The best way I can think to describe what I thought of To Have And Have Not is that it felt….hastily put together.
Ostensibly this is based on a novel by Ernest Hemingway – but only very loosely, and in fact is suspiciously more like Casablanca. Humphrey Bogart is playing the same kind of role – grizzled American in a French colony who’s trying to stay neutral in the early years of the Second World War, but is ultimately persuaded to help smuggle a French Resistance leader out to safety. We’re in Martinique instead of Morocco and Bogart is captain of a charter boat instead of a barkeep, but otherwise it’s the same character doing the same things. Unfortunately, the script for this film somewhat pales in comparison to Casablanca, and lacks not only the complexity in the characters’ relationships, but also the quick wit in the dialogue. This film comes across more like an attempt to capitalize on Casablanca’s success, made by someone who didn’t really get what made that earlier film work.
There is one way in which this film distinguishes itself, however. The love story subplot from Casablanca is entangled in the rest of the plot; in this film, it’s much more straightforward, as Harry gets his head turned by Marie (Lauren Bacall), a wisecracking, flirtatious drifter. Harry first notices her on a date with another man in their hotel’s bar, simultaneously canoodling with him and picking his pocket. He calls her on it when they pass in the hallway later that evening – but somehow his planned threat to turn her in turns into a conversation that is both mating dance and verbal boxing match, and to Harry’s even greater surprise, Marie wins. …This is the film, and this is the scene, which ends with one of the best exit lines in film.
Unsurprisingly, this is also the film in which Bogart and Bacall met and ultimately went on to fall in love. The chemistry between them heats up all of their scenes, making them stand way out from what was ultimately a fairly forgettable movie.