Friday, 16 September 2016

Film Friday: "To Have and Have Not" (1944)

This week on "Film Friday," I am honoring Lauren Bacall's 92th birthday, which happens to be today, by telling you a little bit about the first films of hers that I saw. This not only marked her screen debut, but also remains her most iconic picture.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Howard Hawks, To Have and Have Not (1944) opens in the summer of 1940 in the Caribbean island of Martinique, a French colony which is now controlled by pro-German Vichy France. World-weary boat captain Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) and his drunken friend Eddie (Walter Brennan) earn their living by taking wealthy tourists on fishing cruises. One day, Harry is approached by Gérard (Marcel Dario), a hotel owner and member of the French Resistance, commonly known as "Frenchy" to English speakers. He offers to pay Harry to smuggle important Resistance members Hélene (Dolores Moran) and Paul De Bursac (Walter Surovy) into Martinique, but he refuses to become involved in Frenchy's political activities.

Meanwhile, Harry begins a flirtatious relationship with a young American wanderer named Marie Browning (Lauren Bacall), who tells him that she is tired of her footloose life and would like to settle down. One night, after a shootout in front of the hotel between the police and the Resistance, Harry is taken for questioning, which results in the apprehension of his money and passport. In order to earn enough money to put himself back in business and help Marie, Harry agrees to pick up the De Bursacs. Complications arise when Harry is spotted by a patrol boat and Paul is wounded before they can escape. At Frenchy's request, Harry removes the bullet from Paul's shoulder, but refuses to assist the couple in their mission to help a man escape from the penal colony of Devil's Island. Later, the police who recognized Harry's boat the previous night reveal that they have Eddie in custody and will coerce him to tell the truth about the vessel's cargo by witholding liquor. With Marie's help, Harry holds Captain Renard (Dan Seymour) at gunpoint, forcing the police to release Eddie and sign harbor passes so that he can take the De Bursacs to Devil's Island. When Eddie returns, he, Harry and Marie leave Martinique for a more committed life together.

Marie Browning: You know you don't have to act with me, Steve. You don't have to say anything, and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow.

By late 1943, two of Ernest Hemingway's novels had been successfully adapted into motion pictures. The first had been A Farewell to Arms (1932), a semi-biographical account of the author's experiences as an ambulance driver in Italy during World War I. Starring Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes and Adolphe Menjou, the film won two Academy Awards and was nominated for two others, including Best Picture. The second was the recently released For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), set during the Spanish Civil War, which Hemingway covered for the North American Newspaper Alliance in 1937. With Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in the lead roles, For Whom the Bell Tolls was even more successful than its predecessor. It became the top box-office hit of the year and gave Katrina Paxinou the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The film earned eight more nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Cooper and Best Actress for Bergman. Despite the additional recognition that Hollywood had brought him, Hemingway grumbled about screen adaptations of his work, saying that much of it was unfilmable.

Meanwhile, Hemingway continued to receive offers from his friend, producer-director Howard Hawks, to come to Hollywood to try his hand at screenwriting. Hawks recalled: "I tried to get Ernest Hemingway to write for pictures as [William] Faulkner had done for me on several occasions, but Hemingway said that he was going to stick to the kind of writing that he knew best. Once, on a hunting trip, I told him that if he would give me the worst story that he had ever written, we would make a good movie out of it. He asked me what I thought was his worst novel; and I said To Have and Have Not, which I thought was a bunch of junk. He said that he had written it when he needed money and that he didn't want me to make a movie out of it. But finally he gave him." Published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1937, To Have and Have Not was Hemingway's first novel since A Farewell to Arms, which had been released over a decade earlier, in 1929. It actually began as a short story titled "One Trip Across," written in Madrid in 1933 and included in Cosmopolitan for April 1934. A second story, "The Tradesman's Return," was printed in Esquire in 1936, at which point Hemingway decided to expand the two section into a full-lenght novel.

Humphrey Bogart and Walter Brennan in a publicity still
Hemingway had actually already sold the screen rights to To Have and Have Not prior to Hawks's decision to turn the novel into a motion picture. Eccentric film tycoon Howard Hughes who had co-produced Scarface (1932) with Hawks had bought them from Hemingway for the low price of $10,000 in May 1939, when the author was in serious need of money while trying to finish For Whom the Bell Tolls. Although Hawks still had connections to the Hughes Co., he paid $92,500 for the rights to To Have and Have Not in October 1943. In a shrewd deal, Hawks then sold the property to Warner Bros. for that exact same amount, plus one-forth of the gross receipts of the picture. Following the huge success of For Whom the Bell Tolls, the studio was confident that a Hemingway story would have a good chance to become a major film attraction.

