TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944) – Lauren Bacall’s sizzling movie debut


The following is my contribution to The Lauren Bacall Blogathon, being hosted Sept. 14-16, 2015 by the blog In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Click on the above banner, and read a variety of blogs devoted to the movies and career of this amazing actress!


Has there ever been a movie from the Big Studio System that got more mileage out of its star power than To Have and Have Not?

All of the movie’s other, more ballyhooed elements are famous mostly because they’re so derivative. The movie is based on an Ernest Hemingway novel, but the book was widely acknowledged as one of Hemingway’s worst (even by Hemingway), and in any case, Jules Furthman and William Faulkner’s screenplay uses as little of its original source as possible.

And I’m hardly the first person to note that the movie is a rough carbon copy of Casablanca, with most of its plot elements — most notably, a neutral bystander (Humphrey Bogart again) who ends up helping a romantic duo who are working against the Nazis.

But then, there’s…Lauren Bacall.


She plays “Slim,” an American who has just entered the pro-Germany French island of Martinique, where Harry/”Steve” (Bogart) runs his fishing boat. Slim picks the pocket of one of Steve’s associates — not a trait that you’d think would endear to anyone — and Steve catches her and calls her out on it. Yet Steve’s intrigued by her to play a game of cat-and-mouse with her for the rest of the night, as each one enters the other’s hotel room on the pretense of “returning” a bottle of hootch.


Why does Steve find Slim so intriguing? I suppose because she’s Lauren Bacall, who can make the act of asking for a match sound dirty. This was her film debut, after director Howard Hawks’ wife came across Bacall as a 19-year-old model on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar.

(Why does this woman suddenly accept the nickname Slim? And why does she, in turn, call Harry “Steve” out of nowhere? Because Steve and Slim are the nicknames that Hawks and his wife called each other. This is, believe me, just one of the many dialogue elements that the movie never even tries to explain.)

Once Bogart and Bacall start smoldering with screen chemistry, you find yourself willing to forgive a lot of things in this movie, such as Walter Brennan popping up every five minutes to do his lovable-alcoholic routine, and seeing Steve sass some Gestapo agents in a manner that probably would have gotten him filled with bullets in real life.

And I won’t completely give away the movie’s ending…but (SOMEWHAT-SPOILER ALERT) seeing Lauren Bacall vigorously shake her hips in the final scene makes up for a plethora of bad movies I’ve endured.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) – Not as feminist as it first seems


The following is my entry in my Movies That Haven’t Aged Well Blogathon, being hosted at this blog from now through Aug. 31, 2015. Click on the above banner, and read a variety of blogs from movie viewers who have been disillusioned by revisiting movies they had previously enjoyed!


I first saw His Girl Friday 35 years ago in a college film class. Like most of my classmates, I was quickly enamored of director Howard Hawks’ lightning pacing, the overlapping, rapid-fire dialogue, and most of all, its brash heroine Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell). Here was a 1940 movie depicting a sassy, smart woman who worked as an ace newspaper reporter, the lone female in a pressroom filled with hard-bitten males who regarded her as their equal!


(For those not in the know, His Girl Friday is an adaptation of the hit play The Front Page, about Walter Burns, a fast-talking editor who conspires to keep his best reporter from leaving his job to get married. Hildy is about to leave when he gets the scoop of a lifetime — a man who is about to be railroaded and hanged for murder sneaks into the press office, and Hildy is forced to cover for him. In Hawks’ movie version, Hildy was gender-changed into Burns’ ex-wife.)

For years, I regarded this movie as a quietly feminist statement. A few years after I saw it, I myself married a female editor of a local newspaper. I showed her the movie, and she loved it, thereby cementing the movie in my memory as one of the all-time greats.

Recently, I signed up to participate in a blogathon devoted to strong movie heroines. Without thinking, I volunteered to write about Hildy Johnson for the blogathon. I figured I should refresh my memory, so I tried re-watching His Girl Friday. Unfortunately, it now seemed like a completely different movie.


As the movie opens, Hildy plans to leave town to marry her fiance, insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy, above far right). (I guess that should have been a tip-off right there. Whenever a scriptwriter wants to convey in shorthand that a character is a wimp, insurance salesmen and accountants are always the first go-to guys.)

The movie establishes that (a) Hildy and Bruce are leaving town that night to get married, and (b) Hildy has already quit her newspaper job and has been divorced from Walter for four months. Yet she makes a point of visiting Walter personally at his office to tell him of her impending marriage. That gives Walter a chance to try to sweet- and double-talk Hildy into coming back to work for him. When that doesn’t work, he worms his way into meeting Bruce, condescends gloweringly to the poor guy, and then takes the couple out to lunch so that he can work some machinations to make Hildy stay put whether she likes it or not.

Now, if Hildy knows what a finagler Walter is, why does she meet him face-to-face rather than telling him over the phone that she’s leaving? And why does she let Walter within ten feet of vulnerable Bruce, knowing how Walter can con anybody? The ostensible answer is that if Hildy didn’t do these things, we wouldn’t have a movie. But in the end, it makes her look either very needy or very stupid.

Sure enough, Walter manages over and over to get Bruce arrested or in trouble on some trumped-up charges just so that he can have Hildy working the story for him. We’re supposed to cheer Hildy on because she goes through hell and high water to get the story. And she does indeed have many triumphant moments. But let’s never forget: Those moments are all in the service of Walter Burns, the man from whom she tried so hard to untether herself in the first place.
(SPOILER PARAGRAPH ALERT!) In the movie’s finale, when Walter manages one last flim-flam on poor Bruce, Hildy — for the first time in the movie — breaks down and cries. But she’s not upset because Walter has again squelched her plans. She’s upset because Walter had just given her a big (and, as it turned out, fake) send-off speech, and Hildy was worried that Walter really didn’t want her in his life anymore. So, lucky Hildy, she’s in Walter’s clutches again — and Walter’s final lines of dialogue make it clear that Hildy is, indeed, his girl Friday.