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'To Have and Have Not' (1944): A Review

"You know how to whistle, don't you Steve?"
"You know how to whistle, don't you Steve?"Promotional Editorial Image

To Have and Have Not

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Valentine’s Day may have come and gone, but the aroma of romance is still strong (at least it is for the purposes of this review). Staring one of Hollywood’s most iconic couples, Howard Hawks’ “To Have and Have Not” (1944) is a pastiche of war, romance, and adventure (in that order), and sees the pairing of future husband and wife, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, on screen together for the first time.

Set in Fort de France, Martinique, under the Vichy regime in the summer of 1940, shortly after the fall of France, the film stars Bogart as world-weary fishing-boat captain Harry “Steve” Morgan, who is forced to help the French Resistance smuggle some people onto the island in order to pay off a debt he owes. Although initially unhappy about his situation, Morgan finds some relief in the company of the beautiful Marie "Slim" Browning (Lauren Bacall), an American wanderer who has come to the island.

Although the film’s setting and plot are (intentionally) reminiscent of Bogart’s earlier film, “Casablanca” (1942), Hawks’ “To Have and Have Not” is far from being a mere clone of Michael Curtiz’s classic war piece. Beautifully shot, well-paced and punctuated with small doses of sardonic humor, Hawks’ “To Have and Have Not”, much like “Casablanca”, is a romance picture, but one that focuses on a “budding” romance rather than a “lost” one.

Like all of Hawks’ other films, “To Have and Have Not” is peppered with tight dialogue, used to great effect by both Bogart and Bacall during their scenes together (the famous “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve?” line being from this film). Few on-screen couples have the chemistry that Bogart-Bacall have, their wooing and tit-for-tat exchanges generating a palpable and entertaining romance that’s far more genuine than some of Hollywood’s other romantic portrayals, both past and present.

But while romance might be a key feature to Hawkes’ film, it is not the only one. The scenes depicting Bogart’s attempt to smuggle resistance fighters Helene (Dolores Moran) and Paul de Bursac (Walter Szurovy) onto the island are ripe with a tension that Hawks slowly boils to a simmer over the course of the film as the Morgan’s activities start to gain the attention of the local authorities.

The films’ other cast members, such as Walter Brennan and Hoagy Carmichael, do an amiable job with their respective roles, though their collective effort to overcome the Bogart-Bacall juggernaut is ultimately fruitless, the iconic couple stealing the film whenever they share a scene together.

Although hardly a faithful adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s book of the same of name, Howard Hawks’ “To Have and Have Not” proves to be an engaging and intelligent romance, and one that remains just as entertaining today as it was when it was released some seventy years ago.

Find the nearest Blockbuster (assuming they still exist) near your home so you can rent this film almost immediately. Or, if you prefer that movies came to you instead, set up a Netflix account and start your ordering as soon as possible.