TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT was one of those kismet collisions of opportunity and risk crisscrossing with talent and timing. The handy backdrop of World War Two and a real-life romance sealed the deal for the 8th most successful picture of 1944, one of the signpost classics of the decade. *
The Caribbean, 1940. The French colony of Martinique is under control of the Vichy government collaborating with the Nazis. American fishing skipper ‘Harry Morgan’ (Humphrey Bogart) and his “rummy” pal ‘Eddie’ (Walter Brennan) manage to stay out of trouble with the authorities while making ends meet with tourists. That becomes harder when Harry decides to aid Free French members of the Resistance, and at the same time begin quick-timed amour with alluring ‘Marie Browning’ (Lauren Bacall), nicknamed ‘Slim’. A man’s gotta do…
Howard Hawks produced and directed the free adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s 1937 novel, steering the project since (according to Hawks) he told the author back in 1939 he could “make a movie out of the worst thing you ever wrote”. A few years and projects later, Hawks wife, nicknamed ‘Slim’, had spied a model photo of the 19-year-old Bacall posing for the Red Cross in “Harper’s Bazaar”, thinking the gal had “a bit of the panther about her”: Hawks began to groom the inexperienced girl for a role. Seeing Bacall’s screen test, Bogart told her “We’ll have a lot of fun together.” Falling for each other ka-boom fashion, they married the following year and the “fun” lasted 12 years until his death in 1957. Jules Furthman wrote the first draft of the screenplay, then William Faulkner came on board to tune it up. With no slight to “By Myself”, Bacall’s autobio, the best accounts of the making of the film are found in the Bogart bio done by A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax and the Howard Hawks biography written by Todd McCarthy.
McCarthy—“Strictly from his own perspective, Hawks accomplished many things with To Have And Have Not: he finally worked from a story by his favorite modern author and stood it on its head, collaborated with his two preferred screenwriters, added some of the screen’s most famous dialogue to the Hollywood anthology, elaborated the persona of one of cinema’s greatest stars, achieved his long-cherished dream of creating a new star from whole cloth, unintentionally launched a celebrated and enduring love affair, made a screen personality out of a popular song composer, named his leading man and lady after himself and his wife, had at least two affairs on the side (and did not have another he desired), made a great deal of money, and created a work that has stood the test of time as one of the great, audacious romantic-comic melodramas.”
The movie’s most famous scene was not written by heavyweights Furthman and Faulkner but was concocted by two obscure writers who never received credit; Cleve F. Adams and Whitman Chambers. The song composer was Hoagy Carmichael in his movie debut. As ‘Eddie’, Bogart’s garrulous, boozy buddy, Hawks cast Walter Brennan for the six times (previously in Barbary Coast, Come And Get It—winning Brennan the first of his three Oscars as Supporting Actor—and Sergeant York, later in Red River and, best of all, Rio Bravo).
Sidney Hickox crafted the moody cinematography, Franz Waxman finessed the score. 100 minutes, with Dolores Moran, Dan Seymour (mounting a terrible French accent), Walter Sande, Walter Surovy, Sheldon Leonard, Marcel Dalio, Aldo Nadi. Made for $1,164,000, it reaped a gross of $11,800,000. Two years later Hawks brought the by-then wed Bogart & Bacall back for The Big Sleep.
* Remade (more faithful to the book) in 1950 as The Breaking Point (John Garfield and Patricia Neal), and again in 1958 as The Gun Runners, with Audie Murphy.