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Humphrey Bogart’s Most Underrated Role Is in This Noir Adventure

The Big Picture

  • Humphrey Bogart’s performance in
    To Have and Have Not
    showcased his vulnerability as both a mystery protagonist and romantic lead.
  • To Have and Have Not
    is often compared to
    Casablanca
    , but the two films feature very different characters and romances.
  • The noir elements of
    To Have and Have Not
    added thrilling tension to the film, heightening the intensity during its initial release.



Few actors have as much resonance within the noir genre as Humphrey Bogart. Most noir films tend to focus on an older, grizzled private eye who is defined by his cynical view of humanity and unparalleled intelligence—qualities that Bogart defined with his iconic performance as Sam Spade in John Huston’s 1941 mystery classic, The Maltese Falcon. While Spade set the template that every future sleuth would be compared to, he wasn’t the only iconic character that Bogart played within his career.


Although Spade was an instance of Bogart at his gruffest and most emotionally opaque, he often proved himself to be quite vulnerable. Bogart showed his qualities as both a mystery protagonist and romantic lead in the 1944 historical thriller To Have and Have Not, a brilliant adventure film that has sadly been lost to time.


To Have and Have Not Film Poster

To Have and Have Not

During World War II, American expatriate Harry Morgan helps transport a French Resistance leader and his beautiful wife to Martinique while romancing a sensuous lounge singer.

Release Date
January 20, 1945

Director
Howard Hawks

Runtime
100 minutes

Main Genre
Film Noir

Writers
Ernest Hemingway , Jules Furthman , William Faulkner , Cleve F. Adams


What Is ‘To Have and Have Not’ About?

Humphrey Bogart and Luarent Bacall standing in a hallway talking in To Have and Have Not
Image via Warner Bros.


Set during the early days of World War II in 1940, To Have and Have Not takes place in the French colony of Martinique shortly after the German invasion of the country. While Fort-de-France remains a cultural apex point for much of Europe, the French islands are under heavy scrutiny by their German captors, and many within the country are sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Bogart stars as the cynical sports fisherman, Harry Morgan, who crafted a successful career for himself by keeping his allegiances to a minimum. Although many in the country are fearful of the lasting ramifications of the war, Morgan claims to be a political novice who doesn’t care about the current events that affect the country.


Despite claiming to be neutral, Morgan is drawn into the war when he is asked by his friend, Frenchy (Marcel Dalio), to help the French resistance smuggle political activists on his boat, the Queen Coach. Although he initially refuses, Morgan decides to participate in the effort when he falls in love with Marie “Slim” Browning (Lauren Bacall), a free-spirited American woman who is trying to leave the country. The excellent romantic chemistry between Bogart and Bacall is what drives the narrative momentum of To Have and Have Not. After deciding to spend his fortune buying Slim a plane ticket that would ensure her safety, Harry is forced to help Frenchy transport the political rebels to safety, thrusting him into a larger conflict that he never intended to be a part of.


Unlike many of his most iconic characters, Bogart depicts Harry as a reluctant hero in To Have and Have Not. Harry has succeeded as a merchant because he is self-centered, fearing that any sense of empathy could distract him from the mission at hand; while this may have helped secure his finances, it’s left him emotionally unfulfilled. It’s through his relationship with Slim that he discovers that his own happiness is worth fighting for, even if it puts him in danger. As he spends more time with Slim, Harry realizes that the war is threatening to keep them separated and that his political indifference could put her in danger. Bogart does a great job at showing Harry’s recognition of reality as he steadily makes the decision to be a hero.

‘To Have and Have Not’ Was Hurt by Comparisons to ‘Casablanca’

Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund looking at each other in Casablanca
Image via Warner Bros.


Due to the similarities in their plots, To Have and Have Not evoked many comparisons to Casablanca, another World War II romantic drama that starred Bogart as a reluctant hero who joins the fight against the Nazis after unexpectedly falling in love with an enigmatic woman. Although To Have and Have Not was actually based on a 1937 novel by Ernest Hemingway, the similarities in Bogart’s role led many to believe that it was simply cashing in on the success of Casablanca. Casablanca had landed with a more significant impact, as it was released during the war itself and was even banned in Germany for its anti-fascist themes. Casablanca was a popular culture phenomenon that won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and as a result, To Have and Have Not’s merits as a film were overlooked.


While it’s easy to draw broad comparisons between To Have and Have Not and Casablanca, Rick Blaine and Harry Morgan are very different characters. The context of their romances are completely different; while Rick reunites with Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) after the two were already well-acquainted in Casablanca, Harry is taken by surprise when he falls in love with Slim. While Rick and Ilsa’s relationship forces them both to feel deep feelings of regret and sadness, there’s a jovial, occasionally comedic bond that develops between Harry and Slim. Although To Have and Have Not could be broadly described as a “crowd pleaser,” Bogart certainly elevated the material with his nuanced performance.

‘To Have and Have Not’ Is a Thrilling Noir


The noir elements of To Have and Have Not make it more thrilling, as Harry is put under pressure to avoid being persecuted by the police who are trying to keep the island’s borders secure. While the moments of Harry avoiding the Germans are still enthralling today, the intensity was heightened even more during the film’s initial release, as the war’s conclusion was not yet determined. The omnipresent threat of exposure is felt throughout the entire film, making Morgan an even more relatable character. Bogart was able to show how these dangerous circumstances draw out Harry’s best attributes with his underrated performance.


While it’s not always ranked among the great noir movies of all-time, To Have and Have Not is a brave film that addresses the then-current state of world politics. Director, Howard Hawks, indicated that the threat of a German victory was something that all audiences should care about; if someone as seemingly isolated as Harry had to be involved in the war, then everyone did. This important message wouldn’t have landed with nearly as significant of an impact if it wasn’t for the slyly charismatic performance by Bogart at the center of the story.


To Have And Have Not is available to watch on Amazon Prime in the U.S.


Watch on Amazon Prime

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