TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT - DVD review

...an intriguing, romantic, sometimes exciting, predictable, but entertaining motion picture.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

Following the phenomenal success of their 1942 hit, "Casablanca," Warner Bros. tried to duplicate the achievement with their 1944 release, "To Have and Have Not." Both films star Humphrey Bogart as a cynical, world-weary antihero, both have sizzling leading ladies, both have a cast of colorful characters, both are set in an exotic foreign locale, and both feature plenty of intrigue. "To Have and Have Not" may not come close to matching its illustrious predecessor, but it's not for a lack of trying, and the result is nevertheless entertaining.

The movie was directed by Howard Hawks ("Scarface," "His Girl Friday," "Red River") and based loosely, very loosely, on a novel by Ernest Hemingway. After Hawks boasted that he could make a movie out of anything, it's said Hemingway bet Hawks he couldn't make a decent movie out of one of his least-accomplished books, and Hawks took him up on it. Hawks apparently won the bet by excising most of Hemingway's story, thanks to the efforts of screenwriters Jules Furthman and William Faulkner. Yes, that Faulkner. The film has the distinction of being based on a book by a Nobel Prize-winning author and cowritten by a Nobel Prize-winning author.

Realistically, Warners probably never expected "To Have and Have Not" to equal "Casablanca," but they were pleasantly surprised when it did as well as it did. The picture was, after all, simply another studio production being churned out by the factory, even though it did have a big-name cast of film stars and filmmakers behind it. They were even more pleasantly surprised by the chemistry that developed between Bogart and his new costar, Lauren Bacall, both on-screen and off. Despite their age difference (Bogart was forty-four, Bacall nineteen), not only was their romance convincing in the movie, they fell in love in real life, getting married and living blissfully together until Bogart's death in 1957. Age has never seemed to matter much in Hollywood, nor did it matter to moviegoers as the couple made three more films together ("The Big Sleep," "Dark Passage," and "Key Largo").

The setting for "To Have and Have Not" is Martinique, the French island in the Caribbean, southeast of Hemingway's original location of Cuba. Most of the action centers on the Hotel Marquis bar and cafe, a place bearing a close resemblance to Rick's Cafe Americain in "Casablanca" and a gathering place for all the suspicious characters in Fort de France.

Bogart plays Harry Morgan, a charter-boat captain during the summer of 1940, just after the fall of France to the Germans and a year or so prior to America's entrance into the Second World War. Like Rick in "Casablanca," Harry is hard-nosed, tough-minded, and confident, trying mightily not to take sides in the hostilities swirling around him. Do you think he's going to be successful at keeping to himself? Not on your life. Not when the Free French ask him to smuggle a pair of resistance fighters onto the island. Of course, he says he's only doing it for the money, but we know better.

His partner, Eddie, is a boozy old codger played by Walter Brennan. I say "old" because even though Brennan started in the movies in his twenties and was only in his forties when he made "To Have and Have Not," he always seemed to play older men. Maybe it was his famous voice that helped audiences identify him with older types. In any case, Harry indulges Eddie's alcoholic behavior quite a lot, and the two men appear as unlikely friends. Their pairing and the eventual participation of Bacall make up most of the movie's charm.

As you can guess, it doesn't take long before Harry gets reluctantly involved in the War effort as well as involved (more eagerly) with a slender and comely vagabond nightclub singer, Marie Browning (Bacall). Harry calls her "Slim" for obvious reasons, and she calls him "Steve" for no reason except to one-up him. Apparently, their romance in the film was initially not supposed to be as extensive as it turned out, but because Bacall was so sultry and appealing and Bogart was so obviously smitten with her, on-screen and off, Bacall's part was expanded.

This increase in Bacall's role was at the expense of costar Dolores Moran, playing the wife of the resistance fighter Harry is supposed to smuggle into the country. Ms. Moran's character was intended to be another romantic interest for Harry, but when the filmmakers saw Bacall, all bets were off. As things turn out, Moran's participation is reduced to no more than an ambiguous flirtation.

Other participants in the drama include Walter Molnar as the resistance fighter, Paul de Bursac; Hoagy Carmichael as the Hotel Marquis's piano player, Cricket; Marcel Dalio as Frenchy, the owner of the hotel (you'll also remember him as the croupier at Rick's in "Casablanca"); Walter Sande as Johnson, a charter fishing client; Dan Seymour as Renard, a Gestapo agent and as nasty a piece of business as you'd want to meet; and Sheldon Leonard as Coyo, one of Renard's flunkies.

"Anybody got a match?" asks Marie as things get started.

"What are your sympathies?" Renard asks Harry, to which Harry replies in stock Rick Blaine fashion, "Minding my own business."

Then Marie gets off the film's most famous lines, to Harry: "You know you don't have to act with me, Steve. You don't have to say anything and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and...blow."

One last line, just for kicks, again Marie to Harry: "I'm hard to get, Steve. All you have to do is ask me."

"To Have and Have Not" is a not a great action-drama, but it is engaging. Bogart, Bacall, and Hawks would go on to do a much better film, "The Big Sleep," immediately after this one, but for fans of the trio, "To Have and Have Not" is probably a must. Still, the film is much too derivative of "Casablanca" to enjoy completely, and I could never buy Bogart in that corny captain's cap. Nor could I understand why he would go out fishing all day in a perfectly tailored, well-ironed shirt and then come back looking the same way. It never pays to eye anything too closely.

Video:
This film is a good example of a studio's taking care of its property. It does not appear that Warner Bros. restored the film frame by frame, but they obviously found an excellent print and probably touched it up. There are no visible age spots, scratches, blemishes, or glitches whatsoever. There are some minor moiré effects as a result of the transfer, but even they are few. Black-and-white contrasts in this standard, Academy-ratio screen image are good, as is definition most of the time. Darker areas of the screen are apt to be a bit soft and murky at times, but it's nothing to distract one from the picture.

Audio:
The sound is a common monaural of the day, but as reproduced through Dolby Digital technology it comes off sounding clear and exceptionally clean. There is virtually no background noise to mask dialogue or music, so while the frequency response and dynamic range may be limited, there is no trouble appreciating the actors' words. Hemingway and Faulkner would have liked that.

Extras:
Considering that this release is not billed as a special-edition, the extras WB provide come as a welcome treat. The primary bonus item is an all-new featurette, "A Love Story: The Story of To Have and Have Not," that tells us something about the love affair and marriage of Bogart and Bacall. After that, a vintage, 1946 Merrie Melodies cartoon, "Bacall to Arms," parodies the Bogart-Bacall movies. And a Lux Radio Theater production, also from 1946, presents "To Have and Have Not" with Bogart and Bacall again headlining. The disc concludes with twenty-seven scene selections and a theatrical trailer. English is the only spoken-language choice, but there are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.

Parting Thoughts:
If you can divorce yourself from memories of "Casablanca" while watching "To Have and Have Not," admittedly not an easy task, you'll find an intriguing, romantic, sometimes exciting, predictable, but entertaining motion picture inside. It's also one that holds up surprisingly well over time, as most of Bogart's films do. It won no major awards, but it has won the hearts of plenty of filmgoers over the years.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
5
Extras
5
Film Value
7