from his revisionist perspective on this original material. In fact, Hawks had given the character Marie Browning the nickname ‘Slim’; an affectionate pet name for his own wife, but also a rather transparent precursor of where his affections for Bacall resided. To test the waters of his ‘discovery’, Hawks first introduced the newly rechristened Lauren Bacall to Bogart while he was shooting Passage to Marseille (1944). Alas Bogart, then distracted by that picture’s arduous schedule and Mayo’s constant alcoholic-induced badgering, virtually ignored Bacall. However, on the set of To Have and Have Not, Bacall’s palpable feistiness immediately won Bogart over. And Bogart, having endured decades of his wife’s unwarranted chastisements; perhaps, with a little dark satisfaction, at long last gave Mayo Methot something for which to be jealous. Bacall was immediately smitten. Just three weeks into shooting, she and Bogart began their affair; Bogart, impulsively planting an unscheduled kiss on her lips and asking for her phone number. Much to Hawks’ chagrin, Bacall obliged. If not for Hawks’ own marriage, one could almost feel twinges of empathy for what could only be considered an outright betrayal.
Indeed, Mayo Methot was hardly pleased as rumors began to circulate about Bogart’s roving eye for this ingénue, young enough to be his daughter. Alas, one can argue Methot brought such misery upon herself; her insanely jealousy all but predicting Bogart would eventually stray into the arms of another woman. That he staved off the urge for so long when he might just as easily have bedded a bevy of female costars, but instead repeatedly tried to make the very best of this tragic union, is commendable. Nevertheless, when production wrapped on To Have and Have Not, Bacall temporarily went back to Hawks and Bogart to Mayo. Ultimately, Bogart asked Mayo for a divorce; begrudgingly granted and allowing him to pursue Bacall yet again. Bacall and Bogart would marry just three days after production on Hawks’ The Big Sleep (1945). In the interim, Bacall had made Confidential Agent (1945) a notorious fizzler co-starring Charles Boyer; the picture’s grotesque implosion at the box office, and in particular, the scathing reviews lobbed at Bacall, immensely pleasing Hawks, who unwisely deduced that without his hand-crafted manipulations of Bacall’s career, the starlet he ruinously regarded as belonging exclusively to him, would ultimately fail in her aspirations. Instead, Hawks would rue the day he ever laid his own aspirations for Bacall at the head of Humphrey Bogart; likely, left asking himself “was you ever bit by a dead bee?” – the memorable query, intermittently asked of various costars in To Have and Have Not by the irrepressible Walter Brennen; cast as the lovable rummy, Eddie. Mercifully, Bacall’s momentary fall from grace would be buffeted by the release of The Big Sleep, followed by Key Largo and Dark Passage; cementing Bogie and Bacall as one of the all-time legendary screen teams who really could – and did – have it all.
To Have and Have Not is a rogues’ gallery of familiar faces in the back lot pantheon; beginning with Walter Brennen’s exquisitely nuanced performance as Eddie; twitching from alcohol withdrawal, and pleasantly oblivious to the fact he is considered mostly a nuisance by everyone except Harry Morgan, who finds his harmless doddering diverting and worthy of all the respect of a fallen father-figure. “He thinks he’s looking after me,” Morgan tells the boorish, Johnson (Walter Sande), his latest charter client who increasingly has come to resent Eddie’s infrequent interference in their fishing expedition. Eddie casually, if chronically suggests of Johnson’s inability to snag a marlin, “You’re just unlucky, Mr. Johnson…that’s all. I never seen anybody so unlucky.” Brennen, largely forgotten today, was highly respected and enthusiastically sought out by the studios for plum roles in his day, becoming the only actor in Hollywood to win 3 Academy Awards in 1936, ’38 and ’40 respectively; a record never topped, but later tied by Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis – very distinguished company to say the least. Notoriously, Brennan arrived in Hollywood penniless, his real estate fortunes virtually wiped out by the Great Depression; falling back on ‘film work’ to survive and steadily build his credits from 1925 onward. His forte was often playing drunkards of varying degrees, either bitterly contemptuous or obtusely lovable, the latter of which his Eddie in To Have and Have Not is among his best.
