Classic Movies Remembered: To Have and Have Not: the poor man’s Casablanca

Bogart and Bacall first met on the set of this wartime Caribbean drama

Warner Bros had a great hit with Casablanca in 1943, so it’s not surprising the company tried a rerun a year later with To Have and to Have Not. It’s an adaptation (in name only) of Ernest Hemingway’s novel of 1937 which was based in Cuba whereas the movie takes place in Martinique. But Warner retained at least half a dozen of the players from Casablanca in the sort-of rerun. But To Have’s principal claim to fame is the pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall who appeared together in only three later films, but remained ever linked both on and off the screen.

The setting is Fort de France in the Caribbean shortly after the surrender of France to Germany in 1940. The capital city is ruled by the collaborationist Vichy regime supervised on the island by secret police captain Renard, aptly played by the sinister Dan Seymour who had also played the club doorman in Casablanca. Bogart is an American fisherman initially determined to stay neutral even though pressurized by the resistance to help out at night transporting anti-Vichy individuals to places of action. As the movie progresses, he becomes less neutral and more anti-nazi in sentiment.

Bacall was an 18-year old unknown when signed up to play the 22-year old Slim Browning who was initially so intimidated by Bogart that they had to keep reshooting the scene where she casually catches a matchbox as she kept dropping it. But their onscreen chemistry is palpable, all but overshadowing the fictional back story that made Rick and Ilsa’s dance in Casablanca so memorable. Her best line in the movie is, “You know how to whistle don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”

Bacall was only 18 and this was one of four movies she made with her future husband.

To Have and Have Not has its moments and tries to evoke the atmosphere of Casablanca by having a bar with customers of divided loyalties, a piano player and even a police raid – all key scenes in the earlier movie. But To Have lacks the elements that made Casablanca immortal such as a romantic triangle, a noble sacrifice for a nobler cause and one classic line after another. On the other hand, there are brilliant bits in To Have including Hoagy Carmichael’s playing of Hong Kong Blues and How Little We Know with Bacall singing the latter. Memorable lines include Walter Brennan playing a regular drunk who asks, “Was you ever bit by a dead bee?”

All’s well that ends well. To Have concludes on a happy note with liberation round the corner, Bacall and Bogart out of danger and the fascist forces defeated. The latter actually happened in real time history and Martinique (and Guadeloupe) declared for de Gaulle and against Vichy in 1943 before the movie was actually fully made. The island of Martinique remains an overseas department and part of the French republic to this day.

The Vichy ruler Marshal Petain (left) shown here meeting Hitler after France surrendered.