Clash of the titans: Hemingway meets Hawks
At approximately 200 pages long and driven by dialogue and a memorable protagonist, Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not had all of the qualities – relative brevity, a preponderance of dialogue, a strong leading character – to make it a good candidate for conversion to film. On a fishing trip in 1939, director Howard Hawks told Hemingway as much.
“Ernest, you’re a damn fool. You need money, you know. You can’t do all the things you’d like to do. If I make three dollars in a picture, you get one of them. I can make a picture out of your worst story.”
“What’s my worst story?”
“That god damned bunch of junk called To Have and To Have Not [sic.].”
“You can’t make anything out of that.”
“Yes I can. You’ve got the character of Harry Morgan; I think I can give you the wife. All you have to do is make a story about how they met.”1
To Have and Have Not, the author’s sixth novel, marked perhaps the only time in Hemingway’s career that he chose to follow prevalent literary trends rather than creating his own; in this case, the novel became his only protracted attempt at domestic social commentary, the dominant genre of the 1930s. More importantly for literary history, however, To Have and Have Not offered a preview to arguably Hemingway’s greatest novel. In 1935, after the great Labor Day Hurricane hit Matecumbe Key in Florida, Hemingway viewed the bodies of many drowned veterans and the physical wreckage and remarked, “No man alone now has got a bloody fucking chance.” That comment became the coda for To Have and Have Not: “‘A man,'” Harry Morgan said, looking at them both. “‘One man alone ain’t got. No man alone now.'” He stopped. “‘No matter how a man alone ain’t got no bloody fucking chance.'”2 Three years later, Hemingway expanded on the ending of To Have and Have Not, borrowed the “No man is an island” line from John Donne, and created the overarching theme for his 1940 masterpiece, For Whom the Bell Tolls.3
To Have and Have Not also holds a dubious place in Hemingway’s canon, as it constitutes clearly his worst novel. Indeed, referring to the book as a “novel” is problematic, since it actually consists of two short stories and a novella loosely linked. Originally titled “One Trip Across” and “The Tradesman’s Return,” the short stories constitute the novel’s first two books, but make up only about one-fifth of the book’s overall length. Moreover, since they stand on their own and are told in third- and first-person narration, respectively, they awkwardly stand out from the larger, final third of the book.
Literary reviewers came down hard on To Have and Have Not. J. Donald Adams, in his article for The New York Times Book Review, found the novel “[i]n spite of its frequent strength as narrative writing, . . . distinctly inferior to ‘A Farewell to Arms’”; an anonymous reviewer for The New Statesman and Nation reiterated Sinclair Lewis’s charge that Hemingway’s characters were little more than “Dumb Oxen,” writing that, “[l]ong sentences, allusions, analogies, ideas, all that is thoughtful or educated is alien to [To Have and Have Not] . . . [;] an admirable medium, but . . . not capable of any enlargement”; Malcolm Cowley regarded it as lacking “unity and sureness of effect”; Bernard De Voto found the novel further proof that Hemingway’s characters lacked consciousness; and Edwin Muir found the “contrast between the haves and have nots unconvincing.”4 Most critics also agreed that To Have and Have Not did not hold up as a complete novel, not even within the small Hemingway oeuvre to date.