One is, in fact, rather startled to discover Brennan was only fifty years old in To Have and Have Not; the loss of most of his teeth in a 1932 accident, rapidly thinning hair, anemic physicality and unusually frail voice, making him appear much older. To Have and Have Not falls right in the middle of Brennan’s golden period as an actor, his breakout performance in Two-Fisted Law (1932), leading to an ever more impressive array of cameos. By the early 1940's, Brennan was one of Hollywood’s most prized character actors; achieving ever-lasting screen immortality as the considerate preacher who shapes the moral fiber of Gary Cooper’s Sergeant York (1941), costarring again with Cooper, atypically cast as something of the sage in Pride of the Yankees (1942). One of Hollywood’s most steadily employed and hardest working actors, Brennan’s face later became a fixture on television. Like a good many of Warner’s finely wrought gallery of character actors, Walter Brennan would never achieve fame as ‘the star’. And yet, his presence in any movie is immediately felt; in To Have and Have Not, his paternal good nature towards Bogart, proving skillfully the unlikeliest of charmers.
Our story begins in Fort-de-France; a tiny coastal hamlet on the island of Vichy-occupied Martinique. Capt. Harry Morgan procures his daily license with the local constabulary to take his fishing vessel out to sea. Morgan makes his living taxiing rich tourists up and down these fertile waters in search of good sport. Eddie is Morgan’s unofficial first mate, though he is of little use because of his rank alcoholism. Nevertheless, Morgan feels a sense of duty toward Eddie and vice versa. Their latest fare is Johnson, a boorish American who repeatedly ducks Morgan’s inquiries for remuneration, insisting he will pay up his tab of $825.00 in full at the end of their chartered cruise. Morgan is not particularly worried since Johnson is staying at the Marquee Hotel he too calls home. Nevertheless, Johnson is planning to step out at the break of dawn without settling his account. That night, the hotel bar is populated by an eclectic assortment of weary travelers. The hotel’s manager, Gerard – a.k.a. Frenchy (Marcel Dalio) tries to inveigle Morgan in an urgent plot to assist the French Resistance in smuggling a small contingent of Free French freedom fighters onto the island. Morgan is unimpressed. Moreover, he has written off his responsibilities to the war effort. It’s no dice, and as far as Morgan is concerned, nothing Frenchy can say will change his mind. The expats try more aggressive persuasions inside Morgan’s hotel room. But Morgan reminds them of the dangers involved. Men have been exiled to Devil’s Island for far less than what they are proposing. Without compunction, Morgan sends the group away.
Meanwhile, the piano player, Cricket (Hoagy Carmichael) engages the crowd with a few songs, one of the visitors, Marie Browning, helping along his little ditty. Marie is chummy with Johnson – to a point. But Morgan cynically reasons her interests in the dull American are purely mercenary. In fact, Morgan quietly observes as Marie, whom he has since nicknamed ‘Slim’, picks Johnsons pocket without his knowledge. She’s good – very good; only Morgan is not about to let Slim walk away with the monies owed him, nor the $1400.00 Johnson already possesses in traveler’s checks. Instead, Morgan confronts Slim. Johnson is decidedly not her first stooge, and knowing Morgan knows it, forces Slim to give back Johnson’s wallet. Unhappy luck for all concerned, the hotel is fired upon by several revolutionaries fleeing arrest. In the resulting hullabaloo, Johnson is killed by a stray bullet and his wallet – along with its cash – is confiscated by the portly Prefect of Police, Capt. M. Renard (Dan Seymour). Renard interrogates Morgan and Slim. While he is satisfied with Morgan’s sullen replies, Renard is not about to let Slim get away with such churlish obstructions; at one point, giving her cheek a light smack with Johnson’s wallet to show her he means business.
Renard confiscates Johnson’s money and takes Morgan’s passport – for safe keeping. Without it, it is virtually impossible for Morgan to operate his chartered cruises. Released from custody, Morgan – whom Marie has rechristened ‘Steve’ – and ‘Slim’ pause a moment at the Bar de Zombie; a voodoo-themed local watering hole (shades of Val Lewton’s I Walked With A Zombie -1943, on display). With no money to pay for their drinks, Slim picks out her latest pigeon rife for the asking; a French lieutenant. Morgan is mildly amused by the ease with which she ingratiates herself into this stranger’s company, but leaves the bar and later, comes to resent her for it. Slim confronts Morgan about his fickle jealousies and he attempts to wangle the story of her life to cool the air. Herein, we are exposed to some delicious and brilliantly scripted repartee; all barbs and sexually-charged innuendos, as Bacall’s whisky-voiced insolence simmers with a juicily erotic tenor from even the most benign double entendre; ‘the pot calling the kettle…’ as it were, and Morgan feeding into and off of Slim’s glacial scorn; an elixir for his hypocritical male pride; this sly one’ using sex like a fly swatter to get exactly what she wants from him.
