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To Have and Have Not (1944)
Can't those incompetent French do anything right?
"You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow."
In Casablanca Humphrey Bogart (as Rick Blaine) has to make sure one of their underground leaders, Victor Laszlo, escapes to safety, and then for good measure shoves Laszlo's wandering wife onto the plane after him. Two years later for the actors, about the same time for the characters: after Vichy but before Pearl Harbor Bogie has to help the French again.
In To Have and Have Not he plays Harry Morgan, a boating captain in Martinique who takes rich Americans out for deep sea fishing. Because of financial difficulties he is forced to accept a gig with the Free French transporting a couple: a weak-willed man who doesn't have sense enough to duck when the bullets start flying, and his wife, first seen with floppy hat pulled low, full lips pouting Bergman-like. She doesn't think much of our sea captain and objects when Bogart is beseeched to operate on her husband's bullet-riddled shoulder. Finally she relents and asks to help. It's a simple-enough task: if her husband should wake up, chloroform him back to sleep. But she can't even do this right. She faints, and the chloroform glugs out of the bottle, but Bogart operates through the fumes. When the man wakes he admits his cowardice and wishes he had Bogie's courage. The wife, realizing her debt to the sea captain, suddenly seems pliable. In the end Bogie takes off with his girl and rummy-pal to help the incompetent Free French keep France free.
Did Americans love themselves during World War II or what?
Nevertheless, To Have and Have Not packs a small wallop, mostly because of the sizzling screen debut of Lauren Bacall, master of the low voice and sidelong glance. She slinks through this movie, as cool as Bogart, which is saying a lot. She plays a con artist, a pickpocket who uses her sexual allure to separate men from their money, and maybe this is her initial interest in Bogie he's hardly what you'd call handsome but at some point (when exactly?) she falls for him. "I'm hard to get, Steve," she tells him. "All you got to do is ask." Earlier they have a better exchange. Bacall has just landed on Bogie's lap and kisses him for the first time:
Bogie (smiling): What'd you do that for?
Bacall: Been wondering whether I'd like it.
Bogie: What's the decision?
Bacall: I don't know yet.
(She kisses him again; he kisses back.)
Bacall: It's even better when you help.
This may be the coolest woman ever to appear in movies.
One wonders if such dialogue came from the novel, written by Ernest Hemingway, or the screenplay, written by Jules Furthman and William Faulkner. Faulkner and Hemingway: a couple of future Nobel Prize winners. Probably Furthman.
The choice of the actor playing Captain Renard (Dan Seymour) is an interesting one. Seymour doesn't do much with his role, inspiring neither fear nor contempt. He's just a fat man. (Was Sydney Greenstreet busy or something?) Yet here's what's fascinating Seymour also played Abdul in Casablanca and went on to play Captain Brizzard in the Marx Brothers' spoof A Night in Casablanca, as well as Senor Ferrari (Greenstreet's role) in the short-lived 1950s TV version of "Casablanca." Apparently he couldn't get away from North Africa. Meanwhile, his henchman is played by bit actor and 1960s TV producer Sheldon Leonard, and, though he slaps Bacall at one point, he inspires no fear either. These guys are putty in Bogie's hands, and Bogie makes Sheldon pay for the Bacall slap even though Bogie's been known to slap a few dames in his time.
July 8, 1999
© 1999 Erik Lundegaard