• U.S.

Cinema: The New Pictures, Oct. 23, 1944

8 minute read

To Have and Have Not (Warner), having jettisoned a solid 90% of the Ernest Hemingway novel, for which Warner Bros, paid plenty, may make devotees of Hemingway the sourest boycotters since Carrie Nation.* But the sea change which Producer-Director Howard Hawks supervised—for the benefit of Humphrey Bogart, Hoagy (Star Dust) Carmichael, and a sensational newcomer named Lauren Bacall (rhymes with McCall)—results in the kind of tinny romantic melodrama which millions of cinemaddicts have been waiting forever since Casablanca (TIME, Nov. 30. 1942).

The screen story of To Have and Have Not is still about a couple of low characters named Harry Morgan and Marie, and Harry is still a rugged individualist who takes rich men out fishing and earns side money in whatever nefarious ways turn up. But Harry’s beat is no longer the axis between bourgeois. Key West and revolutionary Havana; he now works out of wartime Martinique, and the villains are Vichyites. Marie is no longer an idealized image of happy marriage; she is a tall, hoarse, egregious, 22-year-old tramp, so worldly-wise that when a policeman all but slaps her jaw out of joint she hardly bats an eye.

Harry Morgan’s adventures are also considerably altered. He smuggles Gaullists, slams pistols against Vichyites. Harry Morgan becomes, in fact, one of Humphrey Bogart’s most edged portrayals of Nietzsche in dungarees, without whose hard resourcefulness one is forced to infer that the rest of the effete world would quickly fall apart.

But To Have and Have Not is neither an action picture nor a Bogart picture. Its story is, in fact, just a loosely painted background for a kind of romance which the movies have all but forgotten about—the kind in which the derelict sweethearts are superficially aloof but essentially hot as blazes, and seem to do even their kissing out of the corners of their mouths. This particular romance is decorated by some sinister yet friendly bits of low-life café atmosphere. Hoagy Carmichael’s performance as a cokey-looking ivory-prowler is especially useful for some spidery Caribbean jazz, and for two wryly elegant Carmichael songs. But the most valuable fixture in the show is 20-year-old Lauren Bacall.

Talents and Tailoring. Lauren Bacall has cinema personality to burn, and she burns both ends against an unusually little middle. Her personality is compounded partly of percolated Davis, Garbo, West, Dietrich, Harlow and Glenda Farrell, but more than enough of it is completely new to the screen. She has a javelinlike vitality, a born dancer’s eloquence in movement, a fierce female shrewdness and a special sweet-sourness. With these faculties, plus a stone-crushing self-confidence and a trombone voice, she manages to get across the toughest girl a piously regenerate Hollywood has dreamed of in a long, long while.

Her lines have been neatly tailored to her talents. They include such easy lines of cryptic folk poetry as “Was ya ever bit by a dead bee?” An even easier line, sure to bring down any decently vulgar house, is her comment on Bogart’s second, emboldened kiss: “It’s even better when you help.” Besides good lines, there are good situations and songs for Newcomer Bacall. She does a wickedly good job of sizing up male prospects in a low bar, growls a louche song more suggestively than anyone in cinema has dared since Mae West in She Done Him Wrong (1933)-

Idol and Model. Lauren (real name, Betty) Bacall was born on 103rd Street in New York City in September 1924. According to her employers, “she is the daughter of parents who trace their American ancestry back several generations.” According to herself, she is part Rumanian, part French, part Russian (she thinks). Her father sold medical instruments. She is an only child. By the time she got out of Julia Richman High, Bette Davis was her idol, and she had seen enough Davis pictures to realize that it takes training to be an actress.

She got a certain amount of training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, more as a walk-on, more as an ingenue (directed by George Kaufman). She also worked as an usherette, and got a job modeling for Harper’s Bazaar.

In April 1943 Mrs. Howard Hawks, leafing through the Bazaar, caught on her face the way a skirt catches on barbed wire. She showed it to her husband ; Producer Howard Hawks was caught too.

