Your Bogie Fix:
Director – Howard Hawks
All that Howard Hawks needed to make a movie was one woman and one man.
Russell and Grant. Stanwyck and Cooper. Bacall and Bogart.
Put them in a room together. Give them a reason to touch – any reason. A cigarette needs to be lit. A bottle needs to be passed. Someone needs to squeeze through a doorway. It doesn’t matter. But don’t let them touch right away. Make us wait for it. Let them banter first. Sharp words that would wound any mere mortal. Then let them stare. Maybe for a moment, maybe for longer. What are they doing to each other in their minds? Is it as lascivious as what I’m thinking? Wait until the tension is perfect. Now let them touch.
White hot sparks.
The first moment when Lauren Bacall sits on Humphrey Bogart’s lap in To Have and Have Not, something inside me stirs in such a deep and private way that I’m uncomfortable watching the film with other people in the room.
I can only imagine what Howard Hawks and the rest of the crew were thinking . . .
To Have and Have Not is my all-time favorite Bogart film. I know it’s not as good as Casablanca. I know that many consider it a less-than-perfect attempt to recreate the magic that occurred between Rick Blaine and Ilsa.
I don’t care.
As I’ve been blogging through Bogart’s film library, I was planning on saving this one for near the end. I was going to make myself wait for it. A prize at the end of the journey. But I gave in to temptation early for the Howard Hawks blogathon that’s going on at Seetimaar – Diary of a Movie Lover.
I’ve never been good with temptation.
Bogart plays Harry Morgan, captain of the ‘Queen Conch,’ a charter boat in Fort de France, Martinique. Morgan spends his days taking wealthy and inept tourists out on the sea to fish for marlin. Walter Brennan is his first mate, Eddie. Eddie’s a man who spends most of his day sleeping off a hangover from the back of the boat, only to wake up long enough to refuel with the nearest bottle.
While the characters of Rick Blaine and Harry Morgan might share a lot of similar personality traits, they are men from two different worlds. Blaine owns a bar. Harry Morgan lives above one. Therein lays the key difference between Bogart’s motivations in Casablanca and To Have and Have Not.
Blaine has everything to lose – Morgan has a drunk and a Boat. When the Germans take over France, Rick Blaine works hard to tread as lightly as possible along the razor thin line between the Axis and the Allies. Morgan talks a good neutral game, but he is much quicker to throw himself onto the side of the moral good.
Now add in Lauren Bacall as Marie Browning. Broke and stranded in Martinique, she takes to conning men – teasing them to the point of stupidity, before making off with their wallets. She says that she’s slowly building her funds so that she can make it back home, but we don’t believe her because Morgan doesn’t believe her. He reads her even better than she can read him or any other man. Marie is running from a past of pain and abuse, and the fact that Morgan picks up on it so quickly unnerves her deeply.
Morgan and Marie are two people who both exude extreme confidence while privately loathing what they’ve let themselves become. So close are they attuned to each other’s inner truth, that they immediately start to distance themselves in a bit of role-play – as if using each other’s real names might be too intimate. Morgan only refers to her ‘Slim.’ Marie refers to him as ‘Steve.’ (Which according to IMDB might be a reference to the word “stevedore” which means “dockworker.”) They circle one another endlessly, gently keeping their distance – until Hawks has them touch. And then? Boom. White hot sparks.
The Nazis do their best to keep them distracted from one another. German-aligned French Captain M. Renard shows up, taking what little money Morgan has left, and forcing him to choose sides.
Despite the threat of Renard hanging over him, Morgan agrees to help bring a man from the French resistance to Martinique. It’s because he needs the money, right? Well, if that’s the case, it’s not for long. Suddenly, Morgan is doing everything from shooting at a patrol boat to removing bullets from the resistance fighter as he begins to plot and plan his way out of Martinique with Marie in tow.
Is Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Cricket’ as good as Dooley Wilson’s ‘Sam?’ No. Does Capt. Gerard measure up to Major Strasser. Nope. Am I in awe of Walter Szurovy’s ‘Bursac’ as I was for Paul Henreid’s ‘Victor Laszlo?’ Uh, not quite.
Does it matter? Not to me.
Sure, I can see plenty of parallels, but when you alter the circumstances for Bogart’s two iconic characters from successful businessman to borderline boat-bum, you alter the movie dramatically. Harry Morgan is Rick Blaine without the bar and employees to worry about. We don’t spend the movie wondering exactly how the game is going to be played out. Which path will he choose? Will he play it safe and keep his head down? Or will he help the French and risk his life?
No, we know where Morgan’s headed and who’s going with him. We don’t watch him agonize over his choices. He doesn’t have to give up the girl to save the world. In fact, saving the world is great, but Howard Hawks makes this a movie about a man saving himself. Yes, we lose some character depth, but I feel like we gain a greater sense of urgency for this man and this woman to succeed, and to be together in some other, safer, place. Somewhere that they can let ‘Slim’ and ‘Steve’ be Marie and Harry.
There are too many things to point out. I could type ten thousand words. So, in brief:
Walter Brennan as Eddie the drunken first mate is superb. Brennan courts the line of overacting, but never goes too far. His jake-legged, hopping walk is so good, I chuckled every time I saw it. The pathetic look on Brennan’s face when Bogart has to slap him to get him off the boat breaks my heart every single time. Hawks gives us just enough of Brennan without going to the well too many times.
Lauren Bacall. I . . . I don’t even know where to begin. I fell so deeply in love with this woman because of this movie. Marie is reportedly based largely on Hawks’ own glamorous wife, which, if true, good for him. This being Bacall’s first movie, I am continually astounded at how she is able to play such a depth of maturity at such a young age. I’ve seen Bogart fall in love with a lot of women on screen, but this is the one time I truly believed it. It’s more than the lines and the blocking. We are watching this woman and this man court one another right before our eyes.
Another strong supporting cast surrounding Bogart lends a lot to the film. Marcel Dalio as ‘Frenchy’ the hotel owner does a great job. Dan Seymour’s a lot of fun as Capt. Renard. But it is Aldo Nadi, as Capt. Renard’s silent bodyguard, who does a really good job of stealing scenes with just the right amount of menace. We wait the whole movie for Bogie to have a go at him, and when it happens, it’s pretty satisfying.
Classic Bogie Moment
Again, there are far too many classic Bogart moments to point out. We all know them. We know the famous lines. We know the famous kisses. We know the whole routine of, “Bogie sits in a bar, smoking, listening to a dame sing…” So I’ll stick with the one that still stands out to me a day after watching the film.
Capt. Renard’s men are interrogating Marie with Morgan in the room watching them. Not happy with one of her answers, the henchman slaps her. In a heartbeat, Morgan is there at her side, right in the Gestapo man’s face:
Morgan: “Go ahead, slap me.”
I get chills when I watch it. I get chills now just writing it. One line and one look and we know Bogart is willing to die in that moment.
The Bottom Line
My first 5-Bogie Fix review so far! Doesn’t that say it all? Pair this one with Casablanca for a double feature, and spend your night wallowing in all the glory that is Humphrey Bogart. There have been countless pages written about the making of this movie, the love affair between the stars, and the lore of Howard Hawks behind the camera. It’s all worth a read and it only adds to the movie!
Bacall was nineteen when she starred in this! NINETEEN! What were you doing when you were nineteen? I was . . . well, I won’t bother telling you where my sympathies lay back then.
For some more great facts and fun on To Have and Have Not, check out @citizenscreen’s entry on Howard Hawk using his own quotes – Aurora’s Gin Joint.