Monday, August 13, 2012


Ernest Hemingway liked to use the the Spanish word cojones. Its meant to describe audacity or nerve but we all know, he really means balls!  So with guarded confidence and a pair of guarded cojones, I announce to the world that the three and a half star, (sometimes four star) movie from 1944, "TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT," was disappointing to me.

I'm sure Hemingway won't be rising up from the dead bend on avenging this slander because in my case, he couldn't possibly be offended. You see, his novel was so badly butchered by the screenwriters (including the highly esteemed William Faulkner) that the film barely resembles the book.

I've seen this cinematic stalwart a gazillion times and always loved it.  This last time, I listened to TURNER CLASSIC MOVIE (TCM) host Robert Osborne, chat up this film up.  He called it was one of the greatest movies ever and supported his assertion by mentioning that the AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE (AFI), included it in their 1998, 400 Best Movies list.

Osborne's description made me look beyond my appreciation of the Bogart persona and the shoot 'em up excitement of the adventure.  When the movie was over, my critical eye left me disappointed.  The tough guys weren't tough, the humor (the Walter Brennan character) was forced and key factors in the plot were unclear.  Most importantly, the so-called torrid sexual tension between Bogart and Bacall wasn't exactly cutting edge.

It would be easy to say the movie is dated.  But this WWII, romantic drama, set after the fall of free France, in Martinique, (under the Vichy regime), featured laughable local police. Dan Seymour as the captain was fat, dull and not the least bit intimidating.  Plus, his lieutenant, played by the usually reliable Sheldon Leonard, seemed giddy throughout his performance.  To make their threat even less believable, both officers were closely scrutinized by a nearly invisible Gestapo overseer.

Walter Brennan added some comic relief as Bogart's drunken right-hand man.  But there was too much of it and it detracted from the serious nature, of what was basically 1944 current events.

Where I have the biggest problem is the story itself.  In addition to some prolonged tedium, the issue of smuggling political people must have been common knowledge back then. So, I know little about it and the rationale behind it, wasn't made clear to me.  The cloak and dagger stuff worsened when the VIP (a black-ops agent) being sneaked into Martinique is weighed-down by the added baggage of his trophy wife?  And this high-maintenance bitch comes complete with a king-sized attitude. 

I guess the screenwriters needed to insult the intelligence of the allied partisan audience, by spelling out the gravity of the war effort with Bogart's character straightening-out this hero's wife, (afterwards to prove her understanding, to support the Resistance, she hands over her family heirloom jewels...that she just happens to be toting into battle).

This brings us to the issue of provocative Lauren Bacall.  She was a hot number, no doubt about it.  But due to the mores of the time, theatrical censorship and the difference in their ages, Bacall and Bogart aren't as white hot today as they were, nearly seventy years ago.  More over, the only reason why her character was at all necessary was, at the height of WWII, the formula for making a war movie a commercial success required a romantic angle.  Otherwise, women viewers wouldn't be attracted to the theaters...and thus, neither would their men.

Unless you are a die-hard Bogie fan, I could never recommend this movie.  I was so annoyed by my latest conclusions that I decided to read the novel...because the book, is ALWAYS better than the movie.

It seems inconceivable but this book was worse that the movie! Yes, I realize that just because I write, it doesn't mean I am qualified to take cheap shots at one of the world's most renown authors...but here I go. Gulp, I already imagine Hemingway coming up out of his grave and taking phantom swings with a machete, aimed at my skull.

The book's theme starts off the same as the movie except it's set in 1937 Cuba so there are no Nazis.  The Bogart character is the same honest, hard working Harry Morgan.  The contrast begins, due to circumstances beyond his control when he is forced into illegalities, to support a wife and three daughters.

The first half of the novel is a real page turner.  Then the Morgan character loses all sympathy from the readers when he unnecessarily murders his client after getting paid. Later we learn that a wound in the ensuing skirmish results in him losing an arm.  Later, his heroic nature returns when Cuban revolutionaries rob a bank in Key West and boat-jack his charter. In that sequence, far out at sea, he kills all four perpetrators but is shot in the belly.

A chapter is reserved for his mindset as he drifts in the waters waiting to be rescued before he bleeds out.  Hemingway is specific in reminding the readers how rare it would be for someone to survive  that situation.

Incomprehensibly, Harry Morgan isn't mentioned again for several chapters.  The second half of the book is dedicated to describing rich people in Key West trying to keep their silver-spoon lifestyle afloat during the depression, (they are the ones who have and have not)..

Here, against my better judgement, I'm saying it...THIS BOOK SUCKED! The only reason I kept reading was the expectation that Morgan's recovery would mesh with those rich, insecure, suicidal softies...but didn't. 

In the last ten pages, he is rescued and rushed to the hospital.  While the police investigation suggests that he was one of the robbers, he dies on the operating table.  His widow is inconsolable, she becomes another example of having and having not.

I told my son Andrew, the second half of, "TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT" was awful and I thought it was futile to continue reading because I could predict the dead end.   He laughed because he's reading (and hating) a pre-assignment for incoming COLLEGE OF NEW JERSEY, freshmen.  His book is, "REVOLUTION 2.0," by Wael Ghonim.  It has to do with the 2010 overthrow of the Egyptian government which was organized on FACEBOOK.

Andrew's assessment of his book was almost the same as mine.  He understood the point within the first third of the book and thought it was ridiculous to read the rest.

My boy then went as far as mentioning how much he disliked his book, on his newly launched cyber-venture called, "THE ABSvlog."  This ABSvlog, available on youtube, is a cooperative effort between Andrew and his friends Billy and Sean.  In it, they want to individually share a four-minute snippet of their college experience with insights from Andrew each Monday, Billy on Wednesday and Sean on Fridays.

To find Andrew's first posting to the ABSvlog click on the link below. Otherwise, you can become a subscriber or go their main "THE ABSvlog," youtube page and use the archives to find a particular entry.

I hope you like THE ABSvlog and regularly view Andrew's contributions as well as his friend's.

Deep in my heart, it bothers me that I didn't like, "TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT."  I had read and enjoyed two of Hemingway's other works, "THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO" and "THE OLD MAN AND SEA," so I was left with the fear that I wasn't smart enough to "get" this one. To ease my pain, I researched the novel and the movie. I was pleased to find out that the book received mixed reviews.  I felt even better when the movie's director Howard Hawks (a big Hemingway fan) considered it, Hemingway's worst book.  Then he specifically said, "It was a bunch of junk."

Hawks' statement validated my opinion.  In the future, his agreement with me, will make me more confident in my cojones, to be more open with my criticism. So take my advice, the next time you need a fix of Bogie and Bacall, try their 1948 movie, "KEY LARGO."  If not, take it from me, your time would be well spent if you check out Andrew every Monday, Billy every Wednesday and Sean every Friday...and become a regular to THE ABSvlog.

Happy viewing.


Sol said...

Steve, too bad we didn't have anything like Facebook or Youtube back in our day. All the interesting experiences we could have posted on our walls and shared through Youtube video! Andrew's first posting is rather amusing. With a time span of four years, parents of the ABSvlog team are going to have quite an insight into the college experiences of their offspring as they go through their different stages of social development. Hopefully these experiences will be tasteful and not anything like the Jackass videos featured on MTV and Youtube.

Anonymous said...

Bogart and Bacall? He was 45 and she was 19...that's almost Hugh Hefner level creepy --- GMan the Devils Fan

Anonymous said...

Key Largo was great. Bogie vs Edward G. top-notch! Also I went to youtube and watched all six editions of THE ABSvlog. Kudos to Andrew and his buddies --- BB