TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944) was the first film to throw together the now legendary on and off screen couple, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Their chemistry is immediately apparent on screen, full of clever jabs, inside jokes, Bacall’s sultry, taunting eyes, and Bogart’s amused half smile. From moment to moment it is a cat and mouse game between them, though you never know for sure who is the cat and who is the mouse. While the plot of the film falls a bit short and feels like a noir version of a CASABLANCA (1943) remake, Bogart and Bacall’s on screen spark ultimately makes this a great film. It’s like watching two kids with a chemistry set: each adding elements that may cause an explosion, and each watching the other to see who will flinch first. Bogart and Bacall are so great in this film just being the Bogart and Bacall we love, that the jumbled plot about the French resistance feels secondary, and separate from their romance.
This electric connection we see between Bogart and Bacall is honed and enhanced by Director Howard Hawks’ deft use of editing, cinematography, staging, and lighting. These skills are particularly notable in the doozy of an entrance he created for Bacall. In what seems like poor script writing rather than an intentional creative choice, Bacall does not enter until a good 15 minutes into the film. But Hawks utilizes and plays on this delay, capitalizing on Bacall’s voice and some clever editing to give us her big entrance. While many of Hawks’ films are known for their extremely fast overlapping dialogue (HIS GIRL FRIDAY is the ultimate example), for this film Hawks slows down the pace to accentuate Bacall’s spiky velvet voice. Dialogue is still overlapping, and quick at times, but Bacall hangs on her words and draws them out in an incredibly sexy way.
When we finally do see Bacall, it is really more of not seeing her. The shot is only a few seconds in a hallway, she is exiting her room and Bogart is entering his. As the audience, we don’t even necessarily know she is the leading lady because Hawks gives us no cinematic hints: there is no camera movement following her, Bogart’s character does not notice her, no lighting on her face and no close up. Because she was a relative Hollywood newcomer, Bacall did not have any audience recognition like a well-known star would have. Hawks has intentionally planted her in the back of our mind so that when she does show up, we are not taken out of the movie going experience by wondering “wait, where did she come from?” But at the same time, he does not want us actively thinking about her. Hawks makes her a background figure to Bogart’s action and consequently we hardly notice her.
Before we have time to get a better look at Bacall, or even realize that it is Bacall, the camera cuts to Bogart entering his room. This little bit of editing is Hawks cueing us to forget about the hallway, saying we are moving on to new action. The camera follows Bogart as he goes inside, and as he turns back toward the door we hear a woman’s husky voice “anybody got a match?” But unlike conventional cinema, Hawks does not cut directly to a shot of who is speaking. For a critical brief moment, the camera stays on Bogart and his somewhat surprised face. And we are left wondering “Whose is that voice?”
Even though it has only been a few seconds since the hallway, we are surprised to hear a voice, let alone a female voice. Because the camera does not simultaneously cut to a shot of Bacall, instead staying on Bogart, we have an instant and intense curiosity for whom the voice belongs to, made even worse because we know that Bogart can see who it is. But before we can consciously become aware that Hawks is withholding information from us, he give us what we were craving. A cut to a long shot of the room, with Bacall casually propped in the doorway. Yet even then, while we can clearly see her and have the satisfaction of know she is the voice her heard, we have still not had a close up of her face. Hawks is still holding back.
In this shot, Bacall is at a distance from Bogart, who is well into the room. We see the whole room, but through a clever bit of staging, we don’t see everyone in the room immediately. Frenchy the hotel manager was talking with Bogart in the hall, and has also entered the room. But Hawks wants this first moment with Bacall and Bogart in the same shot, to be just about Bogart and Bacall. In the shot, from the audience perspective, Bogart is in the right foreground, nearest the camera, and Bacall on the left, across the room. Frenchy is about halfway between Bogart and Bacall in terms of depth, but on the right. Bogart, being in the foreground, completely blocks us from seeing Frenchy. In answer to Bacall’s question from the moment before, Bogart crosses from right to left (to pick up matches and toss them to Bacall), revealing Frenchy. Bogart is now in the center, and the actors form a triangle. These few seconds of staging show just how carefully Hawks could craft a scene, and subtly mold the audience’s experience without them ever knowing it.
Now, we can’t talk about a noir film without at least mentioning lighting, shadow, and how Hawks finally gives us a close up Bacall. Throughout the film Hawks uses specific recurring shadows identified with Bogart and Bacall. The shadows marking Bogart are immediately noticeable in the hallway as diagonal slits of light and shadow on the wall (presumably from a bamboo window blind) and over Bogart’s door. They cut across him as he enters the room, lying in strong, clear lines that feel very masculine.
Bacalls shadows are cast by the hotel’s ornate, curled ironwork, which is less notable but still present on her side of the hall. When we cut to the shot of Bacall in Bogart’s doorway, she too is covered in the diagonal slits of light, but we can also see the curled ironwork shadow behind her in the hallway (both in the initial long shot and the following medium shot). She has entered his space, but not lost her own. The shadows are almost a visual marker of the power play happening between them.
Hawks is now going to use these shadows and light to give us the close up he has been building toward. In the scene, Bogart has just thrown some matches to Bacall. Hawks cuts between medium shots of Bacall catching the matches, and Bogart looking her up and down. Then we hear the match being struck, but we do not immediately cut to Bacall. As before, sound precedes sight and Hawks makes us wait.
Then, Hawks cuts to a close up of Bacall bringing the match toward the cigarette in her mouth. The light from the match gives a beautiful glow to her face, and dissolves the diagonal lines lying across her. The ironwork shadows in the hallway (in the top left corner of the screen, framing her face) are more pronounced than before. By crafting Bacall’s close up this way, Hawks shows through lighting and editing that in true noir fashion, this is a dame who can hold her own. And reminds us just how much fun it is to watch Bogart and Bacall watch each other.