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Warner Home Video presents
"You know you don't have to act with me, Steve. You don't have to say anything, and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together, and blow."
DVD ReviewThere's nothing quite like that elusive commodity, onscreen chemistry, to galvanize an audience's attention for the run of a movie. This may be billed as Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, and auteurists will tell you that the only one that matters here is Howard Hawks, but we know better—this is a movie about Bogie and Betty, about the beginning of a beautiful friendship, on and off screen, between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
He was a big, big star at the time; this was her screen debut, and she picked a dandy. (Or a dandy was picked for her, anyway.) This film has the distinction of being the only one with not one but two Nobel laureates listed in its writing credits—William Faulkner worked on the adaptation of Papa's novel—but even with all that talent, the story isn't the star here. Bogart plays a classic Hemingwayesque hero, who demonstrates grace under pressure—he's the reluctant warrior, drawn into a battle not his own. The tale is set in Martinique, in 1940—France has fallen to the Germans, so the Gestapo is running things on this island. Bogie plays Harry Morgan, uninterested in politics, concerned only with the paying customers on his fishing boat. (Yes, he's a boat captain, and yes, he drinks rum. Insert the Captain Morgan joke of your choice here.) Circumstances conspire against his innocent bystander status, though—the customer who owes him a big chunk of change is gunned down, the Gestapo takes his passport and his cash, and the only money to be had is running dangerous missions for the French resistance.
All of this is little more than a necessary pretext, though, for the girl to come to town. Marie has just come in from Trinidad, because she doesn't have the funds to travel any farther, and of course right away she and Morgan lock eyes, and fate takes its course. They inhabit that rarified air of movie stars, and we're allowed just these fleeting glimpses of life up on Parnassus, in which everyone has a special pet name for everyone else—despite his name being Harry, she inexplicably calls him only Steve; he refers to her only and always as Slim. Only she has the insouciance to match his impudence, and just like that, a star is born. (Also, for someone who doesn't have the scratch for a ticket home, Slim has one fabulous wardrobe.) The rightly famous bottle scene, capped off with the quote at the top of this review, ensured the status of screen legend for Bacall, and served to ratify Bogart's star wattage.
They are where the action is, and where we want to be; too much of the time, though, the movie doesn't comply. It's deliberately evocative in many ways of Casablanca—Hoagy Carmichael is in for Dooley Wilson, and the dangerous passengers that Morgan couriers around are dressed exactly like Victor and Ilsa Laszlo. (Dan Seymour, as Renard, does double duty, subbing both for Claude Rains and Sidney Greenstreet. He's a great and great big bad guy.) We keep waiting for the action to get back to the happy couple, which it does; this isn't a great movie, or even a very good one, really, because it's so lopsided in terms of plot. We don't much care about the main tension of the piece, and only want to know what's up with the subplot. But it's incendiary when the two leads are together, and Howard Hawks is enough of a pro that the rest of the film hangs together sufficiently. Carmichael is underutilized, and he's very good and natural in his relatively small role; Walter Brennan is endearing as Eddie, Harry's rummy sidekick, who is used to push along the sometimes creaky plot—you can hear the machinery whirring, but it still works, even with Eddie's signature gag, asking, "Was you ever stung by a dead bee?"
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: The movie doesn't have the status of, say, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and hence it wasn't given the full treatment for DVD; that means that plenty of debris and the ravages of time are evident in many scenes. But much of the noir photography still looks great; it was clearly shot and framed with care, and that still comes through, even if it could use a little spit and polish.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: There's a whole lot of hiss happening on this one, and the dynamics can be mightily askew—a series of scenes are shot in an underground apartment, and you'll have to crank the volume all the way up just to make out the dialogue. It can be kind of rough going.
Audio Transfer Grade: C-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Layers Switch: 00h:43m:43s
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsSeeing Bogart and Bacall together for the first time makes this one worth the price of admission. It's not on par with Casablanca (which preceded it) or The Big Sleep (which was up next), but it's full of stylish, noiry pleasures nonetheless.
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