To add injury to insult, several places banned To Have and Have Not a year after its release. In Detroit, the book was designated as “obscene.” As a result, the city removed it from public sale, the public library halted its circulation, and the Wayne County Prosecutor barred its sale after a complaint from Catholic organizations. Likewise, in New York, the borough of Queens forbade its distribution. The American Civil Liberties Union reported To Have and Have Not as the only book suppressed during 1938.5
There was generally positive response, however, to the character of Harry Morgan. Most notable in this regard was Granville Hicks’s article for The New Masses. Hicks daringly, and perhaps unwarrantedly, lauded Harry Morgan as superior to Hemingway’s previous characters:
He is Hemingway’s most completely realized character. He has his prototype, perhaps, in Manuel in “The Undefeated” and Jack in “Fifty Grand,” but these are mere sketches. Jake Barnes and Frederic Henry, in the earlier novels, are fully enough developed, but they are too closely identified with the author’s unconscious needs to be fully independent individuals.6
Hicks continued to compliment Hemingway in more general terms:
Hemingway displays – as he has been displaying almost from the beginning of his career – an extraordinary mastery of the art of indirect exposition of character. In life our ideas of other persons are inferences based on what they do and say. Hemingway chooses to let us learn about his characters in the same way, and therefore reports, for the most part, only what could be known to the eye and ear. To do this, with the economy he demands, requires a high order of craftsmanship. We know Morgan because of what he says, sometimes because of what he thinks. We know him, too, because we understand the relations of other persons, particularly his wife, with him. All this Hemingway gives us in a few scenes, each of them relatively brief.7
Unlike the majority of literary critics, Hicks thought To Have and Have Not was a great novel. While Hicks may have been lonely on that front, he was not alone in the idea that Hemingway’s creation of Harry Morgan and his fiction, in general, showed “an extraordinary mastery of the art of indirect exposition of character.” What Hicks wrote in 1937 was exactly what Hawks emphasized two years later in terms of a motion picture. Connected with Hicks’s description of Harry Morgan as a strong character was the idea that Morgan was a perfect vehicle for a lead in a motion picture; connected with Hick’s praise of Hemingway’s basic style was an outline of what filmmakers wanted when they searched for fiction to adapt to the screen.
On that fishing trip in 1939, Hawks told his friend Hemingway straight out that the reason he wanted to make a film out of To Have and Have Not was because it was a novel with a strong central character, Harry Morgan, who could be portrayed by a money-drawing, star actor. Hawks knew whereof he spoke: by 1939, he had already worked with some of Hollywood’s greatest stars, including Gary Cooper, who won an Oscar in the title role of Sergeant York. Moreover, with the earlier film success of A Farewell to Arms (1932) and the recent $7.1 million return for 1943’s number two film at the box office, For Whom the Bell Tolls, a film based on a Hemingway novel had outstanding prospects. Hawks realized that, regardless of To Have and Have Not‘s problems, finding a star to take the part of Harry Morgan would not be difficult.8
Assisting Hawks in transferring To Have and Have Not to the screen was William Faulkner. While it would be fascinating to investigate the nexus of two future Nobel Prize winners for literature, it would also be inaccurate. Faulkner wrote the screenplay for the film version of To Have and Have Not, but his exact contributions to the script are unclear. First of all, Jules Furthman and an enigmatic figure known as “Stuttering Sam” assisted Faulkner in writing the screenplay, and there is no reason to believe that they played any less a role than their soon-to-be more famous cowriter.9 Moreover, Hawks played an extremely important and indecipherable part in the story: he was a director specifically known for imposing his vision onto his screenwriters and his radical on-the-set changes to the story and dialogue. Add to these factors the freedom given to Humphrey Bogart and others in the cast to customize their roles, and Faulkner’s influence becomes virtually impossible to discern.
Likewise, comparing and contrasting the entire book versus the entire film of To Have and Have Not is difficult and probably pointless, as the incredible number differences between the two works make such an undertaking unfeasible. Even analyzing the one major link that connects Hemingway’s book and Hawks’s film, Harry Morgan, is problematic. More reasonable is to outline the most major changes Hawks made when adapting Morgan from paper to celluloid. In this way, a look into the context as well as mindset of Hemingway and Hawks becomes clearer.
Under Hawks’s supervision, the movie changed the novel so much as to make it unrecognizable. In this sense, the differences between the two Harrys illustrate not only the changes necessary to transform a piece of fiction into a successful movie and Hemingway’s and Hawks’s separate versions of the character, but also offer a glimpse into changes that Hollywood has wrought upon American fiction.
Throughout the history of the cinema, American audiences maintained a desire for “upbeat” motion pictures in the face of “downtrodden” literature. A look at America in the eras of the book and film versions of To Have and Have Not illustrates the point. In 1937, when Hemingway released the novel, American authors wrote fiction strongly influenced by events of the day; obviously most important was the Great Depression. Novels reflected the dire economic situation ongoing around the world. At the same time, however, Hollywood made a fortune creating escapist movies. The era of the Great Depression for the remainder of America became the Golden Age of studio musicals in Hollywood, as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sang and danced Americans out of their troubled lives for at least a few hours.10 When the film version of To Have and Have Not was released in 1944, the trend shifted. While most “great” American authors desisted from fiction writing during the Second World War, Hollywood extended its influence. Oftentimes due to the ultra-patriotic attitude of many directors and sometimes with the prompting and threatening of the Office of War Information, Hollywood became a virtual clearinghouse for pro-Allies propaganda. No better example exists than Michael Curtiz’s 1942 film, Casablanca.
