Tuesday, November 8, 2016

To Have and Have Not (1944)



Director: Howard Hawks

A motion picture made on a dare, To Have and Have Not was a loose adaption of an Ernest Hemingway novel that unexpectedly produced one of Hollywood’s more famous couples of its period. This product of World War II was altered to fit within standards to aid the US war efforts, which along with some timely casting decisions made it feel very similar to another much more famous wartime Warner Bros. classic. Ultimately this picture would be remembered for the romance shared off screen instead of on screen.

To Have and Have Not is a war drama about an neutral minded American fishing boat captain ported at a World War II torn island in the Caribbean who finds himself thrusted in the middle conflict between Axis and Allied sympathizers. Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart), a captain of a fishing boat for hire on the French colony Caribbean island of Martinque, struggles to stay neutral on this peripheral island torn between local German sympathizer authorities and French resistance supporters. When authorities, led by Captain Renard (Dan Seymour), crack down of Morgan’s financials, he is forced to take a job to aid members of the Resistance. During this time Moragn begins an unlikely romance with a fellow wandering American, Marie (Lauren Bacall), who he nicknames “Slim”, a relationship that begins to crack the tough exterior of this stone-faced man. When Renard attempts to implicate Morgan by utilizing the weakness of his oldest, dearest friend Eddie (Walter Brennan), Morgan is turns the tables on Renard. He gathers Slim, Eddie, and helps two Resistance members to escape Martinque on their way to carry out their secret rescue mission.

The picture has many striking similarities to another very famous Humphrey Bogart picture that also takes place during World War II, Casablanca. Both films feature Bogart as a jaded American attempting to remain neutral in a third party nation when World War II begins to affect the local regions, ultimately leading Bogart to decide to do what is right, all with the help of a love interest that softening his hard heart. The two features also share a number of similar supporting actors as well, including cast members Marcel Dalio and Dan Seymour in very similar roles we had seen them perform in Casablanca.

Each picture also features a sympathetic piano player which provides moments of musical interlude within the drama, as well as character that pushes the romance of Bogart and the leading lady forward. Whether these similarities just happened to be a happy coincidence or a strategic move by Warner Bros. is something to look closer at through the production process of this Howard Hawks feature film.

All in all, this does begin with Howard Hawks… Well Ernest Hemingway really, the original author of the novel that led to this feature. But it was Howard Hawks that got the ball rolling. Hawks and Hemingway were two old friends, Hawks a successful Hollywood filmmaker, and Hemingway a success, but ever starving novelist. Hawks openly regarded Hemingway’s novel “To Have and Have Not” as the author’s worst work. However, Hawks gloated that he as a filmmaker could turn even Hemingway’s worst novel into a successful feature film, to which Hemingway obliged in daring the esteemed director. Hawks would acquire the movie rights of the novel from RKO studio head Howard Hughes, then sold the idea to Warner Bros. to get the ball rolling on this dramatic cinematic dare.

Hawks and Hemingway both worked on the script, altering the story dramatically, keeping merely the name, the characters, and their characteristics as the most intact elements from the novel. With the aid of other talented writers, including William Faulkner, the story fleshed out a small portion of the original story, which they thought was the most interesting, ultimately becoming the story we share on screen today. In the end it makes the title somewhat of a puzzle as it has no direct connection to the meaning of the film’s plot.

The film stars one of Warner Bros.’ more recognizable actors in Humphrey Bogart and a Hollywood newcomer in Lauren Bacall. Bacall was discovered by Hawks as a 19 year-old model named Betty Joan Perske who was featured on the cover of an issue of Harper’s Bazaar, finding her look to be striking enough to give her an attempt as an actress. At her camera test Hawks wrote a short scene for her to perform to see if she had the sultriness he saw in her look translated to the screen as an actress. The result of her performance was so arresting to Hawks that not only was she cast in the film, but the test scene, which was unrelated to the film’s script was added to the screenplay as well. This scene is best remembered for when Bacall leaves Bogart telling him "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and ... blow." This line and her delivery would live on as one of the most memorable lines in Hollywood history.

On set the married Humphrey Bogart had taken an interest in the actress who was less than half his age, and she in him as well. On the verge of his third divorce Bogart was stricken by the young actress and their romance began on set, much to the worries of Hawks. However in seeing their chemistry together, it was clear their relationship was playing a role in their acting which improved the chemistry between the characters. As a result Hawks reworked the script to play more to the romance of Morgan and Slim, reducing the use of twenty year-old Dolores Moran, who plays one of the Resistance members Morgan smuggles and is flirtatious with. Moran’s role was greatly reduced and Bacall’s performance shines as her cinematic debut would shoot her to stardom. Not long after working on To Have and Have Not Bogart would complete his divorce and marry Bacall; a romance that last to Bogart's death in 1957.

Unlike Casablanca it does feel as if To Have and Have Not does rely more on the supporting cast for the film’s heart. Character actor Walter Brennan appears as Eddie, the loyal alcoholic friend who loyally relies on Harry Morgan, but is always fighting the demon of finding his next drink which Harry controls in a fatherly way. It is when we discover Eddie and his dependence on alcohol is being used by Dan Seymour’s character to implicate Morgan of his Resistance sympathetic deeds that breaks the final straw and sends Harry to fight for the Resistance fully. It is Brennan’s sympathetic manner that ties this whole plot together so very subtly.

Carmichael and Bacall serenade an onlooking audience.
Other important supporting characters are supplied by Dolores Moran, Hoagy Carmichael, Walter Surovy, and Marcel Dalio. The very young Moran was initially going to be the primary love interest of the picture in a film filled with a complicated series of romances within the story. Her character is reduced to a fraction of a note in the overall scope of the plot as her character’s romance with Morgan was almost entirely eliminated. Hoagy Carmichael was a successful songwriter and bandleader recruited to play the piano player Cricket. His peculiar stylein playing the piano and look with a matchstick hanging out of his mouth makes a quite memorable character despite being such a small role in the film. French actor Marcel Dalio reunites with fellow Casablanca actor Bogart as a man that introduced Morgan to the Resistance effort that gets the whole thing kicked off.

Originally the story’s location was to be Cuba, but due to the United States’ determines efforts to the Good Neighbor Initiative the government asked to change the setting. The US did not want a story about crooked people in this wartime drama to take place in a country the nation was attempting to be allies with; therefore they looked for an alternate location. The writers found the remote Caribbean island of Martinique to not be on the list of counties the US were protecting. This French outpost colony helped aid in the many plot similarities to Casablanca, because of the role the location had to France and the war relations. To help audiences get the idea of where Martinique was and its remote place in the world the opening credits take place over a map of the Caribbean showing its relation to the US and other islands. These most likely aided heavily sheltered audiences recieve a quick idea of setting for an island they would have no idea of in the world at that time.

To Have and Have Not was a financial and critical success for Warner Bros.; therefore you can say Howard Hawks won the bet. The film was not as much of a remembered hit as Casablanca, but it was not meant to be compared to the film anyways.  Ultimately the film was recollected as the vehicle that launched Lauren Bacall’s career who commands the screen whenever she appears. Her nerves on her first Hollywood production actually aided in her performance as she many times stares downwards pear her eyes up to look at Bogart, a very alluring look from her. Furthermore it led to her real life romance with her future husband Humphrey Bogart, creating one of Hollywood more recognized couples for the next decade.

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