To Have and Have Not: Learning How to Whistle


tohaveandhavenotWhen I was in Key West earlier this year, I went to the Ernest Hemingway House and took the guided tour. After petting some of the 58 cats currently residing there I bought ”To Have and Have Not” at the museum store. Reading it was pleasant but hardly one of my great literary experiences. Frequently called Hemingway’s worst book, it was not one of director Howard Hawks’s favorites. Word has it he even told the author it was a ”bunch of junk”. Still, the rights landed in Hawks’s lap and he decided to make a movie… as long as almost everything in the novel changed.

Shortly after the fall of France in 1940, we are introduced to Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) who lives in the French colony of Martinique, a place that now finds itself controlled by the Vichy regime. Morgan makes a living chartering his fishing boat to tourists, with the alcoholic Eddie (Walter Brennan) as his mate. At a hotel in Fort-de-France, Morgan meets the seductive Marie ”Slim” Browning (Lauren Bacall) and discovers that she’s a pickpocket. Her latest victim is one of Morgan’s clients, but thanks to her he learns that he was about to get cheated out of money the client owed him. Soon, Morgan finds himself in the situation where he reluctantly has to accept smuggling people who belong to the French Resistance…

A copy of Casablanca
The picture was produced by Warner and I’m sure they were happy to see it get made. After all, To Have and Have Not looks like a copy of Casablanca (1942). Hawks and Hemingway started working on the script, keeping a few characters and ideas from the novel but not much else. Screenplay credit went to Jules Furthman and William Faulkner (allegedly broke at the time) and they finished the story.

You’ll recognize a lot from Casablanca. The setting is exotic, there’s heroic French Resistance agents as well as suitably repellant Vichy representatives. There’s a romance and a bar where all the action takes place, with a pianist who plays an important part. In this case it’s Hoagy Carmichael who accompanies Bacall beautifully; the music is one delightful reason to see the movie. The story and the action really isn’t special here; it’s all a little too familiar. The reason why we still talk about To Have and Have Not is Bogey and Bacall. This is where the couple met and fell in love, even though he was twice her age. Their scenes together make it obvious why Hawks decided to emphasize that part of the movie. It’s been said that the much celebrated, sexy dialogue between Bogart and Bacall was chiefly written by Hawks; in the film, the characters give each other nicknames, ”Steve” and ”Slim”, which is what Hawks and his wife called each other. The two stars are enchanting together, but this is especially one hell of a breakthrough for Bacall.

The supporting cast is good as well, and cinematographer Sidney Hickox does an excellent job of transporting us to the heat of Martinique… even though we never leave the Warner lot.

When Bogart passed away in 1957, Bacall placed a gold whistle on the coffin. It was a gift from her husband of 12 years, and a reminder of their most famous scene together from this film. Can you imagine anything more romantic and heartbreaking? To Have and Have Not preserves their love affair in eternity.

To Have and Have Not 1944-U.S. 100 min. B/W. Produced and directed by Howard Hawks. Screenplay: Jules Furthman, William Faulkner. Novel: Ernest Hemingway. Cinematography: Sidney Hickox. Song: ”How Little We Know” (Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer). Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Harry ”Steve” Morgan), Walter Brennan (Eddie), Lauren Bacall (Marie ”Slim” Browning), Hoagy Carmichael, Dan Seymour, Marcel Dalio.

Trivia: Remade as The Breaking Point (1950) and The Gun Runners (1958).

Quote: “You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.” (Bacall to Bogart)

Last word: “Hemingway explained that he had written the story in one sitting when he needed money, and that I couldn’t make a movie out of it. I said I’d try, and while we hunted, we discussed it. We decided that the best way to tell the story was not to show the hero growing old, but to show how he had met the girl, and, in short, show everything that had happened before the beginning of the novel.” (Hawks, Cahiers du Cinéma)

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