Casablanca is not only a classic of the screen; it is a classic of patriotic propaganda. The film played on the emotions of its intended audience and emphasized courage in the face of Nazi villainy. The most memorable scene of unadulterated Allied jingoism occurs when free-French patrons of Rick’s Place out-sing the Nazi patrons in a battle of national anthems. More important, however, is the fact that Rick (Bogart) places international concerns (anti-Nazis/Victor Laszlo) over personal desires (love/Ilsa Lund).11
Hawks not only realized the need for pro-Ally propaganda in a 1944 film, he understood the value of blatant copying. So similar are the major aspects of story, character, dialogue, and even actors that To Have and Have Not cannot accurately be separated from Casablanca. In many ways, Hawks’s film is a carbon copy of Curtiz’s: Bogart plays an American in an area under growing Nazi control, spends a large part of his time in a bar that caters to a multinational crowd where a lounge-singing piano player (Cricket instead of Sam; creepy music instead of melodic) entertains, and ultimately saves a couple of Allied outlaws from the Nazis.
The market influence of a world at war in search of inspiration and justification from the motion picture industry made change from Hemingway’s novel all but unavoidable for Hawks if he hoped to gain a wide audience and overseas distribution rights from the Office of War Information (OWI). Even in 1937, in the midst of the Depression, no matter however interesting, original, and controversial the factors controlling the life and economic well-being of Hemingway’s Morgan were, they were in no way inspiring. By 1944, with the Second World War raging, Hemingway’s original words were downright seditious. Casablanca may have outlined the major changes, but World War II made them mandatory.12
Hemingway’s Harry Morgan ran the waters between Key West, Florida, and Cuba in the height of the Great Depression. He complained about the U.S. government’s inability to end the Depression and allow him to feed his family, and he acted outside the law to achieve this latter goal. More specifically, Morgan lost an arm in a shootout while running rum from Cuba to Florida and lost his life while running bank-robbing Cuban revolutionaries back to Cuba. Even in these extra-legal activities, the American government is at least tangentially to blame, as the rum-running shootout occurs with U.S. officials and the Cubans are rebelling against a U.S.-supported government.
In “rescuing” Hemingway’s Morgan from his downtrodden life in south Florida, Hawks moved the story from Key West and Cuba to French Martinique, and from the Depression to the early stages of the Second World War. In this way, the director changed the villain from the American government to the Nazis, a much more treacherous and marketable enemy, and played on the patriotism and conscience of American moviegoers in the midst of the Second World War. Also, Morgan got to keep both his arms. Explaining Hawks’s rationale for this change in the movie version of To Have and Have Not might include the director’s message that Morgan was a representative of America: a fully capable fighting man, not hamstrung by any physical handicap. Symbolism notwithstanding, the real reason was that Humphrey Bogart – and every other major star in Hollywood – had two arms. Starpower was certainly more important than maintaining the accuracy of a novel.
In addition to setting, Hawks et al changed Harry Morgan’s behavior. These changes reveal other important differences between Hemingway’s and Hawks’s intent and position in historical context. Two relationships are especially relevant here.
First, Morgan’s relationship with the character Eddy changed radically from novel to film. One episode in particular shows this well. In the novel, when Morgan sets off to take a group of Chinese trying to sneak into the United States, he finds Eddy below deck. Realizing that Eddy has sneaked onto the boat and that he will be a detriment to the success of the smuggling mission, Morgan decides that he must kill Eddy.
“I knew you’d carry me, Harry,” he said.
“Carry you to hell,” I said. “You aren’t even on the crew list. I’ve got a good mind to make you jump overboard now.”
“You’re an old joker, Harry” he said. “Us Conchs ought to stick together when we’re in trouble.”
“You,” I said, “with your mouth. Who’s going to trust your mouth when you’re hot?”
