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.

For the “Against the Crowd Blogathon”: BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (2007) and TOWN & COUNTRY (2001)


The following is my entry in the Against the Crowd Blogathon, hosted by the blog Dell on Movies, with entries being accepted through Aug. 21, 2015. You can click on the above banner to read more about it, but here are the blogathon rules:

1. Pick one movie that “everyone” loves (the more iconic, the better). That movie must have a score of at least 75% on Tell us why you hate it.

2. Pick one movie that “everyone” hates (the more notorious, the better). That movie must have a score of less than 35% on Tell us why you love it.

3. Include the Tomatometer scores of both movies.

Here are my entries.


Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)


If Sidney Lumet — the veteran director responsible for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead — thought his movie was unique and spellbinding, he must not have seen Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

Like DogsDevil concerns a seemingly simple robbery that goes terribly wrong, resulting in copious amounts of bloodshed. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke play Andy and Hank, two brothers who come off like a low-rent Laurel & Hardy.


Andy is the siblings’ Ollie, full of himself but not knowing nearly as much as he thinks. Andy convinces himself that the solution to their money woes is to plan a heist against their own parents’ jewelry store. Andy reasons that no gunplay is necessary, and their parents’ insurance will cover any losses. Of course, the plan isn’t so simple that Andy intends to carry it out himself. Instead, he sweet-talks his brother Hank — the pair’s simpleton Stanley — into doing the heavy lifting. With this pair at the helm, do you think the robbery will go off as smoothly as it seems?

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The plot has potential; what kills it is the ham-handed way it’s presented. The movie’s very first image is that of a naked, pudgy Andy graphically having his way with his curvy wife (Marisa Tomei). I try hard not to judge such things, but any movie that presents a Marisa Tomei finding immense satisfaction from a P.S. Hoffman is already behind on the realism.

This sets the movie’s tone, in which we’re told about characterization rather than actually seeing it. Andy has a really bad drug habit. We’re shown this in a long tracking shot in which Andy wanders around his dealer’s tony apartment before getting elaborately shot up with heroin. How did this low-life get such an upper-bracket junkie habit?

images (2)We’re also told that Andy fiercely resents the lifelong bullying he’s gotten from his father Charles (Albert Finney). Yet as Finney portrays him, Charles seems merely a stubborn old coot — not terribly nasty, given the movie’s graphic circumstances. So it’s just one more character trait sloppily hung upon Andy.

As events rapidly go from bad to worse, screenwriter Kelly Masterson seems to throw up her hands and come up with nothing better than having everyone shoot each other along the way. Either Masterson (whose first script this is) decided to ape The Departed, or he got a vicarious thrill out of watching his characters blow each other away.

This dishonor-among-thieves stuff really did work better in Reservoir Dogs, where it was drenched in irony. Lumet’s biggest mistake is taking this guff so ultra-seriously, particularly when the movie’s climax hinges on one on those movie hospitals where no orderly is ever around when he’s supposed to be. Cue another killing!


Town & Country (2001)


I know all of the nasty history behind this movie. It spent years in reshoots, chalked up a final budget of $90 million, made less than a tenth of that amount back, and was disowned by its stars before it was even released. In spite of all that, I still think it’s the best comedy that Woody Allen never made.

That’s a backhanded compliment, but a compliment nevertheless. From the movie’s opening narration from a stammering Warren Beatty, to its use of New York skylines and soundtrack jazz, through its airy plotlessness, it’s obvious which acclaimed filmmaker inspired the movie’s style.

But eventually the movie manages a screwball style of its own. Sometimes the jokes are a little forced and the drama a little mawkish. But the movie finally makes its own very interesting observations about middle age and adultery, and while the movie isn’t as deep as it thinks it is, it still garners a fair share of laugh-out-loud moments.

Town and CountryBeatty plays Porter Stoddard, a New York architect who comes to terms with his own adulterous ways as well as those of his best friend Griffin (Garry Shandling). The movie mostly examines how this philandering affects their wives (Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn). Ironically, though Beatty didn’t write or direct the movie, his character is riddled with autobiography. When Porter comes to terms with the consequences of his actions, and especially when he gives a big undying-love speech to his wife near movie’s end, Beatty seems to be wholeheartedly expressing some of his own insights.

The movie’s plotless meandering also provides an excuse for some extended comedy that plays far better than it deserves, most surprisingly in Beatty’s traipsing around in a bear costume with a waddling rear end. About the only subplot that should have been completely excised involves Charlton Heston as the vengeful father of one of Porter’s conquests. Like Leslie Nielsen, Heston has recently made a second career out of parodying his first career, but here he gets a bit carried away.

