Each viewing of "To Have and Have Not" earns my greater appreciation of the film. The comparisons to "Casablanca" are numerous and fans of Humphrey Bogart will have no trouble picking them out one by one. Bogey's character Harry Morgan is once again an expatriate on foreign soil, though here he has no trouble calling himself an American. The Peter Lorre part is handled by Marcel Dalio as hotel owner Frenchy, while the Sydney Greenstreet presence is given to Dan Seymour, the smarmy Gestapo captain. Add the smoldering presence of Lauren Bacall in her screen debut, and you have the ingredients for an adventure film that almost plays out stronger in each of it's mini chapters than in the sum of it's parts. That's OK though, because each tableaux presents us with rich characterization and a sense that we know who these players are and what they're up to.
As most fans know, the legendary Bogey/Bacall team up began here, so I won't dwell on that. What's worth mentioning though is Bacall's brazen confidence in carrying out her role in what looks like a casting call mismatch. Only a teenager at the time of filming, she looks to be about thirty, with dialog that belies her years. Though her scenes with Bogart are electric even to this day, it's worth noting her chemistry with Dolores Moran near the end of the film. The times "Slim" and Mrs. de Bursac appear together, their subliminal clash over "Steve" fairly screams "meow". That's why it's all the more comical when Bogey's character begins his operation on Paul, "Slim" uses a leaf fan to waft chloroform fumes in the direction of the fainted madame - outrageous!
My first introduction to Walter Brennan was his famous TV role as Grandpa McCoy in "The Real McCoys" series of the late 1950's. Here, with a hitch in his giddyup, Brennan sports an early tryout for that television role, but with a reliance on alcohol. He's fairly philosophical about it though - "Drinkin' don't bother my memory, if it did I wouldn't drink. You see, I'd forget how good it was, then where'd I be, start drinkin' water again". The best exchange between Eddie (Brennan) and Harry takes place on board the fishing boat as Harry explains the kind of danger they might be in. It's a masterful dialog that brings Eddie to sobriety real quick.
The film's sinister side is revealed when Vichy authorities intend to disrupt any activity that might prove detrimental to German interests. As the Free French resistance look for a suitable base to continue their opposition on the island of Martinique, Captain Renard (Seymour) warns Morgan and company - "We are only interested in those persons who have broken the rules laid down for their behavior". Morgan is busy breaking the rules all over the place, and gets right down to the frightening business at hand by roughing up Renard and his bunch when it appears his time on the island is growing short. Here, letters of transit are known as harbor passes, in another nod to Bogey's better known film.
Today's viewing of the film was my third, and as mentioned earlier, it gets better each time. It helps that Humphrey Bogart is my favorite actor, but that begs the question, did Bogey make the films, or did the films make the actor. As in "Casablanca", "The Maltese Falcon, "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and "The Big Sleep", the events and characters come together to create an unforgettable story. And if for no other reason, no matter how many times you watch "To Have and Have Not", it's always worth watching right to the very end, even if just to catch Lauren Bacall's sweet sashay to the strains of Hoagy Carmichael's piano.