TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1937) by Ernest Hemingway

A tale of smuggling between Cuba and Florida, this is generally considered one of Hemingway’s lesser works, which may actually explain why it made surprisingly good movie fodder. The hardboiled story of downtrodden boat-owner Harry Morgan was famously filmed with Bogart and Bacall in 1944 and later with Audie Murphy too. However, my favourite version is the one that came in between, The Breaking Point, starring John Garfield, Patricia Neal and the great Juano Hernandez, now available from Criterion.

I submit this review for Bev’s Vintage Mystery Challenge; and Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at Sweet Freedom.

“Don’t be so tough so early in the morning. I’m sure you’ve cut plenty people’s throats. I haven’t had my coffee yet.”

Expanded into a novel from some shorter pieces featuring Morgan from 1934 and 1936, the book as a result does have a somewhat episodic feel. It also uses multiple narrators, which tends to also make it feel somewhat fragmented. The book is subdivided into three seasons – Spring, Autumn and Winter – and traces the experiences of Harry Morgan during the Depression as he travels on his fishing boat between the Florida Keys and Cuba to make a living. Cheated out of his earnings, he gets mixed up in various smuggling rackets to make ends meet, with predictably dark and dire results.

To help the working man he robs a bank and kills a fellow works with him then kills that poor damned Albert that never did any harm. That’s a working man he kills. He never thinks of that.

The book uses racist language (the n word and many references to “yellow stuff”) that really grates and makes it feel dated more than merely set in past. In addition, given the way it was composed, it does sometimes lack a uniform feel, not always holding up very well as a novel in terms of development as it does seem to stop and start a few times too often. Having said that, the experimental use of multiple narrators (Harry narrates the opening himself, then we shift to the third person, and concludes with the point of view of Mary, Harry’s wife with other switches and narrators in between) is handled quite well and we do get a fascinating view of Harry from multiple perspective, not all of them flattering. But throughout it all, Harry remains a compelling character, and the depiction of the grim life during the depression well done without toppling into heavy-handed social commentary. In addition there is some surprisingly terse and well-handled action scenes and a grim finale as experienced from the perspective of Harry’s wife that certainly pulls at the heart-strings very effectively.

“And that’s how he always was with and that’s the way I always was with him.”

The story goes that director Howard Hawks bet Ernest Hemingway he could make a good movie of even his worst book – to which Hemingway retorted that not even he could make a good movie from To Have and Have Not. Ultimately Hemingway and Hawks thrashed out a way of adapting it by turning it into a sort of prequel, so that the resultant 1944 film of that title had little to do with the book. But it cemented the partnership of Humphrey Bogart and Hawks discovery Lauren Bacall off-screen and on and was a hit. It is a thoroughly entertaining movie too, but nearly all Hawks with very little of Papa Hemingway to be found in it. If you want to see a really superb adaptation, then the film you have to see is The Breaking Point, made 5 years later by my favourite studio director of the Golden Age, the great Michael Curtiz. While he still had his biggest commercial success ahead of him, White Christmas from 1954, The Breaking Point (shot in 1949, released in 1950) was his last truly great film and finds Curtiz truly at the peak of his powers.

The story is updated to the (then) present day and relocated to Southern California. John Garfield is perfect as Morgan, who is deeply in love with his wife but through bad luck is finding it impossible to provide for his family. Patricia Neal is the smouldering siren who gets a yen for Morgan while it is Juano Hernandez who holds the film together as Wesley, Morgan’s best friend and business partner. He exudes an extraordinary warmth and sympathy, building on a similar role he had just played in Curtiz’ previous film, Young Man with a Horn (1949), another sadly underrated gem. The narrative development is much closer to Hemingway’s original (chunks of which had already been used anyway for the climax to John Huston’s Key Largo (1948)), concluding with a memorable and moving finale (admittedly softened in some respects from the book, though with some sexual symbolism added) and a heartbreaking yet subtle final shot in which Wesley’s young son is left all alone on the pier. Beautifully photographed by Ted McCord and impeccably directed by Curtiz and played to perfection by its cast, this is just one of the best films about the immediate postwar era in America and is a true classic.

DVD Availability: Available on a decent DVD from Warners in the US and in Spain, this has now been released by Criterion on Blu-ray as well as DVD, from a new 2k restoration. Though currently only available in the US (and Region A locked), this is the edition to get if you can. The film itself has never looked better, and the extras devoted to the film and the work of its director are well worth the investment.

The Breaking Point (1950)
Director: Michael Curtiz
Producer: Jerry Wald
Screenplay: Ranald MacDougall
Cinematography: Ted McCord
Art Direction: Edward Carrere
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: John Garfield, Patricia Neal, Juano Hernandez, Wallace Ford, Phyllis Thaxter, Victor Sen Yung
I submit this review for Bev’s 2017 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt in the ‘boat’ category:

***** (5 fedora tips out of 5 for the film)

This entry was posted in 2017 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt, Cuba, Ernest Hemingway, Film Noir, Friday's Forgotten Book, Miami, Michael Curtiz and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1937) by Ernest Hemingway

  1. tracybham says:

    Very interesting, Sergio. I was totally ignorant of any adaptations other than the Bogart and Bacall version. I may have read this when I was very young, can’t remember which Hemingway books I did read, but it would be worth another read. Although the racist language would be unpleasant.

