Blu-ray Pick: 5 Reasons To Love ‘To Have and Have Not’

 

The comparisons to Casablanca were inevitable, as To Have and Have Not has resistance fighters, a memorable piano player (Hoagy Carmichael), and smoldering chemistry between the leads. But even then and now 72 years later, To Have and Have Not is a classic that stands on its own, and Warner Archive Collection has done a great job with this Blu-ray release. Below are five reasons to love To Have and Have Not.

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  1. Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart Are Chemistry’s Blueprint

It’s amazing to think that Lauren Bacall was just 19 when she made her screen debut as pickpocketer/world traveler Marie Browning in To Have and Have Not. Though director Howard Hawks was smitten with Bacall during the making of the film, she only had eyes for a then married Humphrey Bogart. If you want more information on Bogart and Bacall’s budding relationship, it’s chronicled in the Blu-ray special features segment “A Love Story: The Story of To Have and Have Not.”

The moment fishing boat captain Harry Bogart (Humphrey Bogart) throws a box of matches to Marie Browning (whom he calls “Slim”), sparks fly. Though she’s just a teenager and he’s twenty years into a successful Hollywood career, Bacall and Bogart were the perfect match.

Slim may be a youngster, but she’s lived a pretty hard life and has proven to be resourceful beyond measure. Harry constantly underestimates Slim’s intelligence and inner strength, and his constant surprise over her unpredictability is fun to watch. (Slim calls him “Steve,” and it’s their playful mis-naming of each other which heightens their romance).

In real life, the pair were falling harder for each other, and although critic Leonard Maltin accurately states in the special feature segment that actors can fake the romance, watching talented thespians really feel that emotion is something to behold.

The chemistry between Bogart and Bacall is highly evident in their subsequent features (The Big Sleep, Key Largo, Dark Passage), but there’s always something about that first time! It’s also hard to find, at least within cinema,  a more smoldering and combustible energy that’s generated in To Have and Have Not.

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2. Hoagy Carmichael And Walter Brennan Help Steer The Ship

It’s unfair to simply view To Have and Have Not as a love story between Bogart and Bacall, as a ton of cinematic ingredients help give the flick its distinct flavor.

Bandleader and musician Hoagy Carmichael is Cricket, the witty and lively piano player who plays at the Martinique’s local bar (Harry Morgan lives in a room on the building’s second floor). Though he’s best known for his music (most notably the transcendent compositions “Stardust” and “Georgia on My Mind”), Carmichael also carved out a solid acting career (Young Man with a Horn, The Best Years of Our Lives), and he’s perfect as Slim’s buddy and music collaborator in To Have and Have Not.

Credit goes to Howard Hawks for also letting his film ample room to breathe, as he lets Carmichael and the band play a few songs (sometimes with Bacall singing) before the real action takes place. Slim and Cricket’s friendship is also an overlooked aspect of the film, and the easygoing Carmichael is simply my favorite piano player in movie history (with all due respect to Casablanca’s Dooley Wilson).

Four-time Oscar nominee Walter Brennan, who many Western fans know from his work in The Far Country and Rio Bravo, is Eddie, the loyal and often inebriated sidekick of Harry Morgan’s. Though he has the best of intentions, Eddie gets a bit too confessional and talkative whenever he’s hitting the bottle, and he proves to be a liability during Harry Morgan’s moments of crisis with a pair of bullying French officers (Dan Seymour and Sheldon Leonard).

Both Brennan and Carmichael give wonderful supporting work in their respective roles, fleshing out the world of To Have and Have Not. Love is fine and dandy, but the lead actors aren’t the only ones doing the heavy lifting in the film.

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3. ‘A-List’ Writers Converge On ‘To Have and Have Not’

The movie, based on Ernest Hemingway’s Cuba set novel of the same name, has a much more upbeat ending than the source material. Having “Papa” as the originator of the material is a wonderful starting point, but making a great film also demands a solid screenplay.

Although William Faulkner’s struggles as a Hollywood screenwriter are well documented (his trials served as an inspiration for the Coen Bros. flick Barton Fink), To Have and Have Not is his crowing, cinematic achievement. The script was co-written by Jules Furthman, one of Hollywood’s most revered screenwriters and Howard Hawks’ go-to scribe (Only Angels Have Wings, Rio Bravo).

Cinematic chemistry leaps off the screen when you’re dealing with Bogart and Bacall, but they were also supported by excellent writing in To Have and Have Not. This movie has its share of memorable lines, including the iconic Slim remark “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together . . . and blow.”

Screenplay or simply writing enthusiasts should also note how so much can be done with the use of a wine bottle and a healthy amount of repartee between Bogart and Bacall. Though the movie deals with WWII intrigue and adventure, the picture’s most ambitious moments come from the Slim and Harry’s wine bottle interaction with each other.

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4. Harry Morgan Is One of Cinema’s Most Likable Characters

Sure, Harry Morgan has a tougher than hide exterior, but underneath all that granite is a ton of good intentions and the proverbial heart of gold.

Even though he’s scrounging a meager life as a fishing boat captain in WWII era Martinique, Harry isn’t exactly looking out for number one. His best friend Eddie (Brennan) may be a lush and motormouth, but Harry unconditionally loves his partner in crime. Some of my favorite scenes from To Have and Have Not deal with Harry gently laughing over his friend’s exploits and conversations, and these scenes subtly bring out Harry’s innate tenderness.

Harry also doesn’t take advantage of Slim’s overt flirtations and sexuality, and even though with Slim a kiss isn’t just a kiss, Harry pushes her away time and time again. What can be construed as a detached air is actually a deep seated concern for Slim’s welfare, and he sacrifices his own safety to ensure she has a one way ticket out of Martinique.

Initially resistant to help the resistance fighters and the bar owner who’s shielding them from authorities, Harry eventually joins the cause because, when all is said and done, it’s the right thing to do.

As much as I love a slew of Bogart’s roles, I’ll keep coming back to Harry Morgan, the devil may care fishing boat captain who, in the end, has a ton of heart and moxie (Slim knows how to pick a good man!).

5. The Warner Archive Blu-Ray Is Stunning

During the Warner Archive podcast episode “Just Whistle,” George Feltenstein mentions that To Have and Have Not’s original camera negative is nowhere to be found. A second generation, nitrate version which Warner Bros. has on deposit at the Museum of Modern Art was the source for the Blu-ray. Although the DVD version used the same source years ago, this Blu-ray version, thanks to growing technology, looks absolutely crisp.

Another successful element behind To Have and Have Not is the successful collaboration between director Howard Hawks and cinematographer Sidney Hickox (he also lensed the Bogart/Bacall classic Dark Passage). The lighting in the movie, especially in dealing with Bacall’s close-ups, is beautifully executed. And considering a great deal of the movie features an intricate play between light and shadow, it’s refreshing to see this Blu-ray was a close to pristine transfer.

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****I also discussed my love for Dark Passage on a previous CinemAddicts podcast. I start in at 44:00 of the episode, which you can listen to below:

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