Director: Howard Hawks
Producers: Howard Hawks, Jack L. Warner (Warner Bros.)
Writers: Ernest Hemingway (novel), Jules Furthman, William Faulkner (screenplay)
Photography: Sidney Hickox
Music: Franz Waxman, Hoagy Carmichael, William Lava
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan, Dolores Moran, Hoagy Carmichael, Sheldon Leonard, Walter Szurovy, Marcel Dalio, Walter Sande, Dan Seymour, Aldo Nadi
The story behind To Have and Have Not — the legendary first pairing of on- and off-screen lovers Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall — is one of those stories that’s been told so many times, who cares how much of it is actually true? As the story goes, the whole thing began as a bet between two of history’s finest storytellers — director Howard Hawks and author Ernest Hemingway. Hawks says he bet his good friend Hemingway that he could make a successful picture out of his worst novel, 1937’s To Have and Have Not, which Hawks called a “piece of junk.” (A) Hawks felt the story about a boat captain smuggling goods between Cuba and Florida would be — aw, hell, it’s best to just let Hawks tell it:
“We were fishing and I said, ‘Ernest, why don’t you do some stories with me?’ He said, ‘Oh, I’m good at what I’m doing. I don’t want to go to Hollywood.’ I said, ‘You don’t have to go to Hollywood. We’ll go fishing and write a story while we’re fishing. Look, I can make a picture out of your worst story.’ He said, ‘What’s my worst story?’ I said, ‘That piece of junk called To Have and Have Not.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I need some money. … But you can’t make a picture out of that.’ And for about ten days while we were fishing we sat around and talked, and we decided that the story was no good but the characters of the girl and Morgan … were good, and we started to think about how they met. So I went back and I bought the story for $80,000, and he got $10,000. I did awfully good by the making of the thing; I made close to a million. When I told him how much I got paid, he wouldn’t talk to me for six months.” (B)
When To Have and Have Not hit theaters, it retained the novel’s title and characters, but that was about it. The new product, written by Jules Furthman and Hemingway’s bitter rival William Faulkner, resembled less of Hemingway’s original work, and more of the winning formula that won Warner Bros. a Best Picture on Casablanca (1942) two years earlier. From the very first shot, when the camera zooms in on a specific region of a global map, audiences get the feeling they are reliving Casablanca. And why not? Can you really blame Hawks for mimmicking success?
While Casablanca was set in Vichy-controlled French Morocco in 1941, To Have and Have Not moved the story to the French-owned Carribean island of Martinique, circa 1940, during the rule of the Gestapo-friendly Vichy regime (deja vu). In this setting, Bogart would again play a hardboiled American ex-patriate minding his own business in an exotic WWII locale, before brushing elbows with French resistance fighters who draw him into the Allied cause. There’s also the familiar players of a club piano man (Hoagy Carmichael as the new Dooley Wilson), a relentless Gestapo cop (Dan Seymour replacing Conrad Veidt) and an attractive broad (Bacall instead of Ingrid Bergman), to whom Bogie gives letters of transit to the safety of America.
Ironically, it was Hawks who was originally supposed to direct Casablanca, and Michael Curtiz who was supposed to direct Sergeant York (1941). Hawks asked Curtiz to switch with him, saying, “I couldnt have made Casablanca — it was too stagy,” referring to the fact that most of the film takes place in one locale — Rick’s Cafe. (B) In this light, To Have and Have Not is more in Hawks’ wheelhouse. And unlike Casablanca, Hawks makes sure the two lovers get to be together. While Hemingway’s novel originally concluded with an intense boat shootout, Hawks scrapped it in favor of his lovers walking out together to a Hoagy Carmichael tune. Years later, Hawks would offer the boat shootout to John Huston when he couldn’t decide how to end his own Bogart-Bacall thriller, Key Largo (1948).
