Sunday, May 28, 2017
To Have and Have Not
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
Forget about the fact that this story is based on a novel by one Noble Prize winner (Ernest Hemingway), and adapted, in part, by another (William Faulkner). This film works because of its stars. Is there anybody in Hollywood history who is cooler than Humphrey Bogart, or sexier than Lauren Bacall are here? The highlights of this motion picture are the scenes between these two, crackling with good dialogue, which reveals the connection between them.
Hoard Hawks directed this 1944 work, and contributed to its final screenplay, which includes improvisations from the actors, according to IMDB. Yes, it does seem to be derivative, echoing character and plot elements from Casablanca. Instead of the Cuba of Hemingway’s book, the film is set on the island of Martinique in 1940, mirroring the conflict between the “Free French” and Vichy French German collaborators. (Also, the “haves” and “have nots” of the title indicating class struggle in the novel are not part of the screenplay). The opening scene has Harry Morgan, (Bogart), requesting a temporary permit to do charter fishing. He is told that there are new restrictions. We are immediately introduced to the Nazi influence gripping the world, even on this Caribbean island. Martinique is sort of the Casablanca of the tale, where the American, Harry (a type of Rick), does his business, trying to stay neutral, as is the United States, at the dawn of World War II.
The atmosphere has turned to one of mistrust, exemplified by the man Johnson (Walter Sande), who hires Harry to take him fishing. He tries to con Harry out of the money he owes him by saying that he must go to the bank in the morning to get funds. Harry later finds out Johnson has more than enough cash and travelers checks on him to pay his debt, and bought a plane ticket to skip out on Harry. The feeling of encroaching repression presents itself when Vichy sympathizers follow and question Harry and Johnson when they suspect that one of them made an anti-Vichy remark. The story even tempers the comic relief, provided by Harry’s shipmate, Eddie (Walter Brennan), with the fact that the man is an alcoholic, constantly asking Harry for money for another drink, and whom Harry worries will inadvertently betray him.
Harry shows his desire not to get involved in the politics of the time (like Casablanca’s Rick) when he refuses to help Gerard, (also known as Frenchy) (Marcel Dalio), with the Free French movement by using his boat to transport rebel sympathizers. Harry stays at the bar/hotel that Frenchy owns, and a young woman named Marie (Bacall), who has rented the room across from Harry, shows up while Frenchy and Harry are talking. She asks, in her breathy way, for a match for a smoke, and that there is heat between these two is quickly evident in the looks they exchange. Later in the bar downstairs, they again exchange meaningful glances. Marie, however, is also a scammer. She cozies up to Johnson, and Harry sees that she has lifted his wallet. (But, not too cozy, as she pulls away from the man when he touches her arm, which offsets how she is warming up to Harry). When he confronts her with her theft, he finds out about the lucrative and duplicitous contents of Johnson’s wallet. He demonstrates his roguish wit when he says he doesn’t have anything against her stealing, just not from someone who owes him money. When he returns the wallet in a confrontation with Johnson, he says that the liar should give a receipt to the stealing Slim, to show she brought it back. This joke elicits a smile from Slim, who now reciprocates by lighting Harry’s cigarette, solidifying the use of the “heat” metaphor for the passion between them.
Their bonding continues when she meets Eddie. The shipmate asks a question “was you ever bit by a dead bee?” When he continues by saying that he was bitten by dead bees, she says why didn’t he bite them back. Eddie then says that is what Harry always says; thus, the implication is that Slim and Harry are made for each other. But, the “dead bee” line crops up other times. Slim takes it up when she asks the Vichy Gestapo man if he ever was bit by a dead bee. Eddie asks it of the local secret policeman, Captain Renard (Dan Seymour), but Harry interrupts the question, not wanting any rapport established with the Vichy authorities. However, Harry later refers to Renard as having “bee’s lips.” Eddie’s question works as a kind of test to see if a person qualifies as a friend. The “bee” represents hidden danger to the point that it can harm one even after the threat seems to be gone. If one answers correctly, that person can be trusted. So, toward the end of the film, Eddie, in and out of drunken states, asks Slim about the biting dead bee again, and because she gives the right response, she is welcomed once more into Harry’s and Eddie’s confidence.
