To Have and Have Not

Director: Howard Hawks

I can make a movie out of the worst thing you ever wrote, said director Howard Hawks to his friend Ernest Hemingway before transforming the author’s fairly dismal novel To Have and Have Not into a great film. In the event, Hawks actually jettisoned most of Hemingway’s story and transformed its characters beyond recognition. Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) is now a world-weary, fiercely independent boat captain operating in Martinique just prior to the U.S. involvement in World War II. At first refusing to take sides, Morgan eventually comes to support the Free French when the Vichy authorities threaten both the woman he loves ( Lauren Bacall) and his amiable, ageing partner ( Walter Brennan).
As always, Hawkes explores and developes his themes through the concrete details of character, physical action and speech. The sparkling dialogue (written by Jules Furthman and William Faulkner) is given extra resonance through the delivery of the actors as coached by Hawkes, who had Lauren Bacall develop a sultry, husky voice. The then 19-year-old Bacall was a revelation, and her on- and off-screen romance with Bogart became the stuff of legend.
In the film, the Bogart-Bacall relationship is beautifully developed as it moves from witty verbal sparring to the revelation of vulnerability. The film’s second driving force is Morgan’s sense of personal morality, which makes To Have and Have Not a superior work to Hawk’s more celebrated Raymond Chandler adaptation, The Big Sleep. Similarly, Bogart’s great performance in To Have and Have Not has tended ot be underrated because of the impact made by Bacall. It’s entirely appropriate, then, that this unpretentious masterpiece is being re-released in a new print to coincide with the centenary of Bogey’s birth.

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