We continue today our “Meditations” (what an awful expression of critic-speak) on why Ernest Hemingway is shaky as a movie source.

According to our BOOKS-TO MOVIES maven Larry Michie:

There was one notably successful Hemingway movie, and another motion picture that although a creative disaster is forever redeemed by the most sensational flirting in the history of cinema.

It needs only be said that both the successful movie — as well as the sensational creative disaster — were redeemed by women, two of the most gorgeous and influential women ever to grace the silver screen.

As for Hemingway, exactly why most of the movies based on the novels of a literary giant turned out to have the impact of a stale potato chip could only be explained by the gods of art, and none of them are giving interviews these days

The successful movie that had merit was 1943’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

With Gary Cooper as an American in Spain fighting fascism, the film carried weight during the war years. And Cooper again was perfect casting for the role. It wasn’t the best that filmland has to offer, but it had strong underpinnings – and it had Ingrid Bergman as the love interest, not to wholly neglect the presence of Akim Tamiroff.

Bergman was gorgeous, and she and Cooper made the screen come alive. Score one for Hollywood. The movie didn’t have the power and complexity of the novel, but it was a winning effort. Hooray for Coop. Two or three hoorays for the close-cropped golden curls of Bergman.

Okay, we’re down to the last marriage of Hemingway and celluloid. Hold onto your hats, because it’s a doozie.

The 1944 movie is Howard Hawks’ classic To Have and Have Not. Chances are that many of those who have seen the movie have no idea about the very different novel on which it was allegedly, sort of, kind of, based.

In fact, the movie used only parts of the first chapter of the novel. The rest was foo-foo.

Humphrey Bogart plays a charter boat captain named Steve who takes rich folks out fishing. He’s based in Martinique, and his all-purpose handyman and helper is none other than Walter Brennan, who is most assuredly an alcoholic, although played a bit more humorously than would be considered politically correct today.

Steve turns down the earnest good guy who wants to pay him to pick up and transport some Free French leaders (this being World War II, and the Germans being the bad guys). Steve refuses, but when his latest fishing customer stiffs him, he decides to take the job so he can pay his debts.

While Steve is mulling over his options in his favorite bar, he notes a pick-pocketing young woman, and sparks begin to fly. The young beauty, just out of her teens, is none other than Lauren Bacall, and man, does she make the screen come alive.

Her famous line inviting Steve to whistle if he needs anything – ‘You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? Just put your lips together and blow’ – must have kept a whole generation of men and boys awake at night. Women and girls, too, for that matter.

Well, despite the bullying of the fascist agents in Martinique, Steve and his rummy sidekick save the good guys, confound the bad guys, and so forth. Hoagy Carmichael plays a tune, Lauren sings along, and Sheldon Leonard is frustrated as the bad guy.

Oh, yeah, and eventually, off-screen, Lauren and Bogie got married.

Well, as a movie it had its charms, but aside from borrowing a couple of ideas and the title of the novel, To Have and Have Not, the movie, had nothing to do with To Have and Have Not, the novel by Ernest Hemingway.

If you want to get a sobering shock or two, read the novel. It ain’t great literature. To Have and Have Not was published in 1937.

The people in the novel weren’t noble, and on its own the book never would have made a movie. There was nothing nice about it.


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