“You know how to whistle don’t you Steve?
You just put your lips together and… blow”
To Have and Have Not is a comedy about… it’s a parody of the film noir genre… it’s the oft-parodied film noir that must have been a parody of itself even back in 1944. It’s got everything. Far too much of everything. The dialogue is often so hard boiled and over-written that the film may as well be set in fairy land… or Grim Fandango. Conversations, particularly those between Bogey and Bacall, can often seem a disjointed semi-mess of over-cooked stand-alone lines. I don’t feel there’s any real chemistry between the two leads, whose encounters seem to happen the way they do merely because that’s what the script says. None of the characters are very believable anyway, so it’s hard to really see the motivation for attraction in these cardboard cut-outs.
And still… it is a very entertaining film, even if considered as a serious one. It has essentially a very similar set-up to the earlier Casablanca. This time the plot is very thin and makes little sense (again, good thing they had the script to let them know what to do next). The setting is Martinique in the French West Indies during the Second World War. The island is under the control of the traitorous Vichy government that was installed by the Nazis when they conquered France. There are rumblings of discontent from supporters of Free France who seem to need help from the very capable and independent Bogart and his fishing boat. Naturally, Bogey doesn’t want to get involved in anything that might cause harm to life or limb, particularly if it isn’t in his self interest. Some stuff then happens meaning he takes up the job because he needs the money. They want him to pick up a couple of members of the French resistance and help smuggle them into the town. The resistance members prove themselves useless human beings and the film is quite vague as to just why there was any point in any of it. There’s even a fatalistic speech by the resistance man where he openly admits to being pretty inept and perhaps having no chance of fulfilling his mission to rescue another member – hopefully a more able one. Along with him is his wife, who seems in possession of an actual backbone, although she does pretty much nothing of importance in the film. I suppose the pair existed as MacGuffins to some extent in that smuggling them in, protecting and hiding them seems terribly important for little evident reason.
Perhaps what makes this film enjoyable is the star power. Bogart is himself; Bacall is a thief who’s beautiful (script probably says so) and likes Bogart. He maybe likes her because she’s about as ridiculously full of attitude as he is, boredom… and the script says so; Walter Brennan is the likeable, drunk old fool who exists for exposition and to show how much of a swell guy Bogey is for being a loyal friend and looking out for him; Marcel Dalio is the bar owner this time and the friend who presses Bogart to get involved. The actors do a good job with the script they’re given and enough things happen to them (for whatever reason) to keep you engaged and interested. To Have and Have Not is certainly worth a look, but far from essential.