70 Days With Hemingway And Me

Every Novel, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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This Movie Has It

July 18th, 2009 · 2 Comments · To Have and Have Not (Movie)

To Have and Have Not, Hemingway’s fourth novel (published in 1937), is a terrible book. It’s about a failed rum runner in Cuba who has a loving wife, two daughters, and a rummy for a first mate. He loses his arm in a gun fight, later gets involved with bank robbers, and eventually loses his life.

It’s one depressing incident after another, told from a constantly-shifting narrative perspective. So it’s as confusing as it is desparing.

Supposedly, director Howard Hawks boasted that he could make a great movie out of Hemingway’s worst book, which he thought was To Have and Have Not. The film he made, released in 1944 and co-written by author William Faulkner, jettisons most of Hemingway’s novel. In the movie, Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) doesn’t have a wife and he doesn’t have two daughters. He’s not a rum runner. He’s a reputable charter-boat captain. However, he still has a rummy for a first mate (played perfectly by character actor Walter Brennan), probably for comedic relief.

In Casablanca, Bogie’s character boasted he sticks his neck out for no man. But in To Have and Have Not his character, who also possesses a Rick Blaine-like conscience that roots for the underdog, sticks his neck out plenty.

But can you blame him? In lieu of a wife and two daughters, the Howard Hawks’ version of Hemingway’s “worst” novel pairs him with the 19-year-old Lauren Becall, who plays Marie Browning, a sultry dame with a penchant for sexy smoking and double entendre. As some film historians point out, one can literally watch two people fall in love during the course of this movie for, in real life, that’s precisely what Bogart and Becall did. They later married and made three other films together.

As an adaptation, To Have and Have Not is horrible. It’s as much like Hemingway’s novel as I am like an Apollo astronaut. As a movie, however, this is gold, Jerry, gold.

Prior to watching this movie, I didn’t know where this classic movie line came from: “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.” Now I know the line is uttered by Becall as she exits the room. When she’s not igniting her cigarette, she’s igniting the screen. Bogie and Becall together are the stuff of Hollywood legend, and this movie is where it all began for them.

As an accurate depiction of Hemingway’s novel, I’d give this a 3 on a scale of 1-10. But as an entertaining movie, one worth watching again and again, I’d give this an 8.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • John

    here are two other movie versions of this novel. One is called “The Gun Runners” with Audie Murphy (any relation?) and “The Breaking Point” with John Garfield and Patricia Neal. Also don’t forget to take a look at “The Killers” – both version.

  • Bill

    I didn’t know that!

    See? That’s why I need a bona fide movie expert to stop by once in awhile. You keep me honest.

    Thanks for your comment!

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