Saturday, February 24, 2007

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (Warner Bros. 1944) Warner Home Video

Howard Hawks’ To Have And Have Not (1944) gets the nod for introducing audiences to Lauren Bacall and having the inspired notion of teaming her with Humphrey Bogart for the very first time, thereby creating one of the most legendary screen couples in film history - both on and off the silver screen. 

Under a personal contract to director Hawks – who evidently hoped for more behind the scenes from his young discovery – Bacall disappointed her mentor by falling for, and eventually marrying, Bogart instead.

Bacall plays Marie ‘Slim’ Browning, a pickpocket in Martinique who crosses paths with Capt. Harry Steve Morgan (Humphrey Bogart). Seems Harry was double-crossed by his most recent fishing patron, Johnson (Walter Sande), the man whose wallet Slim has just pinched. Before Steve can collect on the debt, Johnson is accidentally killed by a stray bullet.

Morgan is hired by nightclub owner and supporter of the resistance, Frenchy (Marcel Dalio) to charter his boat for freedom fighters; Paul De Bursac (Walter Molnar) and his wife, Hellene (Dolores Moran). However, when Morgan’s boat receives a Vichy ambush, Paul is wounded.

Hawks, who reportedly told Ernest Hemingway that he could make a success out of his worst novel – To Have and Have Not – does just that. Jules Furthman and William Faukner's screenplay sets up some genuine romantic fireworks between Slim and Harry that crackle with witty dialogue. Of course, all that good writing would have been for not had Bogart and Bacall not fallen for one another on the set, thereby lending some prickly sexual subtext to the already loaded lines. 

To Have and Have Not is not so much a ‘narrative’ as it proves a ‘character’ driven exercise in film making. The patriotic 'resistance rescue' plot is really just an excuse to hang a bunch of glib one liners on. Hawks gets great economy out of Bogie and Bacall's on screen chemistry. This excels and carries the movie along even as it thoroughly stalls the threadbare plot from moving towards its inevitable conclusion. 

Style over substance? You bet. But what a style it is - and oh, what a treat to explore over and over again. There's just something magical about these two stars - completely within their element and obviously in love with each other.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is a fairly admirable effort. The gray scale is, on the whole, nicely balanced with solid blacks and relatively clean whites. Occasionally, edge enhancement and pixelization intrude. There are a few scenes in which contrast levels seem low and age related artifacts and film grain more than a tad excessive.The obvious stock footage used as rear projection is riddled with excessive grain and slightly out of focus. The audio is MONO but cleaned up and very well balanced. Warner provides a featurette, a cartoon and the film's original theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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