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To Have and Have Not (Blu-ray Review)

18 Jul, 2016 By: Mike Clark

Available via Warner Archive
$21.99 Blu-ray
Not rated
Stars Humphrey Bogart, Walter Brennan, Lauren Bacall, Hoagy Carmichael.

Lauren Bacall was billed third and under the title for what is still among the more smolderingly explosive debuts in screen history, though let it be said that “Bogart-Brennan” (Walter was billed second after having won three supporting Oscars in an earlier five-year run) probably didn’t have the marquee ring that director Howard Hawks had in mind. Or to put it another way. To Have and Have Not is still on history’s map in large part because it romantically paired Bogart opposite a statuesque looker who once made cigarettes look sexy (and this to an actor who died just a little more than a dozen years later of lung cancer).

Married in real life about half-a-year after the movie’s release, the two still sizzle in what has always been my favorite of the four Bogart-Bacall screen pairings, though my personal nod just as easily could go to The Big Sleep (from two years later) if I could follow its storyline just a little. With THAHN, it’s much easier to navigate plot flow with far fewer impediments than Bogie’s fishing-boat captain endures here, while occasional musical asides (Hoagy Carmichael’s Decca recording of the film-featured “Hong Kong Blues” went to a delayed-reaction No. 6 on the Billboard charts 10 months later) allow you to catch your bearings.

The project’s gestation is kind of famous: Director Howard Hawks claimed he could fashion a good film out of Ernest Hemingway’s worst novel, and when Hemingway naturally wondered which one that was, Hawks opined To Have and Have Not, which had dealt with black market activity out of Key West but also involving Cuba. FDR reportedly wasn’t keen on this angle for anybody’s movie because it compromised the government’s official “Good Neighbor Policy” that was soliciting American friends south of the border. But World War II provided the opportunity to reshape the property substantially into another resistance yarn not long after Casablanca’s Oscar — this time set in 1940 Martinique against a backdrop of Vichy creeps. In solid Hawks fashion, the result is far more jocular than its Michael Curtiz Oscar predecessor, but there are a couple similarities beyond the keenly oiled ability to finesse an exotic location on the Warner backlot. As with Casablanca’s Rick, Bogart’s humble Have Not fishing skipper is apolitical in the beginning until developing distaste for what he’s seeing. And, yes, there’s another saloon where much of the story’s important business takes place — though this time, Bogart is a long way from owning it.

Onetime model Bacall, just 19 here and recently off the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, plays the stunner who finds herself stranded on the French-controlled island without much beyond the clothes on her back (Bogart is mostly seen in jeans that were hardly his everyday screen garb unless he was prospecting for gold in the Sierra Madre). This helps make her one of the quintessential Hawks heroines, along with Jean Arthur in Only Angels Have Wings and Angie Dickinson in Rio Bravo — screen women who were also capable of being “one of the guys” and no less attractive for that. Beyond politically motivated shootings, dressing of wounds (Bogart keeps a first-aid kit handy in his hotel room), wisecracks and romantic by-play, this is about all there is to it on paper — though it’s pretty stellar paper when you have Jules Furthman and William Faulkner putting their typewriters to it. One added subplot is Bogart’s no-nonsense protection of boating sidekick Brennan, a rummy who’s seen better days that Bogart fully remembers. In other words, this isn’t the Brennan of Rio Bravo (my favorite of this real-life political reactionary’s screen performances) but the Dean Martin of the same. Fun footnote: Can you imagine the political discussions on the Bravo set with John Wayne, Brennan and Ward Bond — as Dino was likely wondering, “John Foster who?”

Warner Archive turns in another of its totally pro jobs on a vintage title, and I doubt the movie looked any better in 1944 than it does here (it didn’t — quite — when I ran it in 35mm at the AFI Theater back when I was younger than Walter Brennan). Carried-over extras from the old DVD include a highly germane Merrie Melodies cartoon (Bacall to Arms); a making-of featurette that notes how Hawks had to settle for featured player Dolores Moran when Bogart took up with Bacall off the set; and the two leads in a “Lux Radio Theatre” broadcast of the same in which filmmaker/host William Keighley assures us that Bogart has assured him that there are plenty of Lux suds in the Bogie household. For Keighley, this must have been a long way from directing Guy Kibbee in the movie of Babbitt.

This has been a hectic period for Bogart on Blu-ray, what with recent releases of Dark Passage, Key Largo, Passage to Marseilles, Criterion’s stellar showcase of In a Lonely Place and a long-delayed issuing of Deadline USA finally due next week from Kino. So as wish lists go, my fancy would be tickled prodigiously to see an Angels With Dirty Faces from Warner, a surprise appearance of the Paramount-controlled VistaVision duo of We’re No Angels and The Desperate Hours (but has today’s Paramount tyros even heard of them?) and the Bogart swan song The Harder They Fall, a title from which you can almost hear some Twilight Time karma.

About the Author: Mike Clark

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