This blog was written for the blogathon at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Check out the other more interesting and more authoritative blogs here. Also check out the hostess’ blog of interesting Classic Hollywood times.
To Have and Have Not was adapted from a novel written by novelist Ernest Hemingway. However, not much of the novel made it to the movie despite the fact that Hemingway himself worked on the screenplay, along with William Faulkner and many others. There are some elements of Hemingway in it, as such the theme of World War, a bold female protagonist and a sort of “stuck” male protagonist. And although the film is categorised as a “noir” film, the romance is still central to it.
When I was growing up one of the first movies that got me interested in Hollywood classics was “To Have and Have Not” (it started with accidently watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s,). When I was done watching the movie I was very curious about this actress whom I didn’t know, (since this played on TV and I had missed the credits, and there was no Google). I was growing up on the Bollywood staples of the 80s (did any good come out of the 80s, anywhere?) where the chaste heroine was different than the vamp. She could be flirtatious, but anything even mildly sensual was to cross the line. And here was this woman saying what she wanted to but with such an air of dignity. Years later, I discovered that was Lauren Bacall!
And I am still as stunned by the line, “you know how to whistle, don’t you?” as I was those 10-15 years ago. Frankly, I did not know what to make of it, the fumbly early teens that I was in. Then a few days later I saw an advertise that said, “Anything more would be a suggestion.” And it reminded me of this scene.
Even if I were to compare her with the Hollywood actresses I had watched at that time, she still stood out. I think each of the actors have to bring an image with them to stand out. So there was the gentle but strong Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn who was a bit of a man, very gorgeous but I mean the personality and Ingrid Bergman who was the resilient, silent girl, who spoke more with eyes.
And there was this actress with her feline charm, who looks very believable to have snuck on Harry. Who makes her presence felt if she wishes to but can be invisible if she wishes to. She does what she wishes to but is not manipulative.
The sensuality in To Have and Have Not can also be credited to the presence of Humphrey Bogart who she was in love with and later married. It is said that it was love at first, and the chemistry is visible between the two actors. Bogart was a much senior actor and yet Bacall, the rapport aside manages to keep the audience’s eyes glued to her.
She even has a different name, Slim, (actually Marie Browning,) which makes her feel — not beautiful, or so she says. She tries every way to get Harry to help her, moves that surprise Harry’s down-to-earth demeanour.
But even as she does all this and stuns you with her boldness, you can feel the vulnerability that lies just under the surface. When Harry cancels the plans of dropping the activists, she is naive enough to think Harry did that for her.
However, she does not ever get into damsel-in-distress mode, but is present enough for people to respond to her with kindness. And after all why not? When Eddie, the sailor, who keeps asking everyone, “Have you ever been bitten by a bee?” she is the only one who one asks him if he ever has. She brings to the character empathy and a rare sense of humour.
Despite her obvious helplessness of being stuck on the island due to lack of money, she gets along well due to her charm and worldly wisdom. She sings with Cricket (Gemini Cricket?) in a silly voice and then grabs the wallet from Johnson, which is only noticed by Harry. As an actress her job was to let us know that Slim was someone who had hardened up due to her circumstances, yet she has lost neither her pride nor her humour.
To Have and Have Not was launch vehicle for this actress and she made sure that she was noticed.
This was her debut feature film and she went on to act in many more movies where brought just as many nuances to the role as she did in this one when she was only 19. Whatever her age, she continued to bring her charm and vivaciousness to the role till her ripe age.