Blaff de Poisson (Martinican Lime-Poached Fish)
Well, this is part one of a Humphrey Bogart double bill, though next week I'll be posting the Singin' in the Rain class notes in between.
I know I've been kind of quiet about upcoming posts, but I wound up going pretty deep into researching this film: (a) as I mention below, there were many versions of stories (as there were many versions of the screenplay); and (b) there's just a lot of story to tell here. Legends about Hollywood legends.
I've also been busy figuring out films I want to do for the next few classes I'll be teaching, and the next few posts for the blog and the Criterion Collection site.
And all that is related to the big project. I'm starting to put together a proposal for the Chef du Cinema book. The book will have a different format, much shorter bits of info (only the pearls) and, of course, a recipe. More on this in the months to come.
Anyways, let's get to it.
To Have and Have Not is available for purchase or streaming @ Amazon and is streamable @ YouTube.
"You know you don't have to act with me, Steve. You don't have to say anything, and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow."
The story behind the making of To Have and Have Not is like looking through a kaleidoscope. So many egos with their own version of many of the behind-the-scenes story. Every time I found a new source, the tale shifted into a slightly different image. This was a real bear to get through for some reason.
To start with, Howard Hawks was renowned for never letting the facts get in the way of a good story. For example, the most famous of all regarding this film sounds great, but probably didn't happen exactly as Hawks had oft-repeated it. Here's the basic version:
"Hemingway and I were fishing down in Key West, and I was trying to get him to write for movies. He said, 'No, I'm top where I am. I don't want to go out to Hollywood. I don't like it. And I wouldn't know what to do.' I said, 'You don't have to come to Hollywood. We can go fishing or hunting. We can meet here, Sun Valley, Africa, any place you want and write story.' 'Oh,' he said, 'I'd rather not.' I said, 'Look you're broke all the time. Why the deuce don't you make some money? Anything you write you can make into a movie. I can make a movie out of the worst thing you ever wrote.' He said, 'What the worst thing I ever wrote.' I said, 'That piece of junk called To Have and Have Not.' 'I needed money,' he said. I said, 'Well, I knew that. At least I had to guess it.' He said, 'You can't make a picture out of that.' And I said, 'No, but the two leading characters were marvelous in their relationship with each other. What about if we told how they met?' So just for fun for two weeks while we were hunting dove and quail and duck, and fishing, we worked on it and tried to figure out what kind of a picture we could make."
The above story takes place around November 1939. Now to perhaps punch a hole in this tale, Hemingway had already sold the rights to Howard Hughes for $10,000, and Hawks apparently had intentions of turning the book into the second picture (after The Outlaw) he'd direct for Hughes when he went down to Key West. But then Hawks and Hughes had a falling out after The Outlaw.
Jump to early 1943. Hawks still really wanted to tackle To Have and Have Not, and bought the rights from Hughes, who, with glee, demanded an outrageous $92,500. You know Hawks really wanted the rights to the book because not only was he currently weighed down with massive gambling debts, but about the same time Hawks was fined by the IRS for unpaid taxes amounting to just about the same as he paid for the rights. Hawks then flipped the rights to Warner Bros. (Jack Warner refused to give him a penny more than what Hawks had paid for it, but Hawks negotiated for a percentage of the future film's profits, as well as his director fees). Hawks had two projects in development ahead of To Have and Have Not, but they both fell through and then Warners decided to green light it in late 1943 and by this time Humphrey Bogart was already assigned to star in it.
Meanwhile, in February or March 1943, Hawks' wife, Nancy (but known by all as "Slim", and she called Hawks "Steve" as a nickname - which wound up in the screenplay to become the nicknames Marie & Harry call each other) noticed an 18-year old model on the cover of Harper's Bazaar magazine who reminded her of her younger self. She felt the girl had a “bit of the panther about her," she said. In fact, Slim had also been a model and a Harper's Bazaar cover girl in the 1920's.