Frenchy returns with renewed appeals and incentives for Morgan; now broke, and in desperate need of some quick cash. He could transport Resistance fighters, Hélène (Dolores Moran) and Paul de Bursac (Walter Surovy) to Martinique. With zero prospects ahead of him, Morgan reluctantly agrees to this daring mission but elects to go it alone. The heat is on and much too high profile for Morgan to take anyone else along. Meanwhile, his hot romance with Slim proves combustible. Slim tells Harry she thinks him ‘a stinker’ but wastes no time planting a passionate kiss on his lips, adding “It’s even better when you help!” Slim’s alright; tough and razor-backed – just the way Morgan likes his women. But his dalliances with her will have to wait. Instead, Morgan sets out in a dense fog to pick up the Bursacs. He has underestimated Eddie who, even after being ordered off the boat, finds a way to sneak back aboard. Morgan confides the purpose of his mission to Eddie; the two collecting the Bursacs – Mr. and Mrs. – from a remote island. Regrettably, Morgan’s boat is spotted by the Vichy harbor patrol. They open fire and Paul is wounded. Stealing away into the relative safety of a low-lying fog bank, Morgan unloads his human cargo nearby before lumbering into port. Frenchy implores Morgan to feverishly work to exculpate the bullet from Paul’s shoulder, even offering to wipe the ledgers of Morgan’s sizable hotel bill as remuneration for once again jeopardizing his own safety. While Morgan agrees to save Paul’s life, he refuses to accept Frenchy’s charity. Hélène’s austere disdain for Morgan melts away. Indeed, she faints at the first sight of her husband’s wound; Slim bringing her back to life with some smelling salts as Morgan diligently digs the projectile from Paul’s gaping wound. Realizing she can trust Morgan, Hélène confides the real purpose of their arrival in port; to help a prisoner of war escape from the penal colony on Devil’s Island.
Morgan is not interested in sticking his neck out for anyone (shades of Casablanca’s Rick Blaine rearing up), much less with the very real threat hanging overhead like the Sword of Damocles. Returning to Morgan’s hotel room, Slim offers to help the weary Morgan untie his shoes, make him a hearty breakfast and/or draw his bath. Morgan is unimpressed. He asks Slim to have a stroll around him, inferring he will not be coaxed into any sort of cheap and doe-eyed ‘romance’ with ‘strings attached’. But only moments later, the couple is locked in a passionate embrace, Slim suggesting they continue their détente after Morgan has had a shave. Alas, love will have to wait - again. Frenchy alerts Morgan Renard is in the hotel’s bar, plying Eddie with rum in the hopes to have him confirm his own suspicions; that it was Morgan’s boat caught in the crossfire and thus, force Morgan to divulge the whereabouts of the Bursacs. Renard tries to bribe Morgan, first with a small stipend; then, the return of his passport and all monies previously confiscated, if only he will reveal the Bursac’s hiding place on the island. But Morgan has dug in his heels and Eddie, even under the influence, is artfully vague about any such midnight crossing Renard suspects of them.
Morgan hatches an escape plan for two…or rather, three; himself, Eddie and Slim. Their daring disappearing act will cause Renard to tear Frenchy’s hotel apart and discover the Bursacs hidden in the cellar. But before any of this finely tuned plot can be set into motion, Eddie inexplicably disappears; Renard and his men arriving at Morgan’s hotel room with Frenchy in tow. Renard informs Morgan Eddie is in police custody. Renard has deviated from his usual interrogation method. Instead of plying Eddie with strong alcohol, he intends to withhold it until Eddie suffers a severe withdrawal and breaks under pressure. Pretending to reach into his desk drawer for a match to light his cigarette, Morgan fires a loaded pistol, wounding one of Renard’s men. With Frenchy’s help, Morgan handcuffs Renard to Lt. Coyo (Sheldon Leonard); Morgan mercilessly pistol-whipping both men until Renard relents and makes a telephone call on Morgan’s command, ordering Eddie’s release. Morgan also has Renard fill out harbor passes for himself, Slim, Eddie and the de Bursacs. With narrowly a moment to spare, Slim says ‘goodbye’ to Cricket. He asks her if she is happy to which she smugly replies with a Cheshire grin, “What do you think?” Morgan, Slim and Eddie depart the Marquee for the last time; their futures uncertain, their enduring love assured.