It is interesting that Harry calls Marie “Slim” throughout the movie, and she refers to him as “Steve” (because, according to IMDB, “stevedores” work on docks). And, Harry addresses Gerard as “Frenchy.” These may be endearing nicknames. However, this practice may also indicate an inability to know anyone too well in the suspicious times in which the movie is set. Also, it can hint at not really wanting to reveal who one really is when it is difficult to know whom to trust. (Marie comically tells Harry that she might object to being called “Slim” because she is too skinny to not take offense at the nickname, thus revealing, by calling herself “skinny,” that the nickname doesn’t bother her at all).
At the time, the two confront Johnson about his lying ways, the cheater is shot in the crossfire between the authorities and the Free French. Harry’s self-centered nature is evident because he is disappointed that Johnson died before signing over the travelers’ checks. He cynically says that Johnson signed checks as slowly as he ducked bullets. Frenchy, Harry, and Slim are brought in for questioning since they were observed in the company of the Free French men. The authorities take the cash Harry took from Johnson’s wallet as part of what the man owed for the fishing charter, and confiscate Harry’s passport. Injustice is taking hold here, as is intimidation. One of the policemen slaps Slim for a wisecrack, and Renard asks Harry where his loyalties lie. Harry shows his current neutrality by answering, “minding my own business.” Renard then falsely assures Harry that the new Vichy government is peaceful and just, and slanderously compares it to America.
In the meantime, Harry and Slim get to know each other in a roundabout way, reflecting the suspicious environment around them. They go to a bar, and, since they don’t have any money, she goes off to use her feminine ways to get some liquor. He tells her he’ll go back to the hotel, but does not reveal that he is actually becoming jealous of her using other men. When she returns with a bottle of booze, she senses that he is “sore,” and she gets angry because he makes assumptions about her life, running off at a young age (she’s supposed to be twenty-two, but Bacall was really nineteen), and wandering from place to place. He tells her that she must have had a life of hard knocks, since she didn’t even flinch when the policeman slapped her. When he asks her how long she has been on the run, her first response is to say it’s none of his business, and to act tough. But, she seems to want more here, and becomes honest, telling Harry that she has been away from home for six months. She says with him, she feels cheap, which is not what she is used to, and exhibits vulnerability, and hope, when she hints that she had thought things would be different with Harry. First, they connected through looks, now he smells her perfume, and then he touches her face, as their bond deepens through the senses.
He almost switches to being paternally protective when he says he will get her back home, because she says she would walk there if she could, except for all of the “water.” She realizes he will get the money to help her by aiding the Free French. She now becomes protective, urging him not to do anything dangerous. His default position is one of security through secrecy, so he hides his growing feelings for her by saying he isn’t going to get involved for her, but because he needs the money. She then pulls out some cash, after saying she was broke, and wants to give it to him. So, she wasn’t being totally honest, and he acknowledges her sneaky ways by saying, “You’re good. You’re awfully good.” She tempers her deception by saying she always keeps a little money (only $30) handy as a buffer of protection against those who want to take advantage of her. But, she is honestly offering him some cash so he won’t be reckless. She then turns the tables on him, showing she can read him, too. She wants to know who was the woman in his past that jilted him, and made him so suspicious. Her intentions become more overt, as she sits in his lap and kisses Harry. Keeping their cool exterior, even at a time of passion, he asks why did she do that, and she says she was wondering what it would be like. She kisses him again because she wasn’t sure yet what she thought of it. After the second kiss, she tells him, “It’s even better when you help.”
The film’s famous lines (actually written by director Hawks) are significant. Slim wants Harry to know that they can fearlessly communicate honestly. She tells him, “You know, you don’t have to act with me, Steve.” She wants to break down defensive facades. Their connection is so strong, they can show their feelings without the worry of misleading words getting in the way. She says to him, “You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Or, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together, and … blow.” No need to explain the intensity of what is going on between these two.
