TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT / THE BIG SLEEP

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Attending a double feature screening of TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and THE BIG SLEEP is like going to the factory where they make Reese’s. You have the peanut butter (Humphrey Bogart) and the chocolate (Lauren Bacall). Both are independently delicious items, but items nonetheless. Paired together in just the right way, they make an indelible combination that is problematically delicious. It hits the spot. And you will want more. Lucky for you, in a double feature, that is exactly what you get.

Lauren Bacall is a classic Hawks woman, both on screen and off: beautiful, tough, a woman who sure as hell doesn’t need a man, but is damn good at keeping him on his toes. Howard Hawks utilizes long takes in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, letting your eyes soak in exotic Martinique, the many colorful characters of the film, as well as Bogart and Bacalls’ every move.

This quote from an article in Variety best describes who Bogart was to America, and how he became the icon we know him as today: “In THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), his portrayal of Sam Spade defined the cinematic version of the classic American private eye. And as Rick Blaine in CASABLANCA (1942), he proved himself as a romantic lead. Whether in a white dinner jacket or a trench coat and snap-brim fedora, Bogart was, by the early 1940s, one of the top movie stars in the world and also a timely symbol of post–Pearl Harbor America: tough but compassionate, skeptical yet idealistic, betrayed yet ready to believe again, and, above all, a potent and deadly opponent.”

Besides needing to see TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and THE BIG SLEEP for the ineffable and often improvised banter, the 1944 and 1946 films were particularly important for the début and development of newcomer, 19-year-old Lauren Bacall. TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT packs a wallop, not only by introducing Bacall to the world, but by creating one of the most famous and sexiest on-screen couples, igniting an off-screen romance (romance…scandal…potayto…potahto) between Bacall and Bogart. By 1945, the filming of THE BIG SLEEP wrapped, and after years of trying to make it work, so had Bogart’s marriage. Bogart divorced his wife and married Lauren Bacall. They remained married until Bogart’s death in 1957.

In TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, Hawks uses shadows, framing, and cinematography to make the film visually alluring; reminiscent of film noir. THE BIG SLEEP is not so obviously cinematic, but it was never intended to give the audience the same kind of visual wealth of mise-en-scene. Instead, Hawks gives us a film where we are with the protagonist for the entire film. As the audience, we are just as confused as Marlowe (and famously, even the writers), only knowing what he knows. In a strange way, the extensive shots of a confused Marlowe might help us identify with him as we, the audience, try to figure out the mystery with him. He tugs his ear, a trick Bogart and Hawks came up with to make Marlowe seem relatable and ordinary, and it works. We want to like him. Bogart makes Marlowe vulnerable—Hawks’ direction allows us to see that vulnerability, and the audience is given a more intimate look into Bogart (or rather, his persona through the character of Philip Marlowe) than ever before.

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TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT proved to be a box office smash, and Bacall became hot stuff in every sense of the phrase. The story, itself, originated from a Hemingway story of the same name, remade almost completely as a screenplay (William Faulkner is one of the credited screenwriters), and further shaped by Howard Hawks. The clever, often rapid fire, and overlapping dialogue found in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and THE BIG SLEEP is a playful technique Hawks inaugurated into his canon with his 1940 screwball comedy HIS GIRL FRIDAY.

Before Hawks introduced the idea of overlapping dialogue to Hollywood, witty banter in a Hollywood film was a tennis match of dialogue that you might find, and greatly enjoy, in a Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy film (I would suggest ADAM’S RIB). Hawks, in his brilliant, rebellious Hawksian manner, sculpted the dialogue and directed it so that it was ideal for the characters and the actors. Hawks turned HIS GIRL FRIDAY into a delightful machine gun barrage of dialogue. THE BIG SLEEP becomes a boxing match, with crescendos of words building into punches and jabs until someone steps back in a fancy footwork move of false grace. You can tell when a round has ended.

At times, TO HAVE OR HAVE NOT slows to a poker game pace. Looks replace words, highlighting Bacall’s gorgeous smoky eyes, her direct piercing look, and the playfully challenging way Bogie looks back at her. The action of the plot contrasts with the sauntering pace of the romance. In terms of action, you get the funny cousin of CASABLANCA, complete with a boat chase and a lot of shooting that feels so out of place in the structure. It clearly exists only because someone insisted the film have a boat chase with lots of shooting. As the viewer, you are constantly longing for the film to return to the romance of word jousts and wordless conversations, where words mean one thing and eyes say another, for that is what makes this film unique. Careful direction and crafted cinematography give even one sultry look so much meaning and innuendo. All the audience wants to do is watch Bogart and Bacall watch each other.

Watching Bogart and Bacall spar against each other in love scenes has the intensity and passion of a dramatic love scene, but feels more like watching two kids with a chemistry set. They take turns adding elements that may or may not explode at any moment, laugh in each other’s face and play chicken to see who will flinch first. When 1940s audiences watched the onscreen romances in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and THE BIG SLEEP, the films served as a very public documentation of the actors’ personal off-screen romance. The National Legion of Decency’s disapproval of both films only further attracted audiences to the veritable chemistry explosion that was clearly visible between Bogart and Bacall.

There are just a few reasons why, after just one scene together, you are going to crave as much Bogie and Bacall as you can get. Few things are sexier or more enjoyable than watching Bogie and Bacall watch each other.

 

Becky Gillig A southern-ish girl from Frankfort, Kentucky, Becky majored in American Studies at Wesleyan University and minored in Masquerading As a Film Major. She is hopelessly in love with Robert Osborne from TCM and loves classic movie trivia and artifacts. She also loves swing dancing, contra dancing, and scaring people with the amount of verve she has when talking about film.

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