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With: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan, Dolores Moran, Hoagy Carmichael, Sheldon Leonard, Walter Szurovy, Marcel Dalio, Walter Sande, Dan Seymour, Aldo Nadi
Written by: William Faulkner, Jules Furthman, based on a novely by Ernest Hemingway
Directed by: Howard Hawks
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 100
Date: 11/10/1944

To Have and Have Not (1944)

4 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Howard Hawks made a bet with Ernest Hemingway that he could make a good movie out of his worst novel. I don't know who won or how much the bet was for, but my money is on Hawks.

To Have and Have Not is a perfect companion piece to Casablanca, which is one of America's favorite movies. Casablanca is more beloved than To Have and Have Not presumably because Americans prefer sentiment over camaraderie; Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman fall in love, while Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall get to know one another. Although both movies are satisfying, To Have and Have Not leaves a more satisfying taste, precisely because Hawks isn't trying for any specific emotional effect other than friendship. The result is smooth filmmaking, in which the audience is able to relate to flawed characters and meet them halfway.

Humphrey Bogart plays a fisherman who rents his boat and his services to anyone with money. Lauren Bacall is a weary traveler who falls in love with him. They call each other by nicknames. She's "Slim" and he's "Steve." There is no mush between them. Their one romantic scene consists of witty, sharp dialogue, written by William Faulkner and Jules Furthman (two of the greatest writers the movies ever had). Bacall kisses Bogey. Bogey asks what the verdict is. She replies "I don't know yet," and goes in for another. The scene ends with the famous, "you know how to whistle, don't you Steve?" line.

Walter Brennan, in one of his greatest roles, is the rummy Eddie, who thinks he takes care of Bogie, but really it's the other way around. The movie never questions their relationship. Clearly, Eddie is an alcoholic, and a pain in the butt, but Bogey's loyalty to him is unfaltering. We know that when he is asked to help the French resistance, he can't say no, despite his barbed dialogue and tough-guy facade.

Some scholars will tell you that Hawks' films are about male bonding, but I'll go one further and say that they're about bonding -- period. Bacall's character bonding with Bogey is more central to the story in To Have and Have Not than even Bogey and Brennan. There are many other strong females in Hawks movies as well (Rita Hayworth in Only Angels Have Wings, Bacall again in The Big Sleep, Ann Sheridan in I Was a Male War Bride; the list goes on and on), but this is his finest example. Bacall was discovered by Hawks' wife in a magazine photo, and she fell into cinema with great ease using her gruff voice, strong face, and soft eyes. She never had another role as good as this one.

Hawks was, above all, a storyteller. His eye for characters, actors, locations, music, timing, pace, and for cutting out the bullstuff, was impeccable. We slip into the story with such ease that we don't even notice we're watching a movie until it's over. I was blown away by one particular moment of intensity in which Bogey shoots one of the bad guys from a gun concealed in a desk drawer. He pulls the gun and aims it at the remaining bad guys. After a moment, he realizes his hand is shaking. "Look at that," he says to the bad guys. "Isn't that silly?" He shifts the gun to his other, steadier hand. "That's how close you came."

To Have and Have Not is a great adventure movie, a great romance (both on and off screen), a great example of film writing, and a great essay on how to make a movie. I've given you four good reasons to check it out. It's on video and laserdisc.

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