This is a continuation of my post about Only Angels Have Wings and the rich atmosphere set up in the first 10 minutes.
Now in To Have and Have Not, another Hawks movie, we’re in Martinique. The hotel, the bars, the streets, the casinos in Martinique … it’s the same old Warner Brother’s “tropical” set you’ve seen in a million different movies. There are a couple of shots (where the shootout happens in the bar) where you could swear you were watching Casablanca, especially because there’s Humphrey Bogart and Marcel Dalio (who played the croupier in Casablanca) – and while there is no Sydney Greenstreet, you still watch thinking: hmmm. This looks AWFULLY familiar. It even starts with the image of a map – although there are no trailing lines of refugees like in Casablanca. But still. Same opening device. Same bar with stairway up the side like at Rick’s, same upstairs hallway, same columned foyers where shootouts happen. Same bullshit ceiling fans, random “natives”, swaggering sailors, Venetian blinds … and it’s fake fake fake. It’s delightful! True make-believe. These guys, these directors, were masters. They were all directing films using the same damn sets … and you even recognize some of the extras … but it’s the atmosphere created that is distinct. They just knew how to set up scenes and moments … so that the entire place breathes to life. We KNOW we are not looking at Martinique, but who the hell cares about Martinique? It’s not a documentary. Howard Hawks always filled his screen with action … the random woman dancing by herself in the crowded bar, the drummer sitting back and then deciding he wants to join in the music, the people standing bellyup to the bar … it doesn’t matter that it was the same bar in a million other movies. Because it’s the story that is paramount. Story story story. Who cares if you have a custom-made bar, or who cares if you travel to Martinique to film on location if the movie itself is shit? I don’t mean to set this up as an either/or kind of conversation, because “either/or” usually isn’t my game. It’s just that when I look at To Have and Have Not, and I watch the same fake bunches of bananas go by that I saw in a million other movies, when I see that there is barely a pretense of making the bars look any different from the bar in Casablanca … and when I realize that it doesn’t matter … I am a happy happy viewer. Keep it simple. Keep it simple. Hawks knew how to do that like nobody’s business.