He wired the magazine, asking whether she was available. The answer came fast, on the Hawks’s doorstep, in person. In May 1943 Miss Bacall signed a contract with Hawks; this was shared by Jack Warner as soon as he saw her screen test, a bit of Claudia. The test alone is proof of her abilities; for Lauren Bacall (as I seen in To Have and Have Not) to make even a mediocre stab at such a role is like Tom Dewey’s successfully impersonating Lincoln.

Instructions and Decisions. For the better part of a year Hawks worked her out mainly in a vacant lot, bellowing anything from Shakespeare to odd copies of shopping news. In the fullness of time Hawks had achieved his purpose: he had developed her voice from “a high nasal pipe to a low guttural wheeze.” He instructed her now to speak softly and naturally, paying no attention to the traditional voice-culture style which he surrealistically compares with “digging post-holes.”

Hawks carried his shrewdly contrived campaign of artificialized naturalness still further. Time & again he left it up to Lauren to decide for herself about how to play a scene, basing her decision on how she would handle the situation in real life. One of the most successful scenes in the picture is her own invention. After a highly charged few minutes with Bogart, late at night in a cheap hotel room, Marie reluctantly retires to her own quarters. At this point in the shooting, Miss Bacall complained: “God, I’m dumb.” “Why?” asked Hawks. “Well, if I had any sense, I’d go back in after that guy.” She did.

Lauren Bacall may or may not become a star. Yet only last fortnight, Hawks turned down a rival producer’s $75,000 bid for her services. He understands her pretty well, and he has plans.

Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (Paramount) is the same gentle comedy of youthful emotions and embarrassments that made Cornelia Otis Skinner’s and Emily Kimbrough’s book a best-seller two years ago. With just enough plot to keep it going, the story of Cornelia’s and Emily’s unchaperoned trip to Europe in quest of sophistication (one primary objective: to meet “other men, older men, maybe even Frenchmen”) packs as much nostalgic charm as a high-school yearbook—and to the tune of such oldtime favorite songs as Whispering and Somebody Stole My Gal.

As Cornelia, Gail Russell looks and acts precisely as all nice Bryn Mawr girls looked and acted in 1923. But the picture, like the book, belongs to Emily, played by dimpling Diana Lynn. Their trip is a succession of situations, invariably contrived by exuberant Emily, whose dauntless spirit is sometimes damped but seldom quenched. Even in her most embarrassing moment Emily has a triumph of a kind: when asked to come into the ship’s pool (the lottery on the day’s run), she rushes below to put on her bathing suit, rushes back on deck for a lifeboat drill and receives the captain’s commendation for dressing so appropriately.

A few days in London provide the girls with the fun of getting lost in the maze of Hampton Court, and with the better fun of making a dazzling entrance into the Savoy dining room while peering haughtily from the midst of two cloudlike white rabbit evening wraps. Then, at last, they get to Paris. “Frenchmen!” murmurs Emily ecstatically. In addition, they see the sights and, of course, get into more jams. One of the best results from Emily’s taking one last “snap” with her Brownie, thereby getting them locked out on the bell tower of Notre Dame. In a frantic effort to attract attention from the street below, the girls strip to their camisoles. It draws no crowd, no rescuers. Next morning, when they finally arrive at their hotel clad in horse blankets, Cornelia’s parents are waiting and the trip is over.


Battle for the Marianas (U.S. Marine Corps; TIME, Oct. 2).

Casanova Brown (Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, Frank Morgan, Patricia Collings; TIME, Sept. 18).

Arsenic and Old Lace (Gary Grant, Priscilla Lane; TIME, Sept. 11).

Hail the Conquering Hero (Eddie Bracken, Ella Raines, William Demarest; TIME, Aug. 21).

Wilson (Alexander Knox, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Thomas Mitchell, Charles Coburn; TIME, Aug. 7).

*The jettisoning was largely due to censor trouble, caused by the Hays office and by Government worries over Latin American relations.

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