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Sergio. I have to admit, too, that I didn’t know about this other adaptation. And what an interesting way to make a screen adaption, especially from an episodic story. Lots of credit due there, I think. This is really interesting!

  3. Roger says:

    ” You Man with a Horn ”
    Do you mean “Young Man with a Horn”? A fine – if half-forgotten – book, but a very unfortunate title.

  4. Sergio, while I read the book many years ago, though I remember very little about it, I wasn’t aware of the film adaptations until now. I will have to re-read the novel before I watch either of the film versions.

    • It’s an interesting example of a socially engaged novel with experimental tendencies – not the author at his best, clearly. but was glad to re-read it after a very long time. In fact hand;t read a Hemingway novel in ages!

  5. mikeripley says:

    I would be interested to see if a new edition of the book has been santised to remove the racist language. In Chapter One alone there are 9 “N” words and in Chapter Five he starts on the Chinese in an even more distasteful manner. Five stars for the movie perhaps, but certainly not the book, which today is very hard going.

    • Santosh Iyer says:

      The 2002 Simon and Schuster edition of the book has not been sanitised. It contains all the offensive words of the original edition !

    • Thanks for that Mike – I should have made it clearer that it was the movie I was really praising! Reading it I felt that this was the equivalent of SANTUARY for Faulkner, designed as a bit of potboiler really.

  6. Sergio – Thanks for bringing this little known film to everyone’s attention. I saw it in the 1980s and waited years to see it again. Fortunately, it now turns up on TCM. Thanks for praising Juano Hernandez, who was also great in INTRUDER IN THE DUST. That film was directed by Clarence Brown, one of the best staff directors at MGM. And thanks for praising Curtiz, one of the greats, and if anyone wants to argue that, just go to the IMDb and look at his credits. In both films you mentioned, Curtiz handles the Hernandez characters with great dignity. One more note, some of the novel is also recycled in the 1977 George C. Scott film of ISLANDS IN THE STREAM.

    • Thanks for that Elgin, very kind. And of course, I should have mentioned ISLANDS, which is a film I have always liked even though it isn’t particularly substantial – but then they didn’t have much to work with in the unfinished source either. INTRUDER IN THE DUST, brilliantly adapted by Ben Maddow from the terrific William Faulkner novel, is a huge favourite. And yeah, Curtiz’ work is just sensational – if he made a dull movie at Warner Bros I have yet to see it!

  7. There is, as you imply, a theory that bad books make good movies and vice versa. I love the famous film, and don’t know the other one but count me interested by your description. And I will now feel free never to read the book!

  8. Colin says:

    Been a bit out of the internet loop lately so doing a bit of catching up.
    Anyway, a good overview of the book and the film(s) that it spawned. My first exposure to the material was via the Hawks movie, which is as you say wonderful but bears only the most fleeting resemblance to the book – character names, the presence of a boat. When I later came to Hemingway’s book I was rather disappointed, knowing he didn’t rate it all that highly himself wasn’t so much an issue as the fact the story went in a wholly different direction and the tone was not at all what I was expecting.

    Expectations are always somewhat odd and can color our views in unfair ways – I’ intend to reread the book at some unspecified point in the future now I know what’s ahead of me – and as a result I avoided the Curtiz version for a while as I understood it stuck closer to the book. Still, knowing that meant I liked the movie an awful lot more when I did get round to it, it’s well cast and the ending packs a powerful emotional punch.

    Siegel’s later film is a bit of a halfway house in that it tries to balance the tone of the previous versions. It’s not completely successful, and not as good a film as either of its predecessors but it remains enjoyable enough in its own right.

    • Thanks very much Colin – I saw the 44 film first too and it just a different animal really. Hawks’ tend towards the comedic so tonally feels utterly different. The Curtiz is much more mature

      • Colin says:

        Quite. Hawks was making a piece of entertainment, and did so quite brilliantly. Curtiz was telling a story that takes us on an emotional journey, and did that every bit as brilliantly.

        • I love Hawks and he was an unusual auteur in that he didn’t have a signature visual style yet you always knows his stuff when you see it (but like the classic 60s definition of porn). Curtiz was a visual stylist who disguised his romanticism I set a cynical veneer. Both were quite extraordinarily varied in their outputs. Curtiz still has some way to go in popular appreciation but Hawks definitely earned his place in the pantheon. BIG SLEEP is a classic example of a great movie that is all Hawks and which only toys with noir and private eye conventions.

  9. Pingback: TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1937) by Ernest Hemingway — Tipping My Fedora – L.F. McCabe – Author

  10. Pingback: 2017 Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Wrap-up | Tipping My Fedora

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