Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 14, 2016)
For fans of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, 2016 turned into a banner year. Warner Archives released all four of their films on Blu-ray this year, a quartet that finishes with their first pairing: 1944’s To Have And Have Not.
Based loosely on the 1937 Ernest Hemingway novel, Have takes us to the Caribbean island of Martinique circa 1940. Harry Morgan (Bogart) operates a boat for hire and maintains his political neutrality in the face of the burgeoning world war.
This changes as times passes, though, as Harry meets sexy young American Marie “Slim” Browning (Bacall). She captures Harry’s fancy and he decides that she needs to get away from the conflict. To facilitate this, Harry takes a partisan job to smuggle a leader of the French resistance.
On the surface, it would be easy to view Have as a semi-remake of 1942’s Casablanca. After all, both films share a mix of similarities, and not just due to Bogart’s presence in the lead.
Both Casablanca and Have focus on leaders of anti-Nazi resistance efforts and come with cynical main characters who abandon their political neutrality who act out of duty toward a woman. Throw in a bar where much of the action goes down and the similarities become unmistakable.
Despite all those commonalities, Have manages its own identity, mainly via the connection between Bogart and Bacall. In particular, Bacall delivers a stunning performance, one packed with confidence that belies her age at the time.
Only 19 during the shoot, Bacall shows remarkable presence on screen. Though Have marked her cinematic debit, Bacall demonstrates the magnetism of a veteran, one who more than holds her own when paired with Bogart.
And boy, does he love it! Bogart positively glows during his scenes with Bacall, as he can’t hide his wonder and admiration in the face of the precocious marvel in front of him. Even in their first pairing, Bogart and Bacall offer great chemistry, and that connection carries much of the film.
Otherwise, I admit Have seems more ordinary – perhaps partly due to those inevitable comparisons with Casablanca. Have gives us the lighter, sassier affair, one that comes with a less melancholy ending.
Whether or not this makes Have more satisfying depends on the viewer’s perspective. While I do enjoy the film’s comedy and action, Have lacks a great amount of depth, and I suspect that without the fire from Bogart and Bacall, it’d seem much more ordinary.
Which comes as a surprise given the pedigree behind Have. Even if we ignore the talent in front of the camera, Have boasts major notables. With Howard Hawks as director and William Faulkner as co-writer, how could Have come across as ordinary?
It doesn’t, but again, I think the actors do the heavy lifting in that regard. Have manages to give us an enjoyable tale that entertains, but I think it lacks the heft one would assume given the Hawks/Faulkner/Hemingway connection.
Still, I do like Have and find it to offer a likable film. While it may not live up to the billing implied by its talent, the movie manages to deliver a solid drama.