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Review: To Have and Have Not (1944)

Howard Hawks was once on a fishing trip with Ernest Hemingway when the director casually betted that he could make a good film out of the latter’s worst novel. The bet took place in a period when Hemingway, though already produced most of his major works and thus established the status as America’s great writer, had found little favour with the cinematic world. Only two notable adaptations were made- Frank Borzage’s pre-code A Farewell to Arms, starring Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper, and Sam Wood’s box-office hit For Whom the Bell Tolls, of which Hemingway personally handpicked the leading cast, including Cooper (again) and Ingrid Bergman. A third one would soon be making its way to the screen, and it was brought about unpropitiously by a fatuous bet.
Hawks ultimately plumped for To Have and Have Not, which he contemptuously called “a bunch of junk.” Critics had been equally acerbic to the book: “Mr. Hemingway’s record as a creative writer would be stronger if it had never been published…