I recently decided I hadn’t read enough Earnest Hemingway. Old Man and the Sea and one or two others I don’t really remember were covered in high school but it’s been at least 25 years since I cracked anything by the renowned author. So I turned to the local library to help fill in the gaps in my Hemingway knowledge, tackling his bibliography more or less in chronological order. That meant To Have and Have Not was one of the first three novels I got to. And since I knew there was a fantastic movie that had been made from the story, today we’re revisiting that movie’s marketing.
The story of the movie To Have and Have Not diverges sharply from the novel. Instead of a series of loosely connected chapters in the life of Cuba-based smuggler Harry Morgan, the movie tells a much more straight-forward narrative. Here the action has been moved from Cuba to the French colony Martinique at the beginning of the Second World War, where Morgan (played by Humphrey Bogart) is a tour boat captain who refuses to get involved in smuggling French Resistance fighters. Out of cash after an encounter with a young woman named Marie “Slim” Browning (Lauren Bacall, making her memorable movie debut), Harry relents though, and that brings him into direct conflict with the local authorities.
By the time the movie was coming out in 1944 Bogart was already a star, having overcome the B-movie purgatory Warner Bros. originally assigned him to with a series of starring roles in movies like High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. So it’s no surprise that he’s the primary element on the movie’s theatrical one-sheet. Actually, that’s not true. While his is the face we see the most of the actual image is split pretty evenly between him and newcomer Bacall, showing just how much Warner Bros. was determined to make her a star. Not only that, but the decision to sell the movie as the kind of epic romance that was all the rage in the early 1940s, something that provided audiences with a bit of relief from the drumbeat of war that was raging across the world.
Bogart’s name is, though, prominent. In fact it takes up the top 20 percent of the poster’s design, showing just how much of a box-office draw he’d become in the last five years or so. It’s also the beginning of a sentence that continues below the image of the embracing lovers with copy that reads “…with his kind of woman in a powerful adaptation of Earnest Hemingway’s most daring story.” So it certainly wants to draw the line between the movie and the source novel, despite it coming out over a decade prior. Hemingway was still a vital writer at the time and his name obviously still held sway over the public, though not as much as Bogart’s, especially since his name also appears again just above the title.
Hemingway also makes an appearance, after a fashion, at the beginning of the theatrical trailer. It opens with a shot of hands typing away on a typewriter as the names of locations like “Spain” and “Africa” appear on screen, a narrator talking about the author’s reputation for telling stories from exotic locations and dangerous territories. Then we’re taken into a Bogart movie, told we’re in the Mid-Atlantic in a world of intrigue and shady characters. Harry is obviously in the middle of something, a situation that’s made clear when he confronts a group of roughs who apparently are there to kill him. And then we meet Slim, though only in the context of Harry’s feelings toward her. After that there are a series of shots of Harry getting into and out of one tough situation after another, often using his pistol. It all ends with the usual aggrandized claims of this being another triumph from director Howard Hawks and Warner Bros.
There’s an emphasis in the trailer on a few things. First, the studio not only wants to sell this as another story of a Bogart tough guy but also the debut of Bacall, who gets significant screen time. She’s seen in various situations, usually in the context of Bogart’s romantic partner, which speaks volumes as to gender roles at the time. Whatever role she plays in the action isn’t hinted at or revealed here, which is a tad frustrating, though unsurprising. Hemingway also casts a large shadow over the trailer. On three or four occasions after the opening he’s name-dropped as the originator of the story, again showing the author’s continued cultural relevance at the time.
I mentioned before that Slim’s role in the story isn’t shown almost at all, but that’s true of just about everyone else too. There are some title cards that talk about intrigue and shady characters and women with a past and a lot more, but what exactly Harry, Slim and the others are doing or what they find themselves up against isn’t gone into with any detail.
It’s all about the exotic locations, the triumph of a tough guy with a good girl and a dependable pistol. That’s what’s being sold in the marketing. It may be that the studio assumed knowledge of the story in the audience, even though it’s significantly different from what that audience likely read at some point in the last 10 years. So there was likely some confusion when people got to the theater. But that wasn’t as powerful as their draw to and approval of a story that was familiar in its own way, with Bogart, Bacall and the rest of the cast going through a story that held its own appeal.