Though this film bears the same title as Ernest Hemingway’s 1937 novel of the same name, it bears few similarities to its source material. I won’t fake any Hemingway scholarship here, only make a few observations:
The screenplay is written by Jules Furthman and William Faulkner, which feels like a bit of a tragedy, given that THaHN feels like most insipid kind of corporate, commercial film making. More on that later. Directed by Howard Hawks, it doesn’t seem to have a tonal center, as the noir elements don’t pay off.
Shot in 1944, while WWII was still raging and 2 years after Casablanca (1942). THaHN is both an odd sort of mirror and deconstruction of former. Bacall’s character, Marie ‘Slim’ Browning is definitely a person that you’d want to keep in front of you at all times.
Once again, Bogart is at the margins of WWII, this time in Martinique, rather than the Florida keys of the novel. The Cuban aspects of the story have been transposed by relocating the story into the Caribbean and making the Vichy French the Big Bad.
As a a longtime adherent of Casablanca, it’s interesting to see the producers’ fingerprints throughout this film, as the Selznicks were clearly trying to catch Jack Warner’s fire, with Bogart in another expatriate war-story.
Bogart’s Harry Morgan owns a fishing boat that he charters to disreputable American tourists. Meanwhile, the local Gaullists are looking for transport somewhere, while the indebted Morgan, like Rick Blaine before him, tries to stay above the fray of local politics.
A young Lauren Bacall falls into the plot, not as Bogart’s former lover, but as one of the port’s shady denizens — she is a con-artist and pickpocket, working her way back to the US, after a tour of Brazil. Much of the story is all well, good and banal until you get to the shoe-hornings. The producers seem to have made an extraordinary effort to make Bacall into a double-threat recording artist, by giving her several vocal numbers in Martinique’s ubiquitous bar dance-halls, staffed by expat African-American musicians.
Sidney Greenstreet is stronger as Sr. Ferrari in Casablsnca than the Laughton-like Marcel Dalio is here as Frenchy. But Bacall’s gold-digging Marie Browning is an interesting, if not antagonistic alternative to Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa. For a film that took such a tortured path to reproduce Casablanca‘s iconic success, there’s very little on-screen chemistry between Bogart and Bacall. Rather, they seem to compete for top billing here, ironic, considering this is Bacall’s first film.
It’s disappointing to see a talent as great as Faulkner wasted on what amounts to a weak sequel and a star vehicle for Bogart. It’s no doubt how or why Uncle Bill became a harder drinker once he arrived in Hollywood.
(And it’s not the Casablanca ride-along that Selznick had hoped for.)