What happened next has a gaggle of myths surrounding it. Hawks used to tell the story that he asked his secretary to find out about the girl, but she misunderstood and sent the young thing a plane ticket to Hollywood instead. Stuck with her now, he decided to see what she could do. In a Life magazine article from 1944, the girl decided to fly to Hollywood on her own volition to meet Hawks. But as she tells the story in her autobiography, young Betty Perske (though she had been using her grandmother's last name since she was eight - Bacal), a nice Jewish girl from the Bronx, had received several letters and phone calls after her Harper's Bazaar cover hit the streets. (And how "Bacal" became "Bacall" also has several versions. Hawks claimed he added it, but according to Bacall - we'll just call her that - the "l" was a misprint in the Harper's Bazaar magazine. Actually the Harper's misprint was "Becall" and several memos by Hawks used that spelling early on.) Still in New York, she met with a representative of David Selznick, then Columbia Pictures wanted her to appear in the Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth film Cover Girl, and finally Howard Hughes sent word he wanted to know more about her. Amongst these suitors, there was also Hawks who wanted her to come to Hollywood, she wrote, for a screen test and pay her $50/week to do so. Bacall conferred with her uncle, a lawyer with entertainment business experience, and she then took the train out to Hollywood and meet with Hawks and his co-producer/partner Charlie Feldman.
When she got to Hollywood, Hawks was impressed. But he wanted, like Hitchcock would try to do with Tippi Hedren (see my post on The Birds), to play Svengali with her and eventually turn her into his ideal woman. The first thing he felt he needed to do was lower her voice. He told Bacall, "the kind of girls I like in a movie didn't have little high nasal voices. I said, 'You just can't possibly read any of the lines that we write.' Didn't bother her. She said, 'What do I do to change my voice?' I said, 'I don't know, but I can tell you what the best actor I ever worked with, Walter Huston, told me how he got the voice he did.'" So for many weeks, she would go to the top of Mulholland Drive and read passages of The Robe (Why? We can only suppose because it came out a year earlier and was a popular book) as loud as she could. She was also brought to the real Slim to mentor Bacall (who began to emulate and dress like Slim).
Meanwhile, Hawks had tasked Jules Furthman to write the adaptation of the book, but changing it to the story of how Harry Morgan would meet his wife, as discussed with Hemingway. The setting, as in the book, would be Cuba. Furthman kept various elements and sequences of the book, including the opening with taking Mr. Johnson fishing, the rummy Eddy, and the basic storyline in which Morgan is forced, because of debts, to take a dangerous job he doesn't want to. Furthman's early draft also included Cuban revolutionaries who force Harry to help rob a bank, and there's liquor and drug smuggling involved, Eddy is killed, and the girl (Corinne, later drafts have her called Marie, but always nicknamed "Slim") is essentially a rum-addicted prostitute. There is another love interest (a former girlfriend who reappears) and in the end Morgan has to decide between the two women and chooses Slim. Hemingway's story, however, was much darker. In the novel, Morgan is essentially a loser and winds up worse off by the end than when the story started.
This is a real brief summation (you can go deep into depth on the drafts thanks to Bruce F. Kawin's book on the film), but you can see how different the final movie is from Furthman's original draft. Why? I'll get to that in a moment. One of Furthman's writing specialties was tough, insolent women (he had written several Marlene Dietrich films, including Shanghai Express, and had worked on several films with Hawks already, including The Outlaw). In fact, Hawks said he told Furthman, "'Do you suppose you could make a girl who is insolent, as insolent as Bogart, who insults people, who grins when she does it, and people like it?' He said, 'Where are going to find such a creature?' I said, 'I don't know, but we can try writing it.'" Hawks then added, "[Furthman] thought it was fun, and we started to write the character. I would try out the scenes on Bacall."
