For its release in 1944, Warner Bros.’ Publicity Department presented Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not as “a second Casablanca”—a profitable hit and Best Picture Oscar winner for the studio just two years prior.
A blatant box office grab, this positioning had plenty of basis in To Have and Have Not’s content. After all, the film’s setting in French Martinique—a Caribbean island then under Vichy rule (note the Marshal Pétain posters)—bears more than a little resemblance to Casablanca’s Morocco, all palm trees, exotic markets, and cosmopolitan cafés, crackling with anti-fascist resistance. (If Warner Bros. didn’t reuse Casablanca’s sets, the studio missed a significant opportunity to economize.) Humphrey Bogart returns, this time as Harry Morgan, who, like his hard-boiled Rick Blaine, is an American expat living in a fascist-controlled sea port, doing his best to stay out of the war. Like Rick, ‘Morgan’ is assiduously “minding my own business,” in this case, chartering his fishing boat for tourists. And To Have and Have Not shares Casablanca’s basic plot: Bogart’s character refuses to help the anti-fascist resistance until a beautiful woman, this time Lauren Bacall’s Marie (to Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa), plays a catalytic role in converting him from self-centered isolationism to selfless antifascist interventionism—as an unsubtle surrogate for U.S. audiences during World War II (which was a bit dated by 1944, as critics noted). There might even be a self-reflexive in-joke in To Have and Have Not, when Bogart-as-Morgan warns his “rummy” sidekick Eddy (the beloved Walter Brennan), “They’re never going to believe that story […] a second time.”
Beyond Morgan and Marie, and excepting the oddball Eddy, To Have and Have Not’s tertiary characters also reiterate Casablanca’s. There is the piano-tickling Cricket (Hoagy Carmichael) to Casablanca’s Sam (Dooley Wilson). [N.B., though Cricket is white, To Have and Have Not finds other ways to express the era’s paternalistic and colonialist racial politics.] Rounding up the usual suspects for the Gestapo, there is Vichy collaborator Captain Renard (Dan Seymour), who seems a composite of Casablanca’s Captain Renault (Claude Rains) and Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet), and the worse for this caricaturizing mash-up. Modeling selfless antifascist heroism, there is De Gaullist leader-in-transit Paul de Bursac (Walter Szurovy), cut straight from the cloth of Victor Lazslo (Paul Henreid), complete with a speech about the nature of bravery, and about the Nazis’ underestimation of humanity’s irrepressible antifascist spirit. (Lazslo: “It doesn’t matter if the Nazis killed them all; more would come.” De Bursac: “There’s always someone else.”) De Bursac even has a gorgeous wife in tow, Hellene (Dolores Moran), wardrobed and lit like Ilsa. The couple emerge out of the fog, as if the plane from Casablanca’s final scene delivered Mr. and Mrs. Lazslo/De Bursac straight to Martinique.
For all these echoes, emphasized by the studio’s publicity, audiences flocked to To Havana and Have Not, while most contemporary critics derogated it as derivative, a lesser copy. And it’s true, for my money, Hawks’s film does not stand up to Michael Curtiz’s instant and enduring classic. But, starting with Jean-Luc Godard’s re-estimation of To Have and Have Not in Cahiers du cinema in 1952, as part of his hyperbolic assertion of Hawks as “the greatest American artist,” it has established a place for itself in film history in its own right, not least of all for its impressive literary pedigree and the Bogie and Bacall of it all.
Indeed, To Have and Have Not originated in the Ernest Hemingway novel of the same title, published in 1937, little of which remains in the final film. Book-ended between two masterpieces, A Farewell to Arms (1929) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), it is considered lesser Hemingway, a strained attempt to respond more explicitly to the era’s fashion of politically committed art. As the title suggests, it underscores Depression-era socioeconomic inequality, in Key West and Havana, between which the novel travels and where Hemingway had homes. In Cuba, that inequality sparked a revolution against dictator Gerardo Machado, with which Hemingway sympathized, mostly. Thus, his protagonist Harry Morgan finds himself smuggling Cuban revolutionaries to the U.S., despite his initial demurral. The changed setting of the film—from Cuba to Martinique—came late, at the insistence of U.S. government propaganda agencies, which worried that any association between authoritarianism and Cuban leaders might embarrass the island’s new would-be dictator Fulgencio Batista, an important ally to the war effort.
According to legend, the film adaptation was born when Hawks told Hemingway “I can make a picture out of your worst story,” and Papa took the bait. Together, on a ten-day fishing trip on Hemingway’s beloved boat in 1939, the two men reworked the novel into a rough film story. But Hawks couldn’t convince Hemingway to participate further, despite threatening to hand the project to his literary rival, William Faulkner. Hawks would later make good on that threat (hiring Faulkner to doctor that last-minute setting change), but not before selling the rights to Warner Bros. in 1943, attaching Bogart to the project, contracting Jules Furthman to develop a script, and discovering Bacall, a 19-year old fashion model who nailed her screen test with To Have and Have Not’s most famous line, “You do know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” Also according to legend, Hawks instructed Furthman to write two versions, one that minimized Marie’s (Bacall’s) role and another that heightened it, depending on whether the newbie proved up to the task.
She did, and then some. That screen test was no fluke. From the moment Bacall first appears, leaning in a doorway and asking huskily, “Anybody gotta a match?,” she lights up the screen. The first-time actress exudes what one contemporary critic called a “stone-crushing self-confidence” (castration anxiety, anyone?). Playing To Have and Have Not’s heroine, she is more independent than Casablanca’s; she is an agent of action, lifting wallets and pulling strings, driving the relationship with Bogart/Morgan, not driven by it. Where Bergman’s Ilsa was earnest, demure, sweet, and unimpeachably moral, Bacall’s Marie is sarcastic, sassy, sultry, and a little bit suspect—though it turns out she has her own moral code and exudes grace under pressure, like all good Hemingway heroes. As such, she gets some of the film’s best lines: the aforementioned “put your lips together and blow;” as well as “It’s even better when you help,” after Bogart kisses her back; and her tongue-in-cheek recitation of Eddy’s metaphorical tagline: “Was you ever bit by a dead bee?”
Of course, Bacall’s debut success has everything to do with Bogart (veteran actor 25 years her senior), and the chemistry that grows between them. Bogart and Bacall fell in love on set, initiated an affair, and got married eight months after the film’s release—and eleven days after Bogart’s divorce from his third wife. Bogie and Bacall would go on to make the most of their chemistry in three more films together, The Big Sleep (1946, also directed by Hawks), Dark Passage (1947), and Key Largo (1948). Wonderfully, To Have and Have Not captures the coupling process of Hollywood’s most iconic couple, because its scenes were filmed sequentially, as Faulkner scribbled rewrites just days ahead. Witnessing this budding real-life romance is one of the greatest pleasures offered today by To Have and Have Not, which can otherwise drag and confuse, a little bit dated these seventy-five years later.
Plus, Bogart gets the girl, off-screen and on it, in a happy ending. Take that, Casablanca.
“To Have and Have Not” is streaming on HBO Max.