Harry Morgan and his alcoholic sidekick, Eddie, are based on the island of Martinique and crew a boat available for hire. However, since the second world war is happening around them business is not what it could be and after a customer who owes them a large sum fails to pay they are forced against their better judgment to violate their preferred neutrality and to take a job for the resistance transporting a fugitive on the run from the Nazis to Martinique. Through all this runs the stormy relationship between Morgan and Marie "Slim" Browning, a resistance sympathizer and the sassy singer in the club where Morgan spends most of his days. Written by
Mark Thompson <email@example.com>
When Morgan throws water at Eddie, the bucket is obviously empty - noticeable both in the way it's handled, and in a momentary glimpse of the insides before the camera cuts to Eddie. See more »
Martinique, in the summer of 1940, shortly after the fall of France.
Forte de France
Officer at port:
Good Morning, Captain Morgan. What can I do for you today?
Same thing as yesterday.
Officer at port:
You and your client wish to make a temporary exit from the port?
*That* is right.
Officer at port:
Ha - Harry Morgan.
[...] See more »
In To Have and Have Not, director Howard Hawks, as usual, uses a set of relationships to explore moral values. Here, the relationships are between Humphrey Bogart as a deep-sea fishing boat captain in Vichy-controlled Martinique, who is approached by the Free French for help in their resistance, Walter Brennan, as Bogart's alcoholic sidekick, and Lauren Bacall as a femme fatale working her way from port to port: what's explored is the moral paradox that in order to keep your independence, you have to accept responsibility for others. These relationships develop in an almost musical pattern.
Few critics seem to have noticed the delicacy and depth with which the Bogart/Brennan relationship is portrayed: Brennan's response to being slapped by Bogart -- "I wouldn't do that to you..." is very moving and a great moment in cinema, as is Brennan's subsequent realization "I know why you done it: you didn't want me to come because you was afraid I'd get hurt! I'm all right now..."
The more you think about this film, the more moral complexity and depth you can see in it, since Hawks makes his most important points indirectly, by collocation. Take the early scene with Bogart's rich client Johnson, who loses a trophy fish and expensive fishing tackle, obviously through his own incompetence and arrogance (he refuses to take Bogart's and Horatio's advice.) Later, Johnson tries to cheat Bogart out of the very considerable sum of money he owes him. There's a moral lesson here: the man who is "not good enough" (that fundamental Hawksian value) physically is also not good enough morally. This doesn't mean you have to be physically strong or tough to be good (more on this below,) it means that being good enough means being able to handle yourself properly both in the physical and the moral realm: "good" is the same in both.
But there is more to it than that, as two more debts come into play. Later, Bogart removes some money from Johnson's wallet in partial payment of the debt just after Johnson is killed. With this act a second "level" of the morality of indebtedness is identified: a good man is permitted to bend the law when he's sure it's morally correct (though it's significant that Bogart immediately has the money taken away from him by the authorities, perhaps teaching us that if we're going to act superior to the law, even if we are justified in the moral realm, we still have to pay the real world price.) The indebtedness theme is further developed in a third restatement (again musical terminology comes to mind) where Mama offers to cancel Bogart and Bacall's large hotel bills if he'll agree to treat the wounded resistance fighter they are harboring. Bogart, who had previously refused to do so, now accepts the job but says they'll still owe the bills. Here a third level of the validity of debt is identified: Bogart has learned that if you are going to do something because it is right, then you had better do it because it is right, not for some other reason. He has grown in stature and reached a higher level of existential awareness: he acts rightly not for money, but because he wants to prove to himself that he is the sort of person who acts rightly, and taking money for the act would be a refutation of that claim.
The Johnson scene also launches another theme subsequently developed in the same almost musical manner: do you have to be tough and strong to be good enough both in the physical and the moral realms? At first it might seem the answer is yes: Bogart is tough and strong and good enough; Johnson is weak and soft and not good enough. But we see there's more to it than that as we follow Bogart's relationships with Brennan and the resistance fighter. Brennan is a lame alcoholic who is terrified at the prospect of gunfire, but he manages to do what's necessary when it comes. And the resistance fighter is by his own admission not physically courageous -- his skittishness nearly spoils the mission and gets him wounded -- and yet he's committed to the stunningly audacious goal of getting a fellow resistance leader off of Devil's Island. He's afraid, but as Bogart tells his wife, "He didn't invent it." The lesson, again taught by indirection and collocation but taught clearly, is that not being tough and strong doesn't mean you can't be good enough, it just means you have two more obstacles to overcome in order to get there.
Much more could be said about the film's interlacing moral themes, but the above may be enough to open up the issue, which is all that can be done in a short notice.
For the rest: Very loosely based on what Hawks and Hemingway reportedly agreed was Hemingway's worst novel, the film also features Hoagy Carmichael as a saloon pianist, and introduced his song "Baltimore Oriole," which becomes a sort of sound track Leitmotif, though it's never actually sung in the film. Little attention has been paid to Hawks' use of music: it's very significant when and how the song is played in the background, and though you never hear the lyrics, if you happen to know them, they add much to the atmosphere. To have and Have Not has also been called the only movie associated with two Nobel Prize winners (William Faulkner, who co-wrote the screenplay, and Hemingway.) Despite what some film books say, Lauren Bacall did her own singing: the legend that it was a teen-aged Andy Williams was denied by Hawks himself.
Finally, lest I be accused of turning this into an art film, To Have and Have Not is a hugely entertaining movie with great lines, terrific atmosphere and a serious undercurrent, and should be recommended for all.
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