To adapt the novel to the screen, Hawks engaged Jules Furthman and William Faulkner, who reworked the plot and locale until the original was virtually irrecognizable. The central character remained Harry Morgan, skipper of a boat running between Cuba and Key West during the Great Depression. In the book, Morgan tries to make an honest living, supporting his wife and three daughters by taking sportsmen out for deep-sea fishing. But when one of them cheats him out of a large fee, he turns to the dangerous work of shipping contraband. First he runs illegal rum between Cuba and the United States and loses an arm during a shoot-out with American government agents. Then he runs Cuban revolutionaries and dies in the process. It would not do for a film star to lose either a limb or his life and besides, Cuba was deemed irrelevant during World War II. Consequently, the mise-en-scène was changed to French Martinique and the time changed from the mid-1930s to the beginning of the war. Morgan is single and his alcoholic pal Eddie, a serious character in the book, is played for laughs.

To Have and Have Not became a "go" project when Humphrey Bogart agreed to star in it. After appearing in 35 films at Warner Bros. in seven years, Bogart had emerged overnight as a romantic, if still tough, leading man in Casablanca (1942) and the studio was anxious for him to follow up in the same vein. To join him in supporting roles, Hawks cast Walter Brennan and Hoagy Carmichael, as well as Marcel Dalio and Dan Seymour, who had been with him in Casablanca.

Meanwhile, Nancy "Slim" Hawks became fascinated by a young, sultry model she saw on the cover of the February 1943 issue of Harper's Bazaar magazine. The model's name was Betty Bacall, a 19-year-old Jewish Brooklynite trying her best to make it out as an actress. Slim pointed her out to her husband, who immediately arranged to bring her to California for a test. Hawks paid for Bacall's fare west and covered her hotel bills while she prepared for her screen test, which consisted of a scene from Claudia (1943). Impressed by her performance, Hawks decided at once to sign Bacall to a seven-year contract. Hawks wanted to use Bacall in To Have and Have Not, but he was not sure if she would be up to carrying the picture paired one-on-one with Bogart. Wanting to see how they looked together, Hawks took Bacall to the set of Passage to Marseille (1943) to meet Bogart, but it was a brief, unremarkable encounter. Bacall had never found Bogart attractive or particularly interesting on screen and the same held true in person; her dream was to co-star in a movie with Cary Grant.

Bogart and Bacall in a publicity still
Filming on To Have and Have Not began on February 29, 1944. At first, Bacall was terrified on the set and her self-assurance seemed to vanished when the cameras rolled. Fortunately, her leading man was able to put her at ease with humor and acting tips. Bacall had nervous shakes in her first scenes and quickly learned that keeping her chin down and her eyes up kept her head from trembling. It developed into a trademark sultry look.

Bacall writes in her autobiography that it was in the third week of shooting that friendly banter between her and Bogart turned to something more. At the end of shooting one day, he leaned over, put his hand under my chin, and kissed me. It was impulsive he was a bit shy no lunging wolf tactics. He took a worn package of matches out of his pocket and asked me to put my phone number on the back. I did." Bogart was 44 years old and in an unhappy third marriage. The relationship with Bacall was obvious on the set, and while it sparked the onscreen chemistry for his movie, Hawks was furious. He warned Bacall away and threatened that the relationship could damage her career that she could end up at some minor studio in Poverty Row. (By some accounts, Hawks was jealous and had designs on Bacall himself). Hawks warned that Bogart would drop Betty after filming was completed, but nothing could be further from the truth. Bogart was divorced and married Bacall in 1945. They made three more films together The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948) and remained married until Bogart's death from cancer in January 1957.

To Have and Have Not opened to rave reviews in October 1944. Bacall's long hair and up-from-under gaze was labeled "the Look" and ignited a fashion trend. The film itself was compared favorably to Casablanca, Bogart assumed the status of Warners' biggest box-office draw and Bacall was vaulted into national celebrity. Her magnetic performance in the film led The New York Times to comment: "Hers is mainly a job of radiating as much sex as the law will allow." The only discouraging words were uttered by playwright Moss Hart. When he met Bacall at a publicity tour in New York, he offered his congratulations — and then warned, "You realize, of course, from here on you have nowhere to go but down." She laughed his words away. Throughout her career, she would have no reason to recall them.

By Myself and Then Some by Lauren Bacall (2013) | Fiction, Film, and Faulkner: The Art of Adaptation by Gene D. Phillips () | Hemingway: The Writer as Artist by Carlos Baker () | Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood by Todd McCarthy (2007) | Tough Guy With a Gun: The Extraordinary Life of Humphrey Bogart by Stefan Kanfer (2011) | TCMDb (Articles)

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