1944’s “To Have or Have Not” came two years after “Casablanca” and might as well be a prequel. Set just before the events of its famous predecessor, all the elements are there: World War II, the French, a mysterious dame, a swanky bar with a piano player who takes requests, and Bogart, running a local business while desperately trying to appear neutral to the Nazi scourge.
This is also Lauren Bacall’s debut film, but she doesn’t act like it. Here, she takes over from Ingrid Bergman as Bogart’s love interest. The two began a real love affair behind the scenes, and were married just over a year later.
Based on a novel by Ernest Hemingway, Howard Hawks’ “To Have or Have Not” was made when the actual “brothers Warner,” as Variety called them in 1943, were still running the studio. The film was derided as a “Casablanca” copy, but became a big hit anyway. Visually, it’s a film noir, but it isn’t all grit. There’s a touching relationship between Bogart and his “rummy” sidekick, an alcoholic but avuncular figure who commands Bogart’s loyalty for no self-interested reason.
The classic Bogart role is the American anti-hero who is so believably corrupt that he convinces his often-European interlocutors the new world is the same as the old. Both “Casablanca” and this film are allegories for the United States’ involvement in World War II, and reflect the era’s optimism about the hard-nosed virtue of the American character.