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To Have and Have Not
Remind Me
To Have and Have Not,To Have and Have Not

The Big Idea Behind TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT

Thursday May, 30 2019 at 03:45 PM

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The tale associated with the origins of the film To Have and Have Not is a famous and oft-told one. On a particular fishing trip, producer/director Howard Hawks was trying to persuade his friend, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Ernest Hemingway, to come to Hollywood to try his hand at screenwriting. Hemingway balked, saying that much of his work was unfilmable. Hawks countered in a boast, saying that he could make a good film out of his worst novel. "What would that be?" asked Hemingway. "That bunch of junk To Have and Have Not" replied Hawks. The challenge was on, and Hawks hired Jules Furthman to adapt the novel. Clearly, Hawks felt that the tact to take in making a good film from a poor novel was to change it radically.

Hemingway had actually already sold the film rights to his book prior to Hawks's decision to make it, for $10,000 in 1939 to Howard Hughes. To proceed, Hawks needed those rights, so although he had connections to the Hughes Co., he paid $92,500 for the rights in October 1943. In a shrewd deal, Hawks turned and sold these rights to Warner Bros. for $92,500 plus one-forth of the gross receipts of the picture.

When To Have and Have Not was released, it enjoyed both a commercial and critical success, but a common complaint among the press and public alike was that Warner Bros. had tried to duplicate the success of the previous year's Casablanca (1942) with a similar story, setting and characters. In truth, the political motives and exotic setting were imposed on Hawks and Warner Bros. through wholly unexpected channels.

Hemingway's novel was set in Cuba and the Florida Keys in the 1930s and his Harry Morgan was a booze runner. Furthman's early drafts retained this setting. The Office of Inter-American Affairs raised an objection to the filming of the novel because of its depiction of deep corruption and violence in Cuba. Part of the Roosevelt administration's "Good Neighbor Policy" was to encourage positive cooperation among the American nations to discourage the infiltration of Axis influence. The Inter-American Affairs office carefully monitored popular culture, especially motion pictures, and encouraged upbeat depictions of cooperation such as the Disney picture The Three Caballeros (1944). Warners and Hawks were not about to cancel the film outright. By most accounts, it was William Faulkner who saved the picture by suggesting a shift to the Vichy-controlled island of Martinique, which was not only out of the influence of the Inter-American office, it also afforded the opportunity to add Gestapo-influenced villainy.

Hawks actually thrived on the sort of spontaneity in filmmaking that such changes demanded. Faulkner was his favorite script doctor, and he remained available in Hawks' office and occasionally on the set to finish polishing the script as filming began. At this point, Hawks shifted his attention to the personal relationships of the story over the politics and was able to capture the spontaneous on-screen chemistry between Bogart and Bacall as they fell in love during the making of the film.

by John Miller



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