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Defending To Have And Have Not

By , 8 January, 2009, 5 Comments
Bogart and Bacall in To Have and Have Not

Bogart and Bacall in To Have and Have Not

Recently I joined The Golden Age of Hollywood group, and, upon seeing that he had listed Casablanca as one of his favorite films and was a huge Bogart fan, I began a discussion with Michael B. Druxman.

I probably should have read his profile a bit more closely — seen the “Screenwriter, Playwright, Novelist, Hollywood Historian” bit — before I blundered on in and babbled my question; but hey, I didn’t. And so, Jaynie, the not-a-film-critic-but-a-fan found herself discussing debating film with a person certainly more suited to the role of film critic than herself.

While I was/am admittedly out of my element, I thought the conversation was worth sharing here.

It began innocently enough, with me, a person who favors To Have And Have Not, asking, “I’d be interested to know what you think of To Have And Have Not v. Casablanca…”

He replied, nicely, but showing his greater film education:

CASABLANCA is my all time favorite movie, but I’ve always considered TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT to be one of Bogart’s lesser films. It’s okay…but it’s not in the same league as CASABLANCA, THE MALTESE FALCON, KEY LARGO, etc.

Although the scenes with Bacall certainly sizzle, they also slow down the forward movement of the story, which takes the title from Hemingway’s book and little else. The remake with John Garfield (i.e. THE BREAKING POINT) was much closer to the book and, I think, a better movie.

To which I replied:

I’m sure my ignorance to the book puts me in a weak position overall for debating/defending To Have And Have Not, but…

I’ve never been a real fan of Casablanca. Bogart is excellent, but Ingrid Bergman, while beautiful, has a coldness and is so passionless that frankly, I’d have put her on the plane and been relieved to see her go. Without that tension, there’s no dilemma, no story. However, in To Have And Have Not, the sizzle as you call it (and the characters) drive the action for me.

Again, the book v. film perspective I lack — and addressing that might then very well change my views — but I think it’s at least interesting to note that you, a man, watch/address/see Bogart, while I, a woman, watch/evaluate/respond to the female leads. On the surface you could just say I’m reacting to them as ‘chick flicks’ but I think there’s something more to it…

In any case, I very much enjoy the discussion. 🙂

He replied, likely sensing my intimidation, including his more personal reactions on becoming a fan:

The first time I saw CASABLANCA was at a revival theater when I was in college…and I didn’t like it. In hindsight, I realize that the reason I didn’t like it was because I was expecting an action movie, and this was a romantic drama. However, upon a 2nd viewing (on TV) it started to grow on me and every time I see it (20 times?) I see something new. The characters. The situations.

I must disagree with you about Bergman’s performance. Why shouldn’t it be on the cold side. This woman has been running from the Nazis. Her husband has been tortured by the Nazis. Yes, she has feelings for Rick, but she’s torn. This is not a happy woman.

Regarding TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, this is generally considered to be one of Hemingway’s weaker novels. In fact, I believe that director Howard Hawks bet Papa that he could make a movie out of the book when Hemingway bet he couldn’t.

He also added that he’s sure the conversation will continue. I’d like to, but I’m a little less sure how to continue…

Nothing against him — he’s been very nice dealing with a movie fan whose ignorance is pretty clear — but how do I better articulate my thinking that our perceptions may be, at least in part, influenced by our genders (and related expectations, emulations, and emotions) without sounding like a silly girl? Or worse yet, some foaming-at-the-mouth feminazi?!

I suppose the first step is getting my hands on (and nose in) a copy of Hemingway’s book; and the second step is to watch The Breaking Point.

But then, assuming my thinking about the films (that To Have and Have Not is better than Casablanca) and/or our gender reactions remain the same, I’m still stuck on step three: How to say it without sounding like an off-putting (and female) idiot.

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5 Responses {+}
  • Sandra

    at this point, I would respond with “Look! Pretty clothes!!”

  • Jaynie Van Roe

    LOL That made me dribble a lil Dt Coke out my nose (very lady-like, tho; I dabbed with a hankie lol)

  • Michael Druxman

    Jaynie,

    I would enjoy debating movies with you anytime. And, gender has nothing to do with it.

  • Annette

    Just came across your fabulous blog (!) while researching retro hair styles, and on this question what came to mind is that you can spare yourself reading the original source for this (and any) movie if your intention is to consider a film in its own right. If you like one film over another, it’s irrelevant how well it was adapted.
    Howard Hawks was the king of plot as driven by character. I could worship a director for that, if I was given to worship. (To some directors I’ve been tempted to scream, “It’s a m-o-v-i-e, for goodness sake… so MOVE me with MOVEMENT, inner and outer.”)
    For me, a comparison of Bacall and Bergman is centerpoint here: do you respond to women who grab life by the balls and get ‘er done? Or women who move through life with wistful longing? They’re not mutually exclusive over time, but the stronger stage presence will show you one side more often than the other. I’m with Bacall, myself.
    Novelist Ayn Rand wrote about a concept called, “sense of life,” which comes into play when I watch Casablanca and To Have and Have Not. My sense of life ensures that I dislike the former and LOVE the latter: sacrifice of true love as a personal and crowning value doesn’t do it for me. When Bogie and Bacall do the right thing politically AND get to stay together in the end, now that’s the payoff for me giving over two hours of my life to watch their story. Sacrifice, schmacrifice!
    Thanks for the quality on these pages; I’ll be back.
    P.S. *Your* gender has nothing to do with the question of Bacall vs. Bergman, imho.

  • Jaynie Van Roe

    Thanks for your insight, Annette! I don’t agree with much with Rand, but that “sense of life” bit makes a lot of sense — and I completely agree that such things have more to do with my film opinion than just gender. 🙂

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