(1944) dir. Howard Hawks
You know those great movies that were made in the days before “they don’t make ’em like they used to?” The best of Hollywood’s output during its heyday? Movies with classic lines like “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” Starring great movie stars like Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Walter Brennan? Directed by the auteur of auteurs, Howard Hawks? And even co-scripted by William Faulkner, a nobel prize-winning novelist adapting for the screen a book by another nobel-winner, Ernest Hemingway? And throw in Hoagy Carmichael!
Okay, so it’s not really quite like this film has as many true peers as it could, but it is of an era of classic stuff. This is one of those movies that you’d hope no idiot would ever try to re-make. It’s just not necessary (despite the fact that it doesn’t stick too closely to the novel at all). It was also 19-year old Lauren Bacall’s first film and where she met and started her life-long romance with Humphrey Bogart. It’s got a hell of a lot going for it.
I’d just read To Have and Have Not last year for the first time, and believe it or not, I’d never seen the film myself before now. It’s never too late to discover for yourself what many people have known for eons, movies like this, they are worth digging up and seeing. Big time.
Moving the action from Cuba to Martinique and truncating a more complex narrative into a single setting of time and place certainly does rob the novel quite a bit of its character. But it takes the general scenario, a rum-runner/captain of a small fishing boat/half-honest American Harry Morgan, who through circumstances winds up taking the smuggling of some human cargo for a political situation with which he is not involved, and makes as good on it as it perhaps might have been possible.
At times, there’s a tad bit of re-hash of Casablanca (1942) going on, but the film has so much of its own that that might be quibbling. Bogart and Bacall are terrific together. And although her singing leaves a bit to be desired, her sultry voice and gorgeous eyes and lips leave nothing to be desired. It’s all there.
Hoagy Carmichael as “Cricket”, the pianist, is a wonderful thing to rediscover as well. He’s got such a deft way with his songs, you almost wish the whole film was about him at times. And Walter Brennan. That guy is just plain great. They truly do not make gentlemen like him these days.
Hell, it’s all about the “having” and not anything about the “not”. This is top-notch Hollywood. You cannot go wrong.