“I’m a good man, Harry. You put me to the test and see what a good man I am.”
“Get me the two quarts,” I told him. I was thinking of something else.
He brought them out and I took a drink from the open one and put them forward by the wheel. He stood there and I looked at him. I was sorry for him and for what I knew I’d have to do. Hell, I knew him when he was a good man.13
Like he did on that voyage to the man who hired him to smuggle the Chinese into the U.S., Hemingway’s Morgan would have killed Eddy, but for the fact that Eddy’s name appeared on the crew list. The only reason the novel’s Morgan did not kill Eddy was because it might potentially cause him (Morgan) trouble with the law in south Florida upon his arrival.
In the film version, the mission is not to smuggle Chinese into the United States but to retrieve Paul and Helene de Bursac, free French outlaws. Hemingway’s dialogue rings true in the transfer of Morgan’s finding Eddy onboard, but the content is profoundly different. The original screenplay went as follows:
EDDY (grinning): I knew you would carry me, Harry.
MORGAN: Carry you nothing. You’re not even on the crew list. I have a good mind to make you jump overboard now.
EDDY (laughing): You’re an old joker, Harry. Us Key Westers ought to stick together when we are in trouble.
MORGAN: How’d you know I’m in trouble?
EDDY: You can’t fool me. I always know.
MORGAN: You with your mouth. Who’s going to trust your mouth when you’re drunk?
. . .
EDDY (looking around): What’s the matter, Harry? What are you looking at me like that for?
MORGAN: Nothing. Just a joke that neither of us knows the answer to.
EDDY: What joke?
MORGAN: Whether you’ll hold together or not.
. . .
Then Eddy sees rifle and shotgun hanging over wheel.
EDDY: What the dickens is the matter?
EDDY: What’s all the darn guns for?
MORGAN: In case we see a shark or something.
EDDY: A shark! At night? Look – what’s goin’ on here?14
At this point in the screenplay, Eddy’s intuition ends. However (and this is why it is difficult to ascertain the degree of impact by Furthman, Faulkner, “Sam,” Hawks, and in the case of “Eddy,” Walter Huston), the final film version contains more evaluation by Eddy that explicitly reveals Morgan’s true personality:
MORGAN: Do you know how to handle one of these?
EDDY: Of course I know how to handle one! Everybody knows how to handle a gun. All you do is work the lever and pull the trigger. You know I know that. (Mutters.) Foolish questions. Do I know how to handle a gun! (Mutters.) What I gotta work a gun for?
MORGAN: Oh, I just wondered if you could.
EDDY: You know I can. Harry, sometimes you act stupid. Just plain stupid. Sometimes I think you don’t pay no attention to nothin’ I say. Sometime – Is it gonna be that bad, Harry?
MORGAN: I don’t know yet. It all depends on how lucky we are.
EDDY: Oh. That’s why you didn’t want to carry me. I knew there was some other reason. You wasn’t mad at me at all. You was afraid I’d get hurt! You was thinkin’ o’ me!15
The second major difference is Morgan’s compassion, or lack thereof. As a romantic, Hemingway’s Morgan loves his wife Marie, a former prostitute, but has little affection for his three children. Their bedroom talk reveals the extent of their physical attraction and also shows Morgan’s caring nature with regard to his wife’s self-esteem. (It is also this “bedroom dialogue” that became the center of the debate surrounding the novel’s banning.) Marie’s internal dialogue in the book’s final chapter describes in incredibly poignant detail what Morgan’s death means to her and is by far the most effective section in the last third of the novel. Beyond Marie, however, Morgan’s relationship with women ranges from indifference to outright rudeness.
Hawks’s portrayal of Morgan’s relationship with a woman, the character Slim (Lauren Bacall), constitutes the single greatest change between the novel and film version of To Have and Have Not. Morgan’s behavior ranges from simply not turning her in for pickpocketing a drunk at the beginning of the movie, to buying her a plane ticket off the island in the middle of the movie, and culminates with his risking his life, ostensibly so that he will be able to spend the rest of his life with her. Immeasurably assisted by the fact that Bogart and Bacall fell in love on the set, the film was above all else a love story.
