Monday, June 20, 2011

To Have And Have Not (1944)

"You know how to whistle, don't you?
You just put your lips together and blow...."
- The Howard Hawks classic To Have And Have Not is most famously known as the debut of actress Lauren Bacall and the first film to star Bacall and her future Hollywood husband Humphrey Bogart. The line "You know how to whistle, don't you? You just put your lips together and blow" ought to ring a bell....

Beyond its two marquee stars, To Have And Have Not is memorable in its own right overall as an entertaining WWII romantic adventure; however, while it is a little bit disappointing in some areas, in the end it is a very entertaining classic romantic adventure film.

To Have And Have Not is an easily recommendable and unquestionably classic film but it did not quite exceed my expectations. Many cite the fact that Bogart and Bacall fall in love for real on screen as one of the film's greatest elements and, while the future honey & hubby certainly do fall in love on screen, that ultimately is not enough in-and-of itself for me to list To Have And Have Not in the same league with the best of the 1940s. I would even go as far as saying that To Have And Have Not is a tad overrated because of the overstated impact of Bogart and Bacall's real-life romance on the entire film – especially since both would go on to make better films together.

Also, to my surprise, To Have And Have Not resembles a past Bogart hit Casablanca (1942) a bit too much. First, there is a bar/hotel in To Have And Have Not that basically doubles for "Rick's Café" from Casablanca as the hub of activity and a sanctuary for the characters. Then, there is the Martinique setting which is a haven for all members of the Allied Powers and is populated by French Police and Nazis – a setting and accompanying atmosphere that is similar to Casablanca. Also, Bogart himself must have had deja vu as his character Steve in To Have And Have Not goes down a similar road that his character Rick Blaine does in Casablanca, going from a cynic to an idealist because of the love and influence of a woman. To Have And Have Not even features a friendly piano player (in Hoagy Carmichael)! To Have And Have Not separates itself from Casablanca in many ways - especially by not being nearly as dark, powerful, or poignant a film - but its similarities are a bit too stark to ignore.

But I do not want to give the impression that I found To Have And Have Not to be an overall bad or disappointing film because the exact opposite is true. While perhaps far from brilliant, To Have And Have Not is certainly an entertaining comedic WWII romance/adventure film. Bogart and Bacall are inspired casting (Hawks would later claim the "discovery" of Lauren Bacall). Bogart is terrific; tough, cynical, and sarcastic – one scene in To Have And Have Not features Bogie in one of his most hardboiled states. Lauren Bacall is stunning in this picture. To Have And Have Not is without a doubt her finest performance. Bacall's performance acts like a double-edged sword however, since she shows a potential for a level of acting that she never really reached. But as an on-screen presence, Bacall excels; and together with her future hubby, Bogart and Bacall are an unforgettable screen duo that weave a delightful romance.

Quite recognizably a Howard Hawks film, To Have And Have Not is funny, stylish, often edgy and has a lot of heart. While Bogart and Bacall create the very authentic and captivating central romance, Hawks also manages to throw in one of his trademark "buddy" sub-story lines through Walter Brennan's Eddie character (who tends to get a little irritating sometimes – surprise, surprise).

In the end, To Have And Have Not has a place in cinema history largely because of Bogart and Bacall's on-screen and off-screen relationship; however, To Have And Have Not is a great film for more than just the Hollywood romance. To Have And Have Not is an undeniably entertaining WWII adventure but Hawks, Bogart, and Bacall would later re-team to create a much better film (see The Big Sleep (1946)).

CBC Rating: 8/10

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