But Hawks was still not convinced Bacall could handle such a big part, so at some point Furthman had two versions of the screenplay. One in which Bacall's character was lessened in importance and screen time, and the other which showcased her. But eventually, Hawks was convinced she could handle the part and the "other woman" began to fade away. However, Jack Warner wasn't convinced so both Dolores Moran (who would wind up playing what would left of the "other woman" character) and Bacall screen tested for the role of Marie. But Hawks spent many more hours shooting Bacall's test, and when Warner saw the two tests, he agreed Bacall could do it.
At this point, it seemed like clear sailing. But then everything, and I mean everything, changed. Enter the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. The agency's "function was to distribute news, films and advertising, and to broadcast radio, in and to Latin America in order to counter Italian and German propaganda there" and was run by (later to be Vice President) Nelson Rockefeller. They objected to the manner in which Cuba was to be depicted in the film. Dangerous revolutionaries and such. Even though it was set in pre-Batista Cuba, and even though Hawks offered to go to Cuba and speak with President Batista (negotiated by Hemingway), the agency said they "predicted" the film would not be granted an export license and thus lose a ton of money by not being able to be play overseas. Compounding that, the Hays Office had all sorts of problems with the characters' depictions and sexy stuff. Rockefeller's people suggested they set the story on the island of Martinique, as it was out of their "area of concern." Martinique was a French colony, which until July 1943 had been controlled by the Nazi-friendly Vichy government, much like Casablanca was at the time. (For more on this see Background & Context below.)
But sets had already been built. Second-unit photography had already started. Casting was near complete. Hawks, in desperation, now turned to his pal William Faulkner to come in and rewrite the script. And this was how To Have and Have Not became the only movie to have writing contributions by two Nobel Prize winning authors (the other being Hemingway). "I went to work helping to rewrite it about Feb. 22 ," wrote Faulkner. "[Hawks] started shooting about Mar. 1. Since then I have been trying to keep ahead of him with a day's script."
Faulkner, who was passionately anti-Vichy (he had just written a screenplay about Charles DeGaulle), liked this new setting and went to work turning the script into an attack on the Vichy government. And this is how the screenplay began to turn into a riff on Casablanca (the first Chef du Cinema pick). Faulkner turned the "other woman" now into the wife of an on-the-run Free French fighter (a la Casablanca), got rid of the bank robbery and drug smuggling, and sweetened the relationship between Morgan and Eddy - who now didn't die. He also cleaned up Marie's character considerably, and solved a big logistic problem by having everyone live in the same hotel. (When the film was released, some reviewers complained it was a bit too much like Casablanca, but as Bruce Kawin has written, "Casablanca is heavy where To Have and Have Not is light. One leans toward overstatement and the other toward understatement.")
Dan Seymour, who played the evil Capt. Renard (and was also in Casablanca), recalled receiving the new script and calling his agent exclaiming his part was cut believing he was to be playing a Cuban and now it said Renard was French. His agent called him back a few minutes later: "Hawks says you can play a Frenchman as well as you can play a Cuban."
There's a scene in the film where Marie (Bacall) asks Humphrey Bogart: "Who was the girl, Steve? The one who left you with such a high opinion of women. She must have been quite a gal." If Bogart was to answer that question off-camera, he would have probably said: "Mayo Methot," his third wife. They were known as the "Battling Bogarts," and she had by this point in their relationship, literally, once stabbed him in the back. She was a tragic alcoholic who enabled Bogart's own drinking. (She would drink herself to death six years after their divorce.) And while his career was at its highest peak to date, he was in a dark place emotionally. And he could hardly imagine his way out of that dark place would come from a girl more than 20 years his junior.
Now Betty Bacall wasn't too excited about co-starring in her first film with Bogart, she had dreamed it would be Cary Grant. The 19-year old's thoughts about Bogart were summed up in one word: "Yuk!" But before she knew what hit her, within the first weeks of shooting, the two had started developing a relationship that would become one of the most famous in all Hollywood history. They tried to keep it a secret from Hawks, but he wasn't blind. Hawks was outraged. After all, he'd spent all this time and money turning her into his dream girl. The director summoned Bacall to his home and, according to Bacall, said, "You're throwing away a chance anyone would give their right arm for. I'm not going to put with it. I'll tell you I'll just send you to Monogram [the worst studio in town]. I'll wash my hands of you." Bogart assured her Hawks wouldn't. And eventually Hawks calmed down enough to start his own affair during the shoot with Dolores Moran.
