Sunday, 17 August 2014

To have and have not (4 Stars)

"You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow".

This film carries the name of the author Ernest Hemingway on the poster, but the film has very little to do with his novel, apart from borrowing the names of the characters. In Hemingway's book Harry Morgan is an alcohol smuggler during the Prohibition who turns to smuggling Chinese immigrants into Florida. Somehow I think cinema audiences would have had problems sympathising with such a character. In the film Harry Morgan is an American living on the island of Martinique in 1940 who takes rich customers on fishing trips.

Martinique is a small island in the Caribbean which used to be a French colony. After Germany conquered France, a German-friendly government was installed on Martinique, and the German secret service became active on the island. The majority of the islanders hated the Germans and the puppet government, but they were afraid to do anything. Members of the French resistance sneaked onto the island to continue the fight against the Nazis. Harry just did his best to ignore the conflicts and carry on doing his business. In 1940 America was still independent, as far as the War in Europe was concerned, and so was Harry. This changes when he's desperate for cash and does a job picking up resistance fighters from another island. At first it's only for the money, but the cruel methods of the German occupiers make him sympathetic to the resistance's cause.

At the same time a young woman called Marie Browning arrives on the island, claiming to be from Brazil, although she has an American accent. She flirts with men in the hotel and steals their wallets while dancing. Harry is the first person to see what she's doing, but he promises not to expose her as long as she shares the money with him. He calls her Slim, a nickname that she hates, so she calls him Steve in return. The two fall in love, but Slim makes it clear from the beginning that she's in charge and has to do whatever she says. As an old school macho he repeatedly tells her what to do, but she refuses.

The bigger story is what was happening off screen. Harry Morgan was played by the famous Hollywood actor, Humphrey Bogart, now 44 and at the peak of his career. Marie Browning was played by a 19-year-old girl called Betty Perske in her first ever film role. They had met briefly on the set of "Passage to Marseille" a few months earlier, but their second meeting on February 29th, 1944 changed history. Humphrey was totally smitten with Betty, and he kissed her at the end of the day's filming. This was a shock to the other members of the cast, because he was known to be a perfect gentleman, not a man who would take advantage of an actress 25 years younger than himself. Apart from that, he was married, although it was a well known fact that he was having problems due to the excessive drinking of his wife, the actress Mayo Methot. Shortly after the film was completed, before it was released, the director Howard Hawks urged Betty Perske to change her name to the more glamorous sounding Lauren Bacall.

By the time the film was released there was a passionate affair between Humphrey and Lauren. Humphrey divorced Mayo on May 10th, 1945, and he married Lauren 11 days later. They were soul mates in the truest sense of the word and remained together until his death of cancer in 1957.

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