A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, April 24, 2016

To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks, 1944)

Beatrice and Benedick. Rosalind and Orlando. Viola and Orsino. "Slim" and "Steve"? Is it just the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death that made me think of To Have and Have Not in terms of Shakespearean romance? Or is it that this most enjoyable of movies has a lot in common with those grand predecessors? Actually, it's all Howard Hawks's doing, with a little bit of help from screenwriters Jules Furthman and William Faulkner. Hawks had done this sort of romance before, in his comic masterpieces Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940), but leave it to Hawks to see World War II (and Ernest Hemingway's "grace under pressure" fiction) through the lens of screwball comedy. And to do it with the movies' most famous tough guy, Humphrey Bogart, and an unknown 19-year-old actress who had her name changed from Betty Perske to Lauren Bacall. And to treat it all as a semi-musical, with Hoagy Carmichael at the piano. Blood is shed and causes are espoused, but nobody takes it terribly seriously. Instead, Bogart and Bacall surf through the film on some of the best dialogue ever written, working out their fine romance as deftly as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers ever did on the dance floor. Walter Brennan adds another memorable figure to his impressive gallery of old coots, and Marcel Dalio brings the kind of charm that might threaten to upstage lesser performers than these stars. It's certainly not a perfect film: Dolores Moran (clambering from shore to ship in heels) and Walter Szurovy are rather tediously noble as the de Bursacs. (Watch the bit when Mme. de Bursac faints and spills the chloroform and Bacall's Slim, sensing a rival for her Steve's affections, casts a stinkeye on the fallen form and intentionally fans some of the fumes in her direction.) As the Vichy police captain, Dan Seymour seems to be trying to do a Sydney Greenstreet impersonation with the worst of all French accents. And does anybody really believe that the odd company that sails off at the end to rescue a Resistance fighter from Devil's Island is going to succeed? But no matter. It's all the stuff of which legends are made.