Shooting was a very relaxed affair, however, thanks to Hawks' clout at the studio. The cast, Hawks, and usually either Faulkner or Furthman would gather in the morning, read through the lines, improvise, rework the scene, then take a lunch break. After lunch, they'd film the scene. Supposedly, Jack Warner sent a memo ordering them to stop having so much fun on the set.
However, Bacall recalled that on the first day of shooting, she was “ready for a straitjacket. Howard had planned to do a single scene that day—my first in the picture. I walked to the door of Bogart’s room, said, ‘Anybody got a match?,’ leaned against the door, and Bogart threw me a small box of matches. I lit my cigarette, looking at him, said ‘Thanks,’ threw the matches back to him, and left. Well—we rehearsed it. My hand was shaking. My head was shaking. The cigarette was shaking. I was mortified. The harder I tried to stop, the more I shook." She discovered that the only way to “hold my trembling head still was to keep it down, chin low, almost to the chest, and eyes up at Bogart.” Hawks had her keep using that, lighting the scenes accordingly, and it became known as Bacall's trademark - "The Look."
I can't end without mentioning the other person for whom this was his acting debut - Hoagy Carmichael. His music and performance are so perfect for the film. He once explained: “I chewed on a match to help my jitters and when the time came to shoot, I asked Howard if I could keep the match in my mouth. It was a very noisy night club set, and Mr. Hawks couldn't hear me in all the confusion. I thought he said 'yes' and started the scene. By the time it was finished, Mr. Hawks decided to let it go through. So from then on, in addition to all his other problems, he had my match to worry about. But he was kind – he kept me from overacting..... I decided then and there that acting was the life for me. I had earned a week's salary just by dressing up and smearing a little grease paint on my nose and cheeks. It was certainly an easy living."
And one more thing. There's a long standing legend that still persists that Andy Williams did the singing for Bacall in the movie. The truth of the matter is that Williams did record versions of the songs since Hawks wasn't sure if Bacall's singing coaches he'd bought her had done their job. "[W]e took all the music he recorded and let Bacall mouth it to his singing," recalled Hawks. "But she was singing at the same time, and I thought she sounded better than Andy Williams. So we went back and did the whole thing over again. It was all her singing."
Hawks once noted "there was enough material [in Hemingway's book] left over for another movie - which was pretty good." In fact, there were two other movies made from the novel (and are closer in story and tone to it), though it's assumed Hawks was talking about 1950's The Breaking Point, which was directed by Michael Curtiz (who directed Casablanca!) and starred John Garfield. The other is Don Siegel's 1958 The Gun Runners, which starred Audie Murphy. Both films have redeeming value. I especially like Eddie Albert and Everett Sloane in the latter, but Patricia Neal is especially good in the former.
When it was first released, To Have and Have Not was received warmly but didn't wow critics. And while it performed very well in the box office, it wasn't until the 1950's when the French New Wave filmmakers fell in love with Hawks, and this film, that it began to attain the status of one of the greatest ever made.
BACKGROUND & CONTEXT:
The opening of the final shooting script - which was not filmed - began by giving the audience a bit more of a political context:
TITLE: "It is in Fort de France, the metropolis of Martinique, in the French West Indies, a few months after the signing of the Armistice between France and Germany."