But the movie’s contrivances are made tolerable by its insights into human nature. The movie’s best moments are its subtlest, in scenes where guilty males misinterpret innocent conversations with their spouses. For a comedy to waver between farce and drama is no small act of courage these days; that Town & Country pulls off most of its balancing act makes it very worthwhile viewing.

A Liebster for Leah – 3rd in a series


I am rapidly turning the Liebster Award into a blog genre of my own! But don’t blame me. When I wrote questions for my previous Liebster nomination, one of the recipients was Leah at the blog Cary Grant Won’t Eat You, and she proceeded to nominate me right back — so here we go again! (If you don’t believe me, click on her blog’s name, above, for the link.)

Happily, I have persuaded one of my favorite actresses, Adrienne Barbeau, to model my Liebster Awards. Don’t her friends look impressed by them?


In any case, if you’re bored with my Liebster talk, feel free to ignore this blog entry. Otherwise, here, once again, are the Liebster Award rules. Every Liebster nominee is expected to:

  • Answer his or her nominator’s 11 questions.
  • Nominate 11 additional bloggers.
  • Ask 11 questions of your nominees.
  • Share 11 additional facts about yourself.
  • Forfeit his or her Liebster Award if he or she is unable to fulfill the Award obligations for any reason for the upcoming year. (Nah, that last one’s a fake. It just sounded good.)

Without further ado, here are Leah’s Liebster questions and my answers.

1-5. What’s your favorite movie when you’re feeling these moods, and do they help you get over the mood, or intensify it?

Blue – Glengarry Glen Ross. It always makes me feel better because it reminds me that there are a lot of people out there, particularly in the job market, who are a lot worse off than I am.

Angry – The War of the Roses, with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. So many movies about anger nevertheless have an undercurrent that shows they want you to like them. Roses was one of the few movies I’ve seen where a couple started out unapologetically nasty and stayed that way right to the very end.

Nostalgic – Any 1930’s or ’40s movie set in New York or L.A. I get a rush watching actors saunter through that classic style, as if their characters knew they were making movie history.

Giddy – The Palm Beach Story. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: That movie is like mainlining joy right into my soul.

Undercaffeinated – W.C. Fields’ The Bank Dick. That movie was written and performed by an unrepentant drunk, and its very rhythm gives you the effect of feeling cheerily soused all the way through.

6. What invention in your lifetime has affected you the most?

The Internet, if that counts as an invention; if not, definitely the personal computer. I have enough social skills to get by in life, but I don’t really interact that well with live people. The Internet allows me to socialize all I want without having to come up with superfluous small talk.

7. Which actor or actress (the performer/character he/she plays) would make the best superhero in your estimation? Why?


It’s a pity that Jane Russell was never asked to play Wonder Woman in her lifetime. Physically, Lynda Carter looked smashing in the role, but she never seemed to have much fun with it. I can just imagine Jane tossing off one-liners under her breath as she saved the world.

8. Which classic movie character would you ask romantic advice?


Buster Keaton — not the real man, but the character he plays. He starts out every feature film behind the eight-ball, and by movie’s end, he has conquered some major hurdle and gotten the girl. I’d just have to ask him where he finds so much reserve. I’d have lost it by the end of the first reel.

9. Which movie character (classic/current) would give you terrible advice about everything?


Just the other night on TCM, I saw In This Our Life for the first time. I couldn’t resist mis-advising Stanley Timberlake (Bette Davis) just so I could watch her f**k everything up. (I’d also yank her chain by asking her if all her hang-ups had to do with the fact that she’s a female named Stanley.)

10. Which literary/movie character would you ask to help you with your least favorite errand?


Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) in Working Girl. I do most of the housecleaning duties in my home, but they really are drudgery. Having Tess help me topless would certainly make the job more tolerable.

11. Which actor/actress are you surprised you like? Why?

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Susan Sarandon. I first saw her in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and it didn’t surprise me that she wasn’t all that great in that movie, since it was meant to be campy. But for a while, her acting never seemed to get any better. I think the turning point for me was Dead Man Walking, where I was astounded at what a three-dimensional role she was playing. I’ve been pretty impressed with her ever since.


I’m not going to bother nominating 11 people, because most of my nominees are too busy (at least that’s what I tell myself) to answer my questions anyway. However, I am happy to provide 11 questions. If you deign to answer them, please let me know — I’d love to read your replies!

