Friday, November 28, 2008

To Have and Have Not

The Howard Hawks version of Hemingway's To Have and Have Not was on cable the other night.  I searched my memory and discovered I'd never seen it.  It was Lauren Bacall's screen debut when she was mere 18-years-old and come to find out William Faulkner helped on the screenplay.  So I settled in for the quick hour and half or so movie and found it both entertaining and dull at the same time.  And I wondered why I had that feeling.  Why was I entertained but left wanting just the same?  And I've now discovered why.

I like the characters.

The story was silly.

So, being a bit of a Hemingway junkie, I went out and purchased the novel.  Now I know Hemingway wasn't particularly fond of this unorthodoxly constructed novel, but I found it quite interesting.  The way Hemingway episodically reveals Harry and his downward spiral.  And that's what's missing in the movie.  You don't get the arch of Harry's story in the movie - it centers around one aspect of the novel - and takes considerable liberties at that.

So even though we get to see the lovely Lauren Bacall give her famous "whistle" line, the movie doesn't capture the heart of the novel.  It skates along the surface, not revealing the dark heart that resides within Harry.  His anger at not being able to provide for his family while others laugh it up around him - oblivious to the pain in so many others.  And it's that anger that makes Harry real, makes him interesting, makes us want to know him.  Because we all, at one time or another, feel like a "have not."

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