The examples of Harry Morgan’s relationships with Eddy and Marie/Slim reveal the two diametrically opposed threads that run through Hemingway’s and Hawks’s protagonist. Hemingway’s Morgan works only for himself. His relationship with Eddy and his wife and family are based on selfish concerns: Eddy can be of use on his boat at certain times and, when not of use, is utterly disposable; Marie, although undoubtedly loved by Morgan, fulfills personal emotional and, more directly, physical needs; his children serve no purpose. Only on his deathbed does Hemingway’s Morgan realize the existential crisis of isolation.
Hawks’s Morgan, on the other hand, begins with compassion for Eddy and extends this already nascent characteristic toward Slim and the Free French. “So you were gonna drive Eddy nuts [by withholding booze from him]. Pickin’ on a poor old rummy that never – Slappin’ girls around”16 is Morgan’s credo by the end of the film, but only as a result of a logical progression. Hawks’s Morgan knows right from wrong – helping a rummy versus torturing a rummy, respecting a woman as opposed to slapping her around, and, most importantly in 1944, knowing the difference between the Free French and Vichy French.
* * *
Other film adaptations of Hemingway’s novels remained fairly accurate to the original texts and, probably as a result, became classics. Hemingway’s unique ability to combine dialogue, character, and plot action with a truly intellectual story rang true in Hollywood. In this way, Hemingway as a harbinger is both ironic and telling, since he more than any other American author represented both the greatest and last example of critical and financial success in the literary field.
As Hawks said to Hemingway on their fishing trip in 1939, “I can make a picture out of your worst story.” Even before that day, filmmakers held a unique influence over the American literary scene. Since that day, as a result of its continued growth in influence, Hollywood can truly be called “the home for worst stories.”
- Quoted in Bruce Kawin, “Introduction: No Man Alone,” in To Have and Have Not. Wisconsin/Warner Brothers Screenplay Series (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1980), 15-16. [↩]
- Edward Fisher, “What Papa Said.” Connecticut Review 8 (No. 2): 16-20. [↩]
- Ernest Hemingway, To Have and Have Not (New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1996 [originally published, 1937]), 225. [↩]
- J. Donald Adams, “Ernest Hemingway’s First Novel in Eight Years,” The New York Times Book Review (17 October 1937): 2; “Review of To Have and Have Not,” The New Statesman and Nation (16 October 1937): 606; Malcolm Cowley, “Hemingway: Work in Progress,” The New Republic (20 October 1937): 305; Bernard De Voto, “Tiger, Tiger!” Saturday Review of Literature (16 October 1937): 8; Edwin Muir, “Review of To Have and Have Not,” Listener (27 October 1937): 925. [↩]
- Anne Lyon Haight, Banned Books: Informal Notes on Some Books Banned for Various Reasons at Various Times and in Various Places. Third Edition. (New York: R.R. Bowker Company, 1970), 89-90. [↩]
- Jack Alan Robbins, ed., Granville Hicks in The New Masses (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1974): 117. Originally published as: Granville Hicks, “Hemingway’s Pirate,” The New Masses (26 October 1937): 22-23. [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- Joseph McBride, ed., Focus on Howard Hawks (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972), 164-67; ibid., 44. [↩]
- Bruce F. Kawin, Faulkner and Film (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1977), 174. [↩]
- See Maury Klein, “Laughing Through Tears: Hollywood Answers to the Depression,” in Hollywood’s America: United States History Through Its Films, Steven Mintz and Randy Roberts, eds. (St. James, NY: Brandywine Press, 1993), 87-92. No better portrayal of this escapist tendency exists than Woody Allen’s 1985 film The Purple Rose of Cairo. [↩]
- See Randy Roberts, “You Must Remember This: The Case of Hal Wallis’ Casablanca,” in Hollywood’s America, 169-77. [↩]
- See Clayton R. Koppes and Gregory D. Black, “What to Show the World: The Office of War Information and Hollywood, 1942-1945,” in Hollywood’s America, 157-68. [↩]
- Hemingway, To Have and Have Not, 43. [↩]
- Bruce F. Kawin, To Have and Have Not. Wisconsin/Warner Brothers Screenplay Series (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1980), 130, 132. [↩]
- Ibid, 202. [↩]
- Ibid, 221. [↩]