‘To Have and Have Not’ or — The Anti-‘Casablanca’?
Remember that scene in ‘When Harry Met Sally…’ (1989) where it’s blindingly obvious that Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher are dying to bugger off and immediately find somewhere to energetically fuck? ‘To Have and Have Not’ (1944) is like that but stretched out into an entire movie because this film isn’t about war, bravery, morality, sacrifice or even romance. It’s about two people locking eyes and letting society go to hell purely for a moment of privacy because here it’s the crazy world and everything in it that doesn’t add up to a hill of beans compared to what Bogie and Bacall want to do to each other.
It was directed by Howard Hawks, starred Humphrey Bogart, was based on a story by Hemingway and the script was co-written by Faulkner so there’s quite a bit of testosterone spilling around in these Caribbean waters. In fact, there’s so much sloshing about that when Lauren Bacall opens her mouth to sing at the piano we’re not too surprised to discover she’s practically a bass.
And this is a bit of a male fantasy yarn happening here with Bogie’s “Steve” kicking back down Martinique way and taking rich Americans fishing. As a man “Steve” is already fully formed and in no apparent need of further growth. He’s straight talking, straight up and honest because “Steve” knows being straight talking, straight up and honest is the best way to survive. He’ll give a friend a helping hand even if that helping hand delivers a smack to the jaw (physical violence appears to be an acceptable currency of human interaction down here) because “Steve” doesn’t do weakness. “Steve” seems to have been born into this world already fully robust with all the necessary capabilities and capacities to handle life which could explain why he doesn’t appear to have an arc.
As a reward for such manliness “Steve” is “gifted” a woman by the cinematic gods. She is called “Slim” and “Slim” has decided “Steve” is the man for her. This means “Steve” doesn’t have to bother putting in any effort to court, woo or seduce “Slim” except simply sit back and whistle. What kind of guy IS this?!
However, before these two can safely find somewhere private to do whatever the hell it is they want to do to each other “Steve” reluctantly finds himself having to help other people for a noble cause for once, even if ‘Steve’ doesn’t give a damn about the noble cause and actually wants to get as far away from noble causes as possible to engage in some ignoble activities.
So what we have here is a man helping members of the French resistance escape to safety in some far flung cafe whilst simultaneously falling in love. Sounds like ‘Casablanca’ (1942), right? And it kinda is except for the fact that it totally isn’t and might even be the former film’s exact opposite.
Think of it this way — in ‘Casablanca’ Rick grows as a person, he sheds layers of selfishness; he’s in love but gives up the girl for a greater cause; Rick is capable of sacrifice. In ‘To Have and Have Not’, however, “Steve” undergoes zero growth, doesn’t give a damn about the greater good, doesn’t make any form of sacrifice, gets the girl without having to put in any effort and then gets to bugger off with her to safety and limitless fornicating whilst leaving everyone else in the lurch! The Second World War is nothing more than an irritation to these two meaning the only massive thing threatening to come between “Steve” and “Slim” is “Steve”s throbbing, pulsating… look, you get the idea, okay?
So I didn’t like ‘To Have and Have Not’? No! Are you crazy! I meant none of the above as a criticism because, let’s face it, self-sacrifice and touching integrity might move us to tears but knowing you’re going to get white hot sex if you can only get away from everyone is WAY more fun!
Not that the games of flirtation are only contained between “Steve” and “Slim”.
One of the film’s best scenes (and it has many) is the one between “Steve”, Walter Brennan’s alcoholic Eddie and Dan Seymour’s Capitaine Renard. Renard has been interrogating loose-tongued Eddie and “Steve” doesn’t quite know what Eddie’s told Renard. It’s a dazzling example of psychological dynamics and knowing precisely how much of the truth to reveal to your opponent. So “Steve” knows Eddie will have drunkenly spilled many beans to Renard so “Steve” also knows that lying to Renard is useless. But Eddie’s lack of narrative reliance means other “truths” can be introduced to confuse and muddy any accidental clarity, and it’s captivating watching, and listening too, these three distinct characters play off each other.
And that’s possibly the main pleasure of ‘To Have and Have Not’ — seeing these people hang out and flirt in a far-flung bar where the air is hot and the dialogue even hotter whilst Hoagy Carmichael plays the piano. Who cares if war is coming, that the world could be in flames or that countless people desperately need saving because wow, did you see that smile she gave me as she tossed me the matches?!