With the release of To Have and Have Not (1944), all four of the films Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart made together are now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive.
I've never been able to convince myself to pay much attention to the plot of To Have and Have Not. It's always been a movie of exciting sensations to me. Watching nineteen-year-old Bacall blow everyone away with her super sleek cool (the nervous teenager fooled them all by pinning her shaking chin low to her chest, thus inventing her trademark sultry look). Watching Bogie watch Bacall, and wondering how much of it is acting, because the legend of them falling in love in real life during production is the film's main claim to fame. Listening to Hoagy Carmichael's eternally hip crooning as a piano player in a Martinique bar; the perfect sexy soundtrack to this mesmerizing banter and flirtation.
Under Bogie and Bacall's romantic spell, the rest of the film becomes a spectacle to me too. I tend to remove myself from the mechanics of it all, and enjoy the careful visual composition of a group of hoods gathered around a dim table lamp, or the tightly-coiled Dolores Moran trying to convince Bogie to help her cause and get her man out of a jam. Even the dialogue comes at me in pieces, witty moments, great passages, elements that do make a coherent whole, though I don't feel the need to enjoy them that way.
The script has an interesting pedigree. The title is practically the only thing to survive Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway's novel. It was written by another Nobel winner, William Faulkner, but director Howard Hawks lays claim to the most memorable passages, like that legendary exchange between Bogie and Bacall where Ms. Lauren encourages him to "put your lips together and blow."
As well-made as Hawks' film is, it is the dance between these mesmerizing leads that makes it memorable. There's the timing, like the way Bogie waits a beat before reacting to that memorable line about whistling. He takes a moment to marvel at her eroticism before letting out a low, luxurious whistle. There is also a physical poetry to the pair, in the way they move around each other with curiosity and excitement or how Bacall's hair swoops down in a rippling curtain as she leans towards him for a kiss.
To cleanse the pallet there is Walter Brennan as Eddie, Bogie's sidekick, a dipsomaniac who is a tragically lost figure, though he's there for comic relief. His scenes, and the musical interludes where Bacall sings, grab more attention than the more serious business of smuggling and saving the resistance that is meant to drive the action. That story is well-crafted, but in the end, Bogie and Bacall provide all the action you need.
Special features on the disc include a brief documentary about the production and Bacall and Bogart's romance, a Lux Radio Broadcast episode featuring the pair, a trailer for the film and the amusing Merrie Melodies short Bacall to Arms (1946) which pokes fun at the sultry pair.
Other Bogey and Bacall Blu-rays I have reviewed:
Dark Passage (1947), The Big Sleep (1946) and Key Largo (1948)
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.