TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944)


Directed by Howard Hawks and a movie I can watch over and over again. The themes and ideas are basically the same as Casablanca made two years earlier. But at the risk of receiving death threats on my facebook page, as well as a massive defriending campaign, I have always thought To Have and Have Not the superior movie. As much as I swoon over the romanticism of the Michael Curtiz film, I always felt it was sort of haphazardly thrown together, almost made up as they went along, which apparently to some degree it was. But for me, the story and characters of To Have and Have Not are edgier; the writing sharper and wittier; the plot has more tension; and I even like the songs better (sorry Herman Hupfeld and Max Steiner). It’s true that Casablanca has Ingrid Bergman; Lauren Bacall was very beautiful and a great embodiment of the Hawksian woman, but she was never much of an actress, reading her lines with a certain irritating flatness. At the same time, I’m not sure Bergman could have gotten away with the wonderful “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.” And the foreign accents in Casablanca are a lot more convincing than here (seeing as most actors in that movie were refugees from Europe). The script is by Jules Furthman and William Faulkner, though contrary to belief, Faulkner did not write the line “Ever been stung by a dead bee”. It’s based on a book by Hemingway; reportedly Hawks bet Hemingway he could make a good movie out of the worst thing Hemingway ever wrote. When Hemingway asked which book that was, Hawks told him To Have and Have Not was a “bunch of junk” (a critical appraisal that many people still hold). I also read that Hawks made the movie because he didn’t get to direct Casablanca (proving that the best revenge is living well). Walter Brennan gives what is perhaps his greatest performance as the old rummy Eddie, an impersonation both frighteningly real and heartbreakingly pathetic. And Humphrey Bogart is the perfect embodiment of the man who wants nothing to do with nobody until the right woman comes alone; not sure how that serves as a metaphor for America’s entry into World War II, but it’s one of Bogart’s best performances. Remade twice as The Breaking Point (1950) and The Gun Runners (1958) with John Garfield and Audy Murphy in the leads respectively.

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