To Have and Have Not begins by introducing us to Captain Harry “Steve” Morgan (Bogart), named after the famed 17th-Century privateer “Captain Morgan.” It’s no coincidence that Bogart popularized the name the same year the Seagram Company began selling rum under the same name. Only in the film, Morgan is not a pirate, but rather a charter boat skipper off the coast of Martinique. He takes clients on deep sea fishing trips along with his first mate, Eddie (Walter Brennan), “a good man on the boat before he got to be a rummy” and who now stumbles around asking the question, “Was you ever bit by a dead bee?” It’s this charter boat that could come in handy to Morgan’s friend Frenchy (Marcel Dalio), a member of the Charles de Gaulle-like Free French Forces. But, in true Rick Blaine fashion, Morgan is determined to keep out of the struggle, telling Frenchy: “I know where you stand and what your sympathies are. It’s alright for you, but I don’t want any part of it. They catch me fooling around with you fellas and my goose will be cooked, probably lose my boat, too. I ain’t that interested.”
Morgan’s tune quickly changes when he finds himself short on funds, after bullets render an unpaid debt forever unpaid (turns out the guy writing Morgan an $825 check “couldn’t write any faster then he could duck”). Insisting that he is only in it for the money, Morgan agrees to take the resistance mission, smuggling underground leader Paul de Bursac (Walter Szurovy) and his drop-dead gorgeous wife, Hellene (Dolores Moran), into Martinique — the equivolent of Casablanca‘s Ilsa and Victor Laszlo.
These plot mechanics are fascinating, as they proved to be in Casablanca, and they allow Furthman and Faulkner to spin dialogue gold, like this defiant line to the Gestapo: “There’s always someone else. That is the mistake the Germans always make with people they try to destroy. There will be always someone else.” But such war musings were not enough. In order for To Have and Have Not to stand as a memorable film in its own right, the script needed something more, and the answer came by way of chance and accident.
Hawks’ wife, Nancy, saw a teenage Lauren Bacall on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar and told her husband, who wanted to find out more about her. But then Hawks’ secretary mistakenly sent her a ticket to come out to Hollywood, when Hawks really had no plans to use her. When she showed up, Hawks said her voice was high and naisily, she didn’t have any film acting experience, and she said she didn’t have any luck with men. Hawks told her she was being too nice and told her to try insulting them. So, Bacall came back with a new husky voice, saying, “Hello,” and told Hawks how she won over a man by insulting him: “I asked him where he got his tie, and he said, ‘What do you want to know for?’ and I said, ‘So I can tell people not to go there.'” That man was Clark Gable. Hawks was impressed. (B)
And that was it! The lighbulb went off. Hawks went to his writers with the idea of a girl who could insult men and win them over. “You know, Bogie is the most insolent man on the screen,” he said. “Do you think we can write a girl that is as insolent as he is?’ Bogart was skeptical that it could be done, but Hawks just looked at him and said, “I’m the director, and every scene she plays in, she’s going to walk out and leave you with egg on your face.” (B) That character was, of course, Marie “Slim” Browning, an American pickpocket who mesmerizes Morgan from her room across the hall, a set-up Hawks would again use between John Wayne and Angie Dickinson in the fabulous western Rio Bravo (1959). Who better to cast than the woman who had given him the idea in the first place: Bacall?
Soon, Warners would promote Bacall as “The Look,” and Hawks said they all had a blast cooking up sassy comments for her to say to Bogie. While those upstairs scenes in Bogie and Bacall’s bedrooms were largely Faulkner’s work, it was Hawks himself who came up with the dialogue that made the film a legend. (A) It was dialogue not originally in the script, just stuff he wrote for a screen test, until co-producer Jack Warner saw it and said, “Hey, that’s really great. Where does that come in the story?” (B) Hawks had to scurry to figure out where to put it in. I am, of course, speaking of Bacall’s steamy line as she exits Bogart’s room, a line that leaves Bogart floored, and left the AFI no choice but to vote it the No. 34 Greatest Movie Quote of All Time:
“You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t ya, Steve? You just put your lips together and…blow.”
