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To Have Or Have Not (July 15, 2008)

In 1937 Ernest Hemingway wrote To Have and Have Not, which was a novel about the hard times of a ship captain in Key West during the Depression. The film script that Jules Furthman, William Faulkner, and the uncredited other writers wrote for Howard Hawks kept the name of the main character, his drunken friend Eddie, and a few incidents in the novel, but very little else.

In April 1943 Betty (later Lauren) Bacal came to Hollywood. She was nineteen years old. Nancy Gross Hawks, Howard Hawks’ wife, whom he called Slim, saw her picture in a magazine ad and urged her husband to sign the striking-looking young woman for the movies. He did. The Hawkses worked with the novice actress, before he cast her opposite Bogart in this film. A lot of the sophistication and style that Bacall displays in the film was modeled on Slim Hawks, who was considered one of America’s most stylish women. The writers also borrowed her nickname for Marie, Bacall’s character. The film was shot from February through May in 1944. Bacall made $125 a week.

Earlier this year we saw Hawks’ Twentieth Century, where he cast the young Carole Lombard in her first starring role opposite John Barrymore. This casting was similar, inasmuch as Bogart was an experienced star by this time, but the chemistry was completely different. Bogart fell in love with Bacall on the set. He had been married to Mayo Methot since 1938, but the marriage was troubled, and Bacall’s youth and spirit attracted him. Walter Surovy, who played the non-heroic resistance leader Paul de Brusac, said, “It was like an explosion. They looked at each other like—well, did you ever go to a party and there was somebody who was fascinating to you and it was fatal? It happens. So I believed from the beginning that this was going to work. . .Betty was not only beautiful, she was just marvelous.” Dan Seymour, who played the Vichy Sûreté police chief, said, about Bacall, “She was a good sport, and she was smart. I can still hear Marcel Dalio saying, with that accent of his, ‘Oh, she’s so nice, Da-nee! She’s such a nice woo-man.”

When actors, who are clearly in love with each other, play lovers on the screen, the moments are often magical. This is one of the most famous examples of this, and I hope you enjoy watching it happen tonight.