By Jarrod Jones. After the considerable success of Warner Brothers’ 1942 monster hit Casablanca, the studio’s executives fell all over each other to continue their profitable relationship with their highest paid marquee star, Humphrey Bogart.
The savvy studio — perfectly aware that the Bogart-as-gangster of old was completely eclipsed by the freshly christened Bogart-as-romantic-lead — tellingly cast their man alongside many of his fellow Casablanca co-stars for the 1944 Passage To Marseille (also directed by Michael Curtiz): Claude Rains, Helmut Dantine, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre (the latter two having previously appeared with Bogart in The Maltese Falcon) all signed up for a film that was promoted as an analogous follow-up to Casablanca. Though Passage didn’t feature the sweeping romanticism of its distant cousin, the film was still a success, and thus the shrewd strategy of Warners was firmly established: Humphrey Bogart was to be publicized as a romantic heavy from that day forward.
So when it came time for Howard Hawks (Bringing Up Baby, Ball Of Fire) to adapt his least favorite Ernest Hemingway novel (the director reportedly referred to it as “a bunch of junk”), the director — working with screenwriter Jules Furthman and an out-of-work William Faulkner — tossed out a lot of the meat of Hemingway’s original work in order for the film to bear a passing thematic resemblance to Casablanca. The novel’s original setting, Cuba, was moved to the French colony Martinique, then under rule by the collaborationist Vichy government, appeasing Warners on two fronts: one, where the studio placated the Roosevelt administration, who didn’t want Cuba to be depicted in any shady light, and two, where the new locale added to the idyllic themes that mirrored Warners’ 1942 Best Picture winner.
All that remained was to cast Bogart’s romantic co-starring role, Marie Browning, and it would be that casting decision that would not only alter the course of the film’s production, but the lives of its two leading stars. The result of this decision changed the history of Warner Bros. as a studio, and cemented a romantic legacy in Hollywood so endearing, it belonged to the annals of high opera. It’s safe to say, no one — not Howard Hawks, not Jack Warner, and certainly not Humphrey Bogart — anticipated a woman like Lauren Bacall.
The film establishes Harry Morgan (Bogart) as a cocksure man of limited means from the onset, eking out a living schlepping American tourists around on his boat, the Queen Conch, off the coast of Fort de France. The film also takes great care to demonstrate that Morgan is something of a loner, a world-weary sort that looks out only for himself (the “I stick my neck out for no one” attitude is obviously meant to recall Bogart’s more famous role, Rick Blaine), but it makes certain that the audience is aware of a predictably bigger heart underneath his steely resolve. (That Morgan allows the near-useless rummy Eddie, played to comic effect by Hawks’ veteran Walter Brennan, to tag along on his endeavors shows Morgan’s propensity to look out for the little guy.)
Hawks shows off his ability to sell physical comedy in a very subtle manner early on in the picture, evoking his screwball comedies with Cary Grant in a small, but not insignificant way: he allows Brennan’s Eddie to absorb most of the laughs through his latent alcohol abuse (his shuddering due to the DTs is played unsympathetically broad), and Morgan’s shifty client Johnson’s (Walter Sande) buffoonish handling of a fishing rod is handled similarly, allowing Leo F. Forbstein’s musical direction to take a frivolous bent here and there. It’s all utilized as a refreshing palate cleanser for the more solemn proceedings that follow: French Resistance fighters have infiltrated Vichy’s Martinique, and require a brave boatman to deliver two members of the Resistance — coincidentally enough, a married couple — to the ominous Devil’s Island. Morgan’s familiar relationship to hotel manager Gerard (nicknamed “Frenchy” to alleviate any confusion as to where his loyalties lie) makes him the man for the job, but the nagging presence of Pétain loyalists on Martinique keep Morgan’s interests at bay. This smacks of a blatant copy of Casablanca, and thematically it would be, but for the presence of Hawks’ ace in the hole, Miss Lauren Bacall.
The film’s showcase doesn’t belong to the intrigue of Harry Morgan’s involvement with the French Resistance; it is the blistering chemistry between Morgan and Marie Browning (Bacall) that steals the show. Nicknaming them “Steve” and “Slim” (respectively after himself and his wife, Nancy Keith), Howard Hawks allows his cameras to linger in the shadowed hotel rooms of these two moonstruck characters, letting Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s natural attraction display itself evidently onscreen. (It’s almost voyeuristic to witness these two actors fall in love in real time, to watch the unabashed sensuality manifest itself so utterly and completely.) Witnessing Lauren Bacall brazenly toss a pack of matches back to Bogart, puff out a plume of smoke while hardly offering a thanks, is a stunner that pales any action sequences or spectacle that the film would offer. (“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve?” Slim cooly puts to an astonished Bogart. Obviously, you know the rest.)
The sheer audacity of these scenes are what makes To Have And Have Not a film that can truly stand on its own merits, a film that marked a new chapter in the career and life of Humphrey Bogart, and allowed Warner Bros. to forge ahead with its favored leading man and its new meteoric star. This was truly the beginning of a… well, you know.