If celluloid ever came close to igniting in flames, it must have been in that one moment. Who cares if he was 44 and she, in her first role, only 19? Bogie and Bacall flat-out sizzled, falling in love on camera and beginning an off-screen romance that scorched the screen through four steamy pictures — To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948). Still, no matter how many movies they made, they never topped their first, best articulated in the tagline: “At last! Bogart makes love to his kind of woman!” There was a unique joy in To Have and Have Not, because it was the first time audiences realized Bogie he had finally met his match.
Don’t get me wrong. Bogart has his own individual badass moments. My favorite is him holding a gun to a member of the Gestapo after shooting another and saying, “That’s right, go for it! Your boy needs company,” then noticing the guy’s hand shaking and saying, “Look at that. Ain’t that silly? That’s how close you came.” But let’s face it. Bogart is a giggling mess whenever in the presence of Bacall, from their very first encounter when he hears her husky voice say, “Anybody got a match?” He turns to see his dream woman, filling a shoulder-padded, checker-patterned suit, leaning up against a doorframe and cigarette dangling phalicallly in her mouth.
On that movie screen, Bacall plays well beyond her years. We believe she is the one in control. Just look at their final exit to see who’s in charge — Bacall shaking her hips as she walks out the door, and Bogart following close behind, carrying both their luggage. Throughout the film, she is his hardboiled equal in badass gestures (nonschalantly fanning fumes at her female rival Hellene), sarcastic comments (“It’s even better when you help”) and whip-cracking observations (“You don’t give a hoot what I do, but when I do it, you get sore”). Note that this latter exchange comes after he instructs her to seduce a man for a pocket-pick, and then gets upset with her for going all the way with it. Still, in some twisted way, she seems to understand his impossible reactions to her, possibly because she is so impossible herself.
“You know, Steve,” she says. “You’re not very hard to figure, only at times. Sometimes I know exactly what you’re going to say, most of the time. The other times…the others times you’re just a stinker.”
It’s a complex little game they play with one another, but one so rich in characterization and hot to watch, thick with innuendo, cat-calls, cigarette puffs and Bacall returning serve on many a Bogart tease. When he suspects her of a stolen wallet, he immediately assumes searching her breasts (“Which one is it?”), and she calls him on it (“You know, Steve, I wouldn’t put it past you”). The sexual tension is all the more convincing considering Bogart and Bacall were actually falling in love right there on the set, and just year after the film’s release, Bogart divorced his third wife to marry Bacall. The two remained happily married until his 1957 death, and at his funeral, what else would she place in his casket but a gold whistle?
Though legendary now, their real-life relationship was not welcomed by Hawks, who felt betrayed by his two stars, and was perhaps jealous that Bacall fell for Bogie instead of him. (C) In many ways, it had been Hawks who brought them together, giving her a career and him legendary status. But it was also Hawks who deserves the credit for sculpting the personas that would become blurred with their real lives. Let’s remember, these are images of people on the screen, images that too often become confused with reality, both by audiences and the actors themselves. How could Bacall be anything other than Bogie’s “Slim” after the magic of To Have and Have Not? And how could Bogart not bury himself all that much deeper in his own mystique? As scholar David Thomson writes, “If millions go to the movies to persuade themselves that they are Humphrey Bogart, why should Bogart himself not share in the illusion?” (D)
Separate the man out from the screen image and you hardly have Humphrey Bogart. And so Thomson finds it fitting that Bogart, this man born from myth, would meet the love of his life on a soundstage, and live out the last 13 years of his life in a relationship first cultivated in the mind of a filmmaker. (D) Note that the nicknames of their characters, “Slim” and “Steve,” would become their real nicknames in real life. But note even more that those nicknames were actually first the pet names between Hawks and his wife. Where did the illusion stop and true love begin?