To Have and Have Not is a winner on many levels, chiefly for its first on-screen pairing of Bogie and Bacall. We expect Bogart to be insolent. He is good at it. Hell, his entire career has been built on variations of the noble savage, reconstituted as the brooding, hard-drinking God’s lonely man with an ax to grind and a chip the size of Gibraltar teetering on his shoulders. And Bogart never disappoints. Impudence comes second natural to him. But Bacall’s brashness is totally unforeseen. Observing Bacall’s statuesque Slim take no guff from Bogart’s salty sea scamp is a refresher course in the art of oblique subtlety; Bacall giving as good as she gets, taking it on the nose now and then, but more frequently out in front of her man like a fine thoroughbred with the bit firmly chomped between her teeth. Marie Browning is not a femme fatale, and yet, Bacall lends her an air of slick, sly and stylish foreboding. She can mesmerize the room with just a bat of her long lashes, or tantalize the gentry with a seemingly effortless swish and sashay of those angular hips and padded shoulders, exaggerated in Milo Anderson’s exquisitely utilitarian fashions. Of course, in hindsight, the added appeal is knowing, or rather, attempting to figure out which scenes were shot by cinematographer, Sidney Hickox after the real-life amour had taken hold; the clamor of Cupid’s artful noise, perhaps most transparently on display in the moment when Bacall’s vixen, wearing nothing more exotic than a bathrobe, suggests to her man that he pucker up and blow. A naughty sensuality permeates; Bacall, both scintillating and genuine, the frisky amusement she generates reflected in Bogart’s eyes as he half winks, then smiles, mustering an anemic whistle, trailing behind either his own or Morgan’s sudden realization - “the kid’s alright.” Indeed.
My one regret each time I view To Have and Have Not is Warner Bros. never wrote a follow-up charting the rocky course of this interrupted love affair; Slim and Morgan’s daring escape across the high seas, culminating (presumably) with Slim going back to America. It would have made for one hell of a picture. With only four movies in their shared repertoire, Bogart and Bacall managed to carve an indelible niche in the cinema firmament; the gutsy, brooding, and confrontational sweethearts happily ensconced in our hearts and minds as sexy compatriots with oodles of charisma to spare. Apart, Bogart had the more enviable career, seguing from star to producer, and even founding his own independent company - Santana - while still committing to other projects as a freelancer; Bacall, willingly, all but retiring from the screen to be Mrs. Humphrey Bogart until her husband’s death from esophageal cancer in 1957; a loss of security that caused her to stumble back into the limelight; alas, older, wiser, but unprepared to navigate through a string of largely forgettable pictures with too few bright spots to recommend the comeback.
Prepare to be astonished, because Sidney Hickox’s sumptuous B&W palette has been perfectly preserved on Blu-ray. Your ole DVD is officially a Frisbee. Fling! It is one of the unforgivable sins that no original camera negative for this iconic movie exists. Generally speaking, Warner Bros. was always a forward thinking studio. Regrettably, they somehow overlooked this one. But the Warner Archive has once again worked its magic for this hi-def release, utilizing a brand new scan of a nitrate fine-grain master positive archived at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Because of age-related deterioration this fine-grain element required extraordinary care and, in addition to this Blu-ray release, Warner has also taken great pains to strike new preservation elements on film stock, ensuring To Have and Have Not will be around for decades to come. In rare instances where the fine-grain was not able to be utilized because it had deteriorated past the point of no return, and no viable image could be scanned from it, a dupe safety negative was used in its place. Thanks to WAC’s technical wizardry, these transitions are not perceivable. Only the critical eye looking for such things will likely notice a minute change in image quality.
Extensive repair and density/shading correction were performed to yield what can only be described as a resurrection of the opening night splendor of this almost lost masterpiece. With exceptions noted, as regarding stock footage and rear projection, the image herein is crisp and refined, nuanced in subtle details and shading to the point where we see exceptional amounts of fine detail in hair, skin and fabrics that is exceptionally pleasing and, for those who have long endured less than stellar renderings on home video, a real revelation. As the original soundtrack has long been lost to the ages WAC has reconstructed a 2.0 DTS mono mix, drawing on several sources to achieve an acoustically seamless presentation. Extras are nil but honestly, given the amount of time, effort and money WAC has poured into restoring To Have and Have Not for this Blu-ray release, all we can do is doff our caps at the monumentally satisfying results from all their fine efforts. Permit us to worship and give immeasurable thanks. Bottom line: very highly recommended! Very highly, indeed!
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)