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Movie Reviews

To Have And Have Not



Released: January 20th 1945

Directed By: Howard Hanks

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall

Certificate: PG (UK)

Reviewed By: Phillipe Ostiguy

“Anybody have a match?” Low voice, fresh face, little girl and femme fatale, instant star. Number one, Bacall. “Give her my love.” “I’d give her my own if she had that [dress] on!” Arrogant, clever, cold-hearted ‘til he warms up, big ol’ star. Number two, Bogart. Exotic city, difficult to leave due to political instability. Sounds familiar? Number three, Casablanca reboot. Good luck resisting To Have and Have Not.

Though the Casablanca parallels are too obvious to be accidental, To Have bets much higher on fun than on tenderness – and wins pretty big. Not quite a comedy, it plays like cotton candy drama, never aiming for much depth but eliciting enough chuckles and curiosity to entertain all the way through.

Harry Morgan is a fishing-boat captain in Martinique soon after the fall of France, in 1940. Though reluctant at first, money troubles and the introduction of Marie, an American wanderer, convince him to help the French Resistance smuggle a couple onto the island. At least, that’s the plot (loosely based on Hemingway’s novel of the same title) they used as an excuse to make the film – a film about Bogart and Bacall, all about Bogart and Bacall. Not only are they individually as magnetic as ever, they are together – you must have heard this thirty times before – one of the most memorably blazing duos to ever hit the screen. That’s what one truly watches To Have and Have Not for: to see them, and to see them together (and maybe a little bit to see Cricket the endearing piano player).

Today is tough for films of its stature for they are inevitably compared to their reputation rather than appreciated for what they accomplish. This one has all the makings of a rewatchable favourite and as successful a Casablanca-lite as there can be: a quotable script chock full of witty banter, stars bubbling with charisma, an engaging storyline. Yet there’s no reinventing the wheel, yet at no point in the film does there seem to be a need for it. And that’s where it gets tricky.

Rationally speaking, it’s a good, solid film, the likes of which there are perhaps four or five a year. It is sixty-seven years old, meaning there have been well over two hundred and fifty films of the same – or superior – calibre since. Yet we (or is it just me?) go back all the way to 1944 for this particular piece of work, even before having seen The Godfather or Raging Bull (yeah, it’s probably just me), time travel difficult to justify for it is no Citizen Kane, and it is no À bout de souffle. So what is it about To Have and Have Not? Is it really only worth as much as the sizzling chemistry between the two leads? Maybe, probably, but I don’t even want to know for sure – it’s not much fun breaking down a myth into rational talk. Let’s just put it down to the unmatchable lustre of the Golden Age.

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