Thursday, October 25, 2007

GREAT FILMS: To Have and Have Not (1944)

Directed by Howard Hawks

To Have and Have Not is a movie more remembered for it's steamy directions on whistling, rather than being a masterpiece of film. The reason mainly, is because the movie is not Casablanca. The two movies are similar in plot: a world-weary protagonist (Humphrey Bogart) lives in an exotic world with the French resistance fighting the Gestapo, while he has a love affair with a mysterious woman (Lauren Bacall) to the soundtrack of a bluesy piano man in an urban Martinique bar.

Sure, Casablanca may have an edge on this film when it comes to place in film history, but what it does not possess is this movie's smoldering sexuality. The sexual tension between Bogart and Bacall is so pulsating, and was considerably racy for it's time. Surely, it mirrors the true-life love affair the then-19 Bacall was having with the then-42 Bogart. Their romance further spurs this film's passion into the subconscious of the viewer.

The film is a very loose adaptation of a novel by Ernest Hemingway of the same name. It is about Harry Morgan (Bogart), a man who charters a fishing boat for hire, with his drunk friend, Eddie (the hilarious and poignant Walter Brennan). People pay to use their boat to fish in Martinique, France, but since World War II, business has been hard. When an American tourist tries to skip out on the money he owes Morgan, Morgan runs into Marie (Bacall), the tourist's date. Marie is tall, sexy, has sharp, glaring eyes, and a low rumbling voice. Harry is immediately fixed on her, and when the tourist is unfortunately killed by stray Gestapo bullets, Harry and Marie are sucked into the world of political unrest that was 1940's France.

We can talk all day about the political commentary within the movie (and there is a lot), but that is not what makes the movie so great. What I'll focus on is the romance between Bogart and Bacall; the greatest, most-telling romance ever shown on the screen. Bogart and Bacall also appear in Key Largo and The Big Sleep, but neither possess the passion that this movie possesses. Created by Howard Hawks, the master of romance within intrigue, this movie unfolds like a political message, but is really one of the great love stories ever told (again, like Casablanca).

The film is not really filled with passionate love scenes, with dialogue announcing the never-ending alliance between the two people. The movie takes a rougher perspective. Marie seems notorious--the first thing we see is her stealing her date's wallet. Harry, on the other end, is no push-over. He scoffs at the chance to help dedicated French refugees, and he's not afraid to tell them to their face. Marie, though alarmingly younger, may be the perfect girl for him, but Harry, so hardened by the world is not willing to find out. When forced to help the refugees because of debt, Harry gives Marie money to take the next plane home, to keep her out of danger, he says, but we know it is because he is afraid of what he may get into with her. In one of the more heart-tugging scenes in the movie, Marie sighs, "It was nice while it lasted."

The movie is an excellent expose of lovelorn relationships. The relationship between Harry and Marie in this movie lasts perhaps less than a week. In that short time we see passion, jealousy, dedication, and disdain. Marie's yearning is so heartfelt and agonizing, particularly coming from what we see is a very young, and naive girl. Meanwhile, Harry is a character best described as "essential Bogart". The character is brooding and selfish, but only a little connection with the right woman brings out the human side of him. This side sometimes scares Harry so much, he tries to destroy it all together.

To Have and Have Not is a masterpiece of steaming sensuality, which makes many romantic films these days look like a wet dream. The romance shown is powerful, but steady, and very sexy. "You know how to whistle, don'cha Steve?" Marie asks Harry in his doorway, "Just put you lips together and... blow." Very few films can have a line that strong, or the talent of Lauren Bacall to deliver it.

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