Ring a Ding Ding
When Lauren Bacall first appears in Humphrey Bogart‘s hotel doorway in To Have and Have Not, one has to pause and question whether their characters are already familiar with each other. In truth, not even the actors themselves were very well acquainted as the stars started work on a project that would result in their marriage.
After seeing a screen test by Bacall, then 19, for the movie and the scene in which she questions whether the gentleman can whistle, Bogart tells the newcomer, “We’ll have a lot of fun together,” and fun they had. The couple fell in love during the making of the Ernest Hemingway novel-based movie. When Bogart’s wife at the time Mayo Methot would inquire where her husband was, the answer was “the cast”. The actor finally shrugged off the long-failed marriage with a Vegas divorce May 10, 1945. He married Bacall May 21. They would name their son after Bogie’s character in To Have and Have Not, whom Bacall’s character refers to as Steve.
The movie’s familiar plot lines harken back to the 1944 award winner, Casablanca. In To Have and Have Not, Bogie’s American character does not own a nightclub on a French-ruled exotic locale, but instead lives at one. As a boat owner, he reluctantly agrees to help smuggle a man important to the French resistance during Germany’s occupation of the nation. That man happens to have a woman with him who is more important to have in tow than leave behind, for the mere reason that she helps drive his mission.
On the Caribbean isle of Martinique, Bogie’s Harry Morgan rents out his fishing boat and captain skills to anyone buying. We open on him, his alcoholic crew member Eddie (Walter Brennan) and the man (Walter Sande) who loses his fishing pole overboard and cancels the rest of the excursion. This Johnson now owes Harry for the rod and the week’s trip, some $800. The man says he must go to the bank the next morning to retrieve the cash.
Before that can happen, Harry is approached by the owner of the hotel/bar where he resides and is asked about aiding the French resistance effort by helping to move an important man between locales in the ocean. Harry refuses to get involved with such a politics. In walks Marie Browning (Bacall) looking for a match. This husky voiced gal whom Harry names Slim, later picks Johnson’s pocket. Not only did the man have the money to pay Harry but he also has a plane ticket that would have had him out of the country before the bank opened.
During a shootout that kills several members of the underground resistance, Johnson also catches a stray bullet. Harry takes what is owed from the wallet, but this prompts the authorities to question his connection to the rebels. The man’s passport and money are confiscated for the time being. Now looking to start a life with Slim, and annoyed at the police, Harry agrees to take up the well-paying, one-night voyage and manages to pick up and drop off Paul (Walter Molnar) and Helene De Bursac (Dolores Moran), but not before Paul is shot. The wounded man ends up in the hotel basement where Harry continues to help the rebels while conversations with Helene spark Slim’s jealousy. An end-of-the-movie gunpoint holdup will help the De Bursac’s free a man from Devil’s Island and allow Harry and Slim to take off to some other destination.
Unlike Casablanca, To Have and Have Not offers too easy an ending for my tastes. It sets up a scene that could lead to a shoot out, but fades to close leaving us to assume all works out well. Otherwise the story is intriguing and sexy, especially with the unique look of young Bacall at the helm. Part way through the picture, Slim picks up a job singing at the hotel bar and does so in the deepest, husky voice you will ever hear. It is far from an attractive singing voice, but it suits her sultry look. Some say the voice was dubbed by Andy Williams, but Bacall maintained it was her own.
Director Howard Hawks insisted that without Bogart’s help he could not have elicited the performance from Bacall that he did. He had the part created in a Marlene Dietrich-esque way because he thought the young model could become a new version of the seductress. “Not many actors would sit around and wait while a girl steals a scene,” Hawks said after filming. “But he fell in love with the girl and the girl with him, and that made it easy.”
- To Have and Have Not is set for 8 p.m. ET July 21 on TCM.
Source: The Ultimate Bogart by Ernest W. Cunningham, TCM.com