Harry again asserts that he is not on the side of the Free French, and only will help them for a payment. But, he does show his sympathy for them when he aids one of their wounded. His toughness is again tempered when he gives Slim a ticket to get off the island to escape any danger that might come her way through his actions. (She refuses to leave, though, and Harry is actually glad she stayed. Frenchy offered her a job singing in the bar.) He also tries to stop Eddie from going along on the job, but he becomes a stowaway. Harry must transport Paul de Bursac (Walter Molnar), and his attractive wife, Helene (Dolores Moran). There is a dense fog on the sea. It adds to the suspense, but it is also symbolic of the perilous times. When one can’t see clearly, it is difficult to determine where the enemy lurks. In a confrontation with a patrol boat, Paul, acting recklessly, is wounded. Harry transfers him onto a smaller boat, but his wounds require him to return to Martinique, where, by necessity, he is placed in Frenchy’s basement.
The relationship between Paul and Helene, in one sense, mirrors that of Harry and Slim, but in another, contrasts with it. Harry has familiarity with gunshot wounds, and offers to treat Paul. Because of the frightening world in which she lives, Helene is mistrustful of Harry, and initially refuses treatment. After she relents, she pretends to be tough, but passes out when Harry removes the bullet from Paul’s arm. Slim takes over, and she, in contrast, shows no such squeamishness. Afterwards, Helene admits her crippling fear, and how that apprehension spread to, and weakened her husband. Slim’s strength shows that she would be no such drain on Harry. Harry soothes Helene’s guilt by assuring her that being afraid is a pervasive response. Because of his comforting manner, Helene now, just as did Slim, begins to let down her guard and is able to trust, even to the point to have Harry hold onto her jewelry so it won’t fall into enemy hands. After Paul recovers, he admits to the contrast between the coolly confidant Harry and his less competent self. But, he has a mission to free a prisoner from Devil’s Island, a charismatic leader (similar to Casablanca’s Victor Laszlo). He shows his courage, and that of the Resistance, which Harry respects, when Paul says that the enemy isn’t counting on the fact that, if one person fails, “there will always be someone else” to take up the fight. He tells Harry that even though it is not yet his war, he hopes that “someday it will be.” This statement certainly resonates with the urging in Casablanca for America to abandon its isolationism and join the battle against Nazi Germany. Harry is actually already onboard, even if he hasn’t announced it, as he refused Frenchy’s offer to liquidate his room bill for treating Paul, and did so for free. Helene and Paul may not have the personality tools of Harry and Slim, but they have a purpose bigger than themselves, and that commitment wins over Harry and Slim (as it did Rick in Casablanca.)
It is now Slim’s turn to exhibit jealousy. Helene does come on to Harry, and Slim hears her say to him that nothing he ever would say would make her angry. Slim was bringing down breakfast and says the eggs may be a little too hard-boiled, to which Helene responds that she likes them that way. This exchange may refer to the type of man Harry is, with Slim trying to tell Helene that Harry may be too much man for her, but Helene saying she is up for it. Back at the hotel, Slim offers to take off Harry’s shoes, make him breakfast, and draw him a hot bath. He says he can do these things himself, and all he wants is some solitary sleep. He tells her to take a walk around him. She catches on fast, saying she understands that there are no strings attached to him, impairing his freedom. She kisses him, and uses her seductive leverage by placing a condition for further romance that would require him to shave. After he has done that, she says, “we’ll see how that goes.” When Frenchy shows up for some help with Eddie, Harry’s funny line is he has “to shave,” which implies he’s readying himself for sex.
Harry has had it with the deterioration of the situation on Martinique and wants to leave with Eddie and Slim. However, Renard and two of his men show up. They threaten to put Eddie through painful alcohol withdrawal unless Harry tells them where Paul is. Harry gets to a gun in a desk drawer, shoots one of the men, and then handcuffs the other one and Renard. He beats Renard until the man secures free passage for his boat to leave. Harry also says he will help Paul free the prisoner on Devil’s Island. When Frenchy asks why he changed his mind, Harry jokingly says that maybe it’s because he likes Frenchy, or doesn’t like the collaborating French. In any event, he has joined the Resistance.
The ending is a bit underwhelming, as Slim sort of dances out of the bar/hotel with Harry. According to IMDB, Hawks was to have a shootout on the boat, but couldn’t fit it into the film. So, he gave the sequence to John Huston, who put it to good use at the end of another Bogey/Bacall film, Key Largo. But, at the end of this movie, piano player Cricket (Hoagy Carmichael) asks Slim if she is happy. She answers, “What do you think?” I think we can agree, in the film and in real life, that they lived happily ever after.
The next post will be a shorter, focused analysis of Manchester by the Sea.