To Have and Have Not
Of the many great directors, Howard Hawks is one of the most respected alongside John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock. His career has been punctuated of highs and lows. His highs are so great that his films are undying classics. Navigating between the genres, the Westerns (Red River, Rio Bravo, El Dorado, Rio Lobo), the screwball comedy (His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby), Film Noir (The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not), Historical melodrama (The Land of the Pharaohs), Adventure (Hatari!) he always did what he wanted to do. Never a technical director, he is a storyteller and a great dialogue writer. His line, “You know how to whistle Steve? Just put your lips together and blow!” said by Lauren Bacall in To Have and to Have Not might be the sexiest line ever said on film. There’s also the presence of Bacall but we’ll get back on that later. Hawks is considered by many as the greatest director of all time; the French New Wave praised his films even Hatari!, that is underrated by lots of critics, François Truffaut saw the work of Hawks and compared the story of the film to the making of an actual movie. Nowadays, a guy named Quentin Tarantino is obsessed by Hawks and he gives a test to all his potential girlfriends: to watch Rio Bravo. If the girl doesn’t like the film she’s not girlfriend material! As of today’s standards it’s difficult to make a comparison of The Grey Fox with an actual director. First, Hawks was an artist and his films were made with big budgets, always over schedule. He was the highest paid director of his time because his films made good money. He had artistic freedom and he was also the producer of his films. It is almost impossible to think that something like this would be possible in a world where the few directors that are making interesting films in major studios have so much difficulties keeping their director’s cut. Well, just call me a nostalgic or a stubborn classic movie lover I will gladly wear those labels if it is to watch Howard Hawks pictures all day!
To Have and Have Not represents everything about Classic Cinema that we cherish; a beautiful leading actress, a great legend, subtext dialogues, laughs, and an intrigue. Or like another guy used to say; a girl and a gun, Jean-Luc Godard you’ve recognized him here.
The beautiful leading lady is Lauren Bacall, Marie or nicknamed Slim like Hawks’ wife at the time. An almost skinny lady with a deep voice and sexy facial expressions. At only nineteen years old, her screen test was the famous line aforementioned in this review. When Hawks saw her he decided to make her part bigger and use the love story between Bacall and Humphrey Bogart(they met on the set of To Have and Have Not) to add more scenes involving both of them. The chemistry of the two actors is passionate and makes the viewer almost like a voyeur that stares at one of the greatest love stories of Hollywood. The pairing of those two lovers has never been equalled and on screen it is reflected so blissfully that you feel jealous of Bogie.
In 1944, Bogart’s legend was made and his presence in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca could have made him an unforgettable star. To Have and Have Not changed his life because he met Bacall the woman he’ll marry and stay with until his death. Also because he achieves a level of performance that I think is the greatest of his entire career. Way much better than The African Queen that got him his only Oscar. His scenes with Walter Brennan are pure Hawksian Cinema, the two professionals united together and working as a team to attain their goal, the constant jokes about each other, the tradition of the Hawksian camaraderie where the two characters think they protect the other, the trade of money, bottles, cigarettes, matches, etc. They are all symbols of friendship in Hawks’ universe. Someone might notice that Slim(Bacall) and Steve(Bogart) trade many bottles, matches, and cigarettes. This is because in Hawks’ world, the leading female should be one of the boys and not just the hero’s love interest. She jokes with them and she is involved in the story.
To Have and to Have Not is not just a director’s film, this is an ensemble film with great performances, a great script by William Faulkner based on Ernest Hemingway's novel, the whole directed by Howard Hawks. On Hemingway's story, the author bet to Hawks that he couldn't be able to adapt his novel on the silver screen. Hawks, took almost the entire story out to make his own adaptation of Hemingway into a script and luckily it makes one great film. This is the sign of a director in full control of his story and narratives.As a classic film enthusiast I am more than ecstatic towards To Have and Have Not, it is one of the greatest films of the 1940’s. A must see.