Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting this second annual blogathon celebrating Lauren Bacall. Be sure to visit Crystal’s site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
For this blogathon I’ve decided to write about To Have and Have Not, which is my favourite Lauren Bacall film.
Whenever I watch this film, I always find it so hard to believe that Lauren’s performance in this was actually her film debut.
Lauren is so natural and confident in this film, that I for one really can’t tell that she is a beginner actor. Lauren steals every single scene she is in, and it is her performance as the feisty Slim that I always remember the most when the film is over.
Lauren was nineteen years old when she was cast by director Howard Hawks in this film. Up to this point in her life she had been working as a model. Lauren’s photo had been spotted on the front cover of a magazine by Nancy “Slim” Keith, who was the wife of Howard Hawks. Slim showed Lauren’s photo to her husband. Howard sought Lauren out and signed her up for his upcoming film To Have And Have Not.
The film was based upon the 1937 novel of the same name, which had been written by Ernest Hemingway. Hawks changed the story location from Key West to Martinique during WW2. Hawks kept the main plot of the novel, but he focused most intently on the relationship that develops between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s characters. I’ve never seen it, but apparently the 1950 film The Breaking Point is a much more faithful screen adaptation of Hemingway’s novel.
I don’t think that Lauren Bacall could have possibly envisaged how much this film would end up changing her life. Not only did this film help to make her a star, but working in this film also changed her personal life forever.
During the making of this film, Lauren and her co-star, Humphrey Bogart, fell in love with each other and began an affair. Their affair led to Bogie divorcing his wife, the actress Mayo Methot, and marrying Lauren in 1945. Bogie and Bacall’s marriage lasted until Bogie’s death from cancer in 1957.
The chemistry between Bogie and Bacall is evident on screen in all four of the films they made together. In To Have and Have Not, I think that their chemistry is absolutely electric. Most of their scenes ooze with sexual tension and a genuine affection for one another.
I love that we are not watching two actors pretending to be in love in this film, we are actually witnessing the actors real feelings and longing for one another. As the characters of Slim and Harry fall in love with one another in the film, so to do Bogie and Bacall.
Harry and Slim set eyes on each other for the first time. Screenshot by me.
When we watch this film, we are literally watching the mutual real life attraction between Bogie and Bacall develop and grow before our very eyes. The fact that the attraction between them is real helps the film immensely in my opinion. Their chemistry helps us to believe the growing bond and attraction developing between Slim and Harry.
Bogie and Bacall’s characters affectionately call one another by the nicknames of Steve and Slim, those nicknames were what Howard Hawks and his wife Nancy called one another. Bogart and Bacall would later name their own son Steve.
The relationship between Slim and Harry is one of my favourites from all of the equal romantic partnerships found in Howard Hawks films.
Both characters are fiercely independent and strong. Both characters also find something in the other that has been missing from their lives up until their point of meeting.
In Harry’s case he finds in Slim a woman who can live with him as an equal, a woman who can accept him for how he is, and a woman who isn’t afraid of risk or of hard times.
In Slim’s case she finds in Harry someone who she feels safe with, she also finds him to be someone who gives her a reason to finally stop drifting. When Slim and Harry are together they can have fun together, they can let their guard down, and they can be intimate and vulnerable with one another.
Slim is one of the best of the Hawksian women in my opinion. She is strong, confident, sassy, sexy, tough, and very intelligent. Slim has clearly been hurt in the past and is quite vulnerable, but she covers her pain with a tough and confident veneer.
Slim is also very forward in conveying her attraction to Harry. He loves how forward she is and he loves how confident she is around him. Their relationship is a mix of emotional connection, friendship and sexual attraction. They really are the perfect fit for one another.
The film takes place on the French island of Martinique during WW2. Martinique is under the control of the Vichy government, who are working with the Nazis. Harry Morgan(Humphrey Bogart)is a sardonic American fisherman. Harry makes a fairly good living chartering his boat out to tourists. He is helped by his alcoholic and loveable friend Eddie(Walter Brennan).
Eddie is the films comic relief and is always randomly asking people if they were ever stung by a dead bee. Many people laugh at Eddie and dismiss him as a drunk, but Harry looks after Eddie, gives him a job, and doesn’t take kindly to any nasty talk about him.
Harry is approached by Frenchy(Marcel Dalio)who is a member of the growing resistance movement. Frenchy asks Harry to use his boat to smuggle people off the island. Harry initially refuses(perhaps his refusal represents the neutrality of America during the early years of WW2?) to help out because he fears the consequences if he does.
Harry meets a young pickpocket called Marie Browning(Lauren Bacall). He nicknames her Slim, and she nicknames him Steve. The pair develop an instant attraction and like each other very much. Harry changes his mind and agrees to help the resistance out.
Slim also gets involved with Harry and the resistance and helps them out however she can. Harry and his friends must try and evade the notice of the watchful officials.
The film highlights the dangers that the members of the resistance were always in. The film also reminds us how much the brave men and women who were a part of that risked their lives.
I like that Harry changes his mind and lends the resistance a helping hand. As the film goes on he also becomes less sardonic and stops thinking of his own self interest. The film highlights the moral need in times such as WW2 for us all to pull together,overcome differences, stop thinking solely of ourselves, and bravely stand up and fight the enemy.
The film has lots of thrills, action and suspense. As is always the case in a Howard Hawks film, there is also a great deal of character development and focus, this makes the characters come across to us as being real people.
While the resistance story is very good, I would have liked to have seen more of that storyline and a bit more of the risks the characters involved are taking. I think it is fair to say that what makes this film so memorable is the relationship between Harry and Slim, rather than the resistance storyline. I’m quite sure that this film would not be as much of a classic today if Bogie and Bacall had not been cast in the roles of Harry and Slim.
My favourite scenes are the following. The opening sequences on Harry’s boat with the tourist fisherman. The “you do know how to whistle”? scene. Slim and Harry being questioned by the authorities. Harry protecting Slim in the shootout, and in the middle of all that she totally keeps her cool and jokes that she has sat on a cigarette.
All the cast are very good here, but Lauren steals every single scene she is in. It was quite an achievement for Lauren to manage to hold her own opposite all the experienced actors she was working with in this. A new classic film star twinkled into existence in this film. The name of that star was Lauren Bacall.
I recently discovered a radio series on YouTube which stars Bogie and Bacall. I’m really enjoying working my way through it. The series is called Bold Venture. It aired between 1951 and 1952. The series is clearly influenced by To Have And Have Not. It’s all about the adventures of Shannon(Bogie)and his sidekick/love interest nicknamed Sailor(Lauren). It’s well worth a listen to if you’ve never heard it before. Perhaps we could imagine the radio series to be the continuing adventures of Slim and Steve?
What do you think of this film? What do you think of Lauren’s debut performance here?