I think it’s a pretty remarkable fact, that of the seven films Humphrey Bogart was in that I consider worth owning my least favorite is Casablanca. It’s possible I’ve just seen it too many times already. But I’ve watched the Maltese Falcon many times more and I keep putting it back on. It’s probably just individual preference. But for whatever the reason, it tells me that Bogart was in a relatively large number of excellent films.
Next up is “To Have and Have Not.” This movie is based on the Hemingway story. Several of the story elements seem to be repeated in Casablanca. A French colony is the locale. There are Nazis and their local collaborators as the heavies. Resistance fighters including a husband and wife team are looking for help from Bogart’s character. There is a damsel in distress as the love interest. And there’s a singer at a piano that entertains us here and there. Honestly, I actually prefer this earlier film to Casablanca. It seems less strained.
Bogey is a charter boat captain named Harry Morgan and Walter Brennan is his first mate Eddie. Eddie is a garrulous alcoholic and Harry’s best friend. They’re on a two-week charter out of Florida to the French island of Martinique. Martinique is part of “Free France” but under the thumb of the Nazis. Harry meets Marie Browning, played by a very young Lauren Bacall, as she is stealing the wallet of Harry’s charter client. He takes the wallet from her and discovers from the contents that the client was about to skip out without paying him. Grateful for her unwitting help he strikes up a friendship with her. Of course, under the circumstances, their relationship is always awkward and tentative. He calls her Slim which rankles her so she calls him Steve probably from spite. But for all their verbal jousting the sparks begin to fly and it’s easy to see that their relationship will be at least one of the major plot lines.
The hotel where Harry, Marie and apparently anyone involved in the resistance ends up staying is owned by, of course, Frenchy, or so he is called by Harry. He is the clandestine leader of the resistance. Several of his friends get into a gun battle with the local police and this leads to Harry and Marie falling under the suspicious eye of the local police chief. He seizes their passports and money and grills them for information on the resistance.
Being strapped for cash Harry accepts a job ferrying some resistance fighters onto the island, Paul and Hellene de Bursac. Paul gets shot during a sea voyage while evading the harbor patrol. Harry acts as a cut-rate trauma surgeon and removes the bullet. The police finally decide to put the squeeze on Harry by grilling Eddie this triggers a confrontation that Harry controls with the help of a few well aimed bullets. Throughout Marie is at Harry’s side, for the most part, trading wisecracks and supporting the cause. Eddie supplies the comic relief and Hoagy Carmichael as Cricket plays the piano and employs Marie as an ersatz lounge singer.
Bit of well-known classic Hollywood trivia, the sparks flying between Harry and Marie were mirrored in real life between Bogart and Bacall and they shortly afterward became man and wife in real life. And the chemistry they had translated excellently to film. Their sparring courtship is fun to watch and although stylized in the manner of director Howard Hawkes’ staccato bantering dialog it comes off as interesting and of its time. Highly recommended.