Thursday, January 7, 2010

To Have and Have Not

To Have and Have Not, 1944
Dir: Howard Hawks
January 6, 2010

This is a really good film, but the Bogey love, while certainly being warranted, seems like it's playing off the success of Casablanca (1942) a little too much. Well, maybe it's just that I thought this was going to a be noir, and it's not really. It's in that romance/adventure vein that Hawks works so well in, but I'm not sure that this is at the top of that heap. The set-up is like a lot of Hawks films, with Americans in a foreign place being very American, and the WWII element gives this a little more spice. Boat-captain Harry Morgan (Bogart) is in Martinique giving fishing tours to wealthy clients when the French government falls and Vichy thugs move in to take control. After losing his money source to some local political trouble, Harry agrees to help some pro-Free French people smuggle some people onto the island for some needed cash, but he wants to "mind his own business" at the same time. Can he!?! We got dragged into the war, remember? Along the way, he comes across a petty thief (Lauren Bacall) who is in Martinique because she has run out of money coming back from Brazil. Things start off bristly, as Morgan catches her picking his client's pocket and starts calling her "Slim." The male/female banter is some of the sharpest in any film, and with a script partially written by William Faulkner in his "soul-selling" days along with an Ernest Hemingway story (changed to better adapt to the screen), those things a pretty much a given. Bogart (44) and Bacall (19) had an affair during the shooting of the film, and the chemistry is evident on the screen. Needless to say, because of the relationship, Bacall became a bonafide star, and the film became hugely popular and a part of pop culture (I'm sorry. I just love these old cartoons. I mean, who doesn't?). Hawks was so upset and jealous about the budding relationship that he had affairs with never-meant-to-be starlet Delores Moran, who has a small part, and a script girl, but who knows what they were supposed make the two lovebirds feel, or how that is relevant to anything. I just think it's funny that that is how he took out all his rage. The set musical pieces, like in a lot Hawks' films, are pretty awesome, and like in Ball of Fire (1941), he got another Pop star involved, Hoagy Carmichael, this time as the fictional piano-man Cricket in the Hotel bar where many of the scenes take place. I may sound like a broken record when I say that the mise-en-scene in Hawks' films is always interesting, but it always is, and they always seem to relate back to other films, which is why Auteurists are fascinated with Hawks, who was always gracious but perplexed when Europeans, especially Frenchies like Truffaut, Godard and Rivette wrote deep, analytical pieces about his work. Take the scene where, after being interrogated, Bogey and Bacall go into the "local" bar where African drums can be heard and a Caribbean dance is taking place. This scene happens in a lot of Hawks films, but could be about any culture/and or place, with the bemused Americans taking in everything. It's exaggerated of course, in that slightly offensive/cinematic way. What is that line anyway? Syd Hickox's cinematography is great, especially when Hawks employs the fog out on the ocean or during all those great bar scenes. All this great stuff; so what's the problem right? Well, a lot of the supporting cast is just so-so if you ask me. Walter Brennan, who is a Hawks regular and was a favorite of his for that buddy/comedy role, plays a "rummy" who is always tanked and looking for another drink. He won three supporting actor Oscars for doing this sort-of bumbling fool physical comedy schtick, but I can never figure out whether he's funny or really annoying. The villains, especially Dan Seymour as the unctuous heavy Gestapo man Renard, who has a pretty cheesy fake french accent, are kind of dumb. So I wasn't all that interested in any of the tension or suspense that the film built up towards the end. The Casablanca similarities are pretty tedious actually, and I wouldn't rate that film anymore than a 3.5 as well so it irks me a little bit that people call that and this a "masterpiece", but I understand why films like this are loved. I think my biggest problem was that by the end I was getting bored, and the ending itself is not that cool. The film has nothing but the Bogart/Bacall dynamic going for it, which is phenomenal, but unlike Only Angels Have Wings (1939), which is the same sort of film, but not really at all, there is nothing else going on underneath. That film had the light-toned banter too, but also the great plot and the darker tones reverberating through it. Not that I think Hawks ever really gave a shit about any of that stuff, but the way that he made films allowed for the possibility. This is a fun, cinematic piece, but I don't think that it's the classic everyone says it is.


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