Saturday, 17 May 2014
To Have and Have Not (1944)
This is nominally based on an Ernest Hemingway novel, but only nominally. The setting, story and themes of the film are very different from the alleged source.
Why so many differences? Well, one doesn't need to be a cynic (though I am one) to suspect that the basic premise behind the changes to To Have and Have Not is "Casablanca was a big success, so let's remake it". We once again have Humphrey Bogart as an American in a Vichy colony, adamantly refusing to get involved or take sides. We once again have a bar as the major setting, though this time he's a tenant of the attached hotel rather than the owner. We even have the married couple the Allies need his help to sneak past the authorities, but the plot 'cunningly' disguises this similarity by having them need his help to get into the territory, not out of it.
And with that pretty familiar set of ingredients in place, much of the plot is equally familiar: you know Bogart's character will refuse to help these people, then be compelled by circumstances to do so, becoming more and more enmeshed in their cause until he finally transforms into an heroic figure by the film's conclusion.
So if it's mostly a retread of Casablanca you can safely skip it, right? Well ... no. You should see this movie.
Why? Two main reasons.
Firstly, predictable as it all is, it's expertly executed. The script is full of great dialogue. These characters may not be making choices that surprise you, but they're delivering some wonderful lines while doing it. And the the acting is top notch throughout, though I have to say Walter Brennan steals pretty much every scene he is in. Though that's probably to be expected from a man who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor on three separate occasions.
Secondly, there's the leading lady. Because To Have and Have Not's one innovation from the earlier film is in the romance. The love interest is not a former flame he cannot forget, but an enchanting newcomer in his life. That means that Bogart's character can actually 'get the girl'. And the 'girl' in question is Lauren Bacall, in her film debut. There's a reason Bogart & Bacall are an iconic Hollywood couple, and within two minutes of seeing them on screen together, you'll understand why.
Original it may not be, but worth your time, this certainly is.