  1. Past or present, who is an actor or actress whose popular appeal you have never been able to comprehend?
  2. What movie would you like to insert yourself into (either as a major character or an extra), and why?
  3. Colorization debate aside, is there a black-and-white movie whose settings you’ve ever wondered (or fantasized) about in color?
  4. If your life story was made into a movie, which genre would you prefer it in?
  5. What fictional movie city would you most like to live in?
  6. Your all-time favorite movie musical number?
  7. Which modern-day actor or actress do you think would have been tailor-made for silent movies? (Please leave Johnny Depp out of the discussion; he’s pretty much proven his chops already.)
  8. If you could, what movie character would you grab by the lapels or collar and give a good talking to?
  9. The gods have granted you 10 seconds to appear as a ghost and give a piece of advice to a movie star, past or present. Which star, and what do you tell them?
  10. You have the opportunity to yank moviegoers’ chains. What’s a movie in one genre that you’d remake in another genre (e.g., a drama you’d remake as a comedy)?
  11. What advice would you give to the current Powers That Be in Hollywood?


Scraping the bottom of the barrel even further, here are 11 more facts about little ol’ me.

  1. I never tried shrimp until I was 22 years old — and when I did, I didn’t know you were supposed to peel it first. My brother had a great time when he found out why I hadn’t left behind any shells.
  2. When I was a kid, I didn’t like ice in my soda because it melted too fast and left you with a watery drink. One day when I was 11 years old, I went to a theater to see a movie. I bought a large soda, and I actually went so far as to dip my hand in it, pull out the ice, and drop the ice into what I thought was a tall trash can. Then an usher came up to me and said, “That’s where we put all of the torn movie tickets.” Oops.
  3. In grade school, I won the school spelling bee twice and was a first runner-up another year. I very much identified with the movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown where they made a big deal out of him winning the spelling bee.
  4. Long before he died, I somewhat “corresponded” with Roger Ebert via his “Movie Answer Man” column. That is to say, he actually answered, online, a few of the questions I submitted to him. One of them is even printed in his book Questions for the Movie Answer Man. That meant a great deal to me because I hugely admired his movie criticism.
  5. About six months after my wife and I got married, we were sitting around one day talking about the University of Florida, where we had attended college at approximately the same time without knowing each other (or so we thought). We compared notes and realized that seven years previously, for about three months, we had worked together in a work-study job, after which we promptly forgot about each other. My wife said the turning point for her was when she asked me out with her friends to the on-campus pub one Friday afternoon, and I told her I had a class to attend. She said she knew then that she didn’t want to have anything to do with a guy who would rather go to class than drink beer.
  6. I have lived in Florida for the last 37 years, with the exception of June 1987 through February 1988. In ’87, when I was 26 years old, I had long nursed a dream of moving to L.A. and become a writer of or about movies. On a whim, in May of that year, I spent five weeks gathering up all the money and belongings I could and then headed out to L.A., where the only person I knew was my best friend from high school. I thought I’d end up spending the rest of my life out there, but I moved back less to Florida less than a year later due to a strange case of homesickness. It turned out to be quite an adventure, though.
  7. I had mononucleosis when I was 8 years old and spent a week in the hospital. I had no idea how deadly it could have been; I just knew I loved the nurses fawning over me. The only part I hated was when they drew blood from me for the first time in my life.
  8. As I mentioned in my first Liebster factoid, I’ve written several plays that have been performed locally. I taught myself how to write scripts. First, I read some scripts that were printed in books. Then when I was about 13, I transcribed a TV show one night and “wrote” it back out in script form. It was like Malcolm X learning how to write by copying the dictionary. You’d be surprised how much you can teach yourself by rote.
  9. Have you had a moment where a piece of entertainment “spoke” to you? I first heard John Lennon’s first solo album Plastic Ono Band when I was 16, and I’d swear it saved my life. When he sang, “They hurt you at home and they hit you at school” on “Working Class Hero,” it made me realize, as Lennon himself said he realized through art, that I wasn’t crazy — that someone else had gone through the same kind of dysfunctional growing-up years as I was going through.
  10. I am always impressed by people who can express themselves physically — ballet, dance, etc. Maybe that’s why I enjoy physical comedians such as Chaplin and Keaton. I’m always astounded when I see Internet videos of things such as pre-K kids who can do kung-fu moves. My family doesn’t even trust me with a hammer.
  11. I’m not terribly proud of this, but I listened to the Bob & Doug McKenzie comedy album so much in the 1980’s, I found that I had memorized it. Decades later, when I had a son who got into their humor, I astounded him by putting on a CD of the album and reciting to the CD almost word for word.

That’s it for this Liebster episode. Thanks for reading!