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.