It all speaks to the importance of Hawks in the entire phenomenon and reveals no surprise that Bogart and Bacall’s next big hit, The Big Sleep, would be under Hawks, again collaborating with Warner, Furthman and Faulkner. Hawks is the reason To Have and Have Not works. Yes, the film stems from his brash bet with Hemingway, but the fact that they did it on a fishing trip is entirely Hawksian. In the Hawksian world, as Peter Wollen points out in The Auteur Theory, the highest human emotion is the camaraderie of the exclusive, self-sufficent, all-male group. (E) This is seen in his films from Red River to Rio Bravo, and is where Bogart and Brennan are at the start of the film. And this is precisely what makes the insertion of Bacall into this male group all the more fascinating.
It’s helpful to view To Have and Have Not through the prism of Molly Haskell’s From Reverence to Rape: Female Stars of the 1940s (1974). Haskell writes that after the war, when women had a taste of male-dominated jobs, Hollywood saw a change from actresses playing “superfemales,” echoing traditional femininity (housewives), to “superwomen,” intelligent women taking on male roles in order to enjoy male prerogatives. In To Have and Have Not, Haskell cites a duality in Bacall’s character, one who’s stuck between the superfemale and the superwoman, combining “intelligence and sensuality, pride and submission.” (F) It’s a credit Bacall that she can have her cake and eat it, too.
The way she controlls Bogart throughout the entire picture leads me to believe their relationship is the key focus of the film. This flies in the face of Wollen’s claim that Hawks reduced all film genres to two basic types — the adventure drama and the crazy comedy. (E) If we are to follow Wollen’s theory, To Have and Have Not must represent the adventure drama. But I would argue Wollen’s is a false choice, as the adventure drama aspect of To Have and Have Not is really only a cover. Deep down, the picture is an unashamed romance, which is why the film ranks #60 on AFI’s 100 Passions and is nowhere to be found on AFI’s 100 Thrills. The entire adventure plotline is just an excuse to bring these two lovers together.
As Haskell writes, the film is “about Bogart’s caution in getting involved in the war effort, but it’s also his cautiousness in getting involved with a woman.” The two essentially swap roles, as Bacall proves she can play things his way, with intelligence and competance, and Bogart comes to see a more feminist point of view. “His heroism,” Haskell says, “… is to have accepted the consequences of heterosexual love.” When you consider the fact that Hawks made Bacall yell at the top of her lungs on a mountaintop in order to deepen her voice, it makes the “gender swap” aspect all the more interesting. (F)
Of course, these musings are more thematic discussions applied across Hawks’ entire career as opposed to any one single film. Thus I’ve always found Hawks to be a different type of auteur. While an Alfred Hitchcock carries visual auteur cues, Hawks seems more thematic. It’s no secret Hawks himself never liked to talk about theory, analysis or camera technique. He just went out and made bang-up entertainment pictures, and let the French critics of Cahiers du Cinema connect the dots and proclaim his greatness.
If you still doubt Hawks as a director, just look at the inferiority of the remakes: The Breaking Point (1950), directed by Curtiz, and The Gun Runners (1958), directed by Don Siegel. Those films lacked Hawks control, not to mention the charm of Carmichael on the piano for “Hong Kong Blues” and “How Little We Know,” and of course the chemistry of Bogie and Bacall, which provides To Have and Have Not its lasting historical interest. While Bertie Higgins used Huston’s Key Largo for his 1982 pop hit “Key Largo” — “We had it all, just like Bogie & Bacall” — it was To Have and Have Not that played matchmaker. For wherever there’s a man rattling off snappy dialogue and a sexy dame spitting it right back, there’s at least some of Bogart and Bacall in there. And whenever there’s a kiss so steamy it fogs up the screen, the lips must be cut from theirs.
CITE A: Gerald Mast, Howard Hawks, Storyteller. New York: Oxford University Press.ISBN 0-19-503091-5.
CITE B: George Stevens Jr., Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age
CITE C: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
CITE D: David Thomson, New Biographical Dictionary of Film
CITE E: Film Theory & Crticism, p. 565, Peter Wollen, Signs and Meaning in the Cinema — The Auteur Theory (1972)
CITE F: Film Theory & Criticism, Molly Haskell’s From Reverence to Rape: Female Stars of the 1940s (1974).