FORT DE FRANCE. DOCK CLOSE SHOT EARLY MORNING
Large poster of Marshal Petain on side of military hut. Somebody has neatly torn a large V out of it. CAMERA, DRAWING BACK, shows Chef de Paste, a quartermaster in the uniform of the French navy, dozing in chair tipped back underneath poster. Two Negro urchins, passing by, see what has happened to poster and pause to remark upon it in their soft patois. The quartermaster sits up, turns to see what they are laughing at, and notes V torn out of poster in great consternation. Furiously bidding the two urchins to be gone, he rushes into hut, returns with a new poster. Tearing down the old one, he quickly replaces it with the new one, fastening it in place with thumbtacks. Stepping back to survey his handiwork, he sees-to his amazement-that a large V still appears dimly in poster. Bewilderedly, he examines surface of poster and becomes aware that it is unmarked. Puzzled, he removes poster and looks at back of it. The V has been painted on the back. Crumpling up the poster in horror and rage, he rushes into hut, returning this time with a large framed portrait of Marshal Petain, which he hangs upon rusty nail to cover the place occupied by poster. As he steps back to look at it, Morgan enters from street.
Now if you remember from the movie Casablanca, the Germans came marching into Paris. The Germans wore gray, Ilsa wore blue. France had surrendered, and the person put in charge of the new collaborationist government was the 83-year old Philippe Pétain. He had been a World War I hero and a well-regarded politician though after the Second World War, he was utterly disgraced and sentenced to death (though commuted to life imprisonment). So the sequence would have informed viewers they were seeing the Vichy-controlled era of Martinique which existed between 1940 and 1943.
The "V" sign which stood for "victory" (not "vendetta") became a popular rallying emblem for the French resistance after a 1941 radio address broadcast over the BBC by Victor de Laveleye, a Belgian refugee.
Several times between 1940 and 1943, the United States considered attacking the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. (One matter of concern was a French warship that had around 100 US-made fighter planes which were originally destined to pre-Vichy France but never left the harbor.) However, representatives of the US and British governments, and the pro-Vichy French High Commissioner for the Antilles, Rear Admiral Georges Robert, met several times over those years and agreements were made so war in the area would be averted, though continuing to allow the islands to import and export with the US and Britain, and apparently France and Germany too.
Nevertheless, US and British navies would regularly set up blockades around the island. As well, many Martinicans fled to other islands to join the Free French movement while some stayed on as agent provocateurs, as we see by the prank pulled on the quartermaster in the above sequence.
Finally in the spring of 1943, a US navy blockade was deployed, keeping food and other supplies from reaching the island. In June, according to Eric Jennings in his book Vichy in the Tropics, "on orders from the Algiers Free French Liberation Committee, a rally was mounted in Martinique... to commemorate the third anniversary of [Charles] De Gaulle's call to fight on. When Martinique's police and naval forces refused to disband the protest, Robert's fate was sealed. The next few weeks saw the United States broker a deal" wherein Robert and his loyalists would leave the island.
Vintage Postcard from Martinique
The cuisine of Martinique is just as you'd expect - a mix of Creole and French food and cooking techniques. Typical foods include lots of fish and seafood, especially crayfish and jumbo prawns. Breadfruit, starfruit, guava, mangoes, okra, plantain, sweet potatoes/yams, yucca, green bananas, calalou/taro, citrus fruits, and coconut are all found locally grown. Dishes are often cooked in a single pot.
According to Ken Albala in the exhaustive 4-volume Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia, Blaff "is fish poached in a classic French court bouillon although the dish itself is associated with early Dutch settlers to the Caribbean. The word 'blaff' derives from the sound that the fish apparently makes as it is lowered in the poaching liquid."
I didn't hear no "blaff" when I tossed the fish in, but be that as it may, it was quite good. If you enjoyed Donald Pleasance's Fillet of Sole Bonne Femme, you'll probably like this dish too. Very similar, but also very different.
Traditionally served with rice, I paired the fish with sweet potato fries (but plantain, taro, or sweet potato chips would be interesting too) And of course, don't forget the rum & Cokes. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon or evening. As always, cook, watch, eat and enjoy!
Blaff de Poisson (Martinican Lime-Poached Fish)
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4 6-ounce red snapper fillets or steaks (or swordfish, sea bream, haddock, or other firm white fish) or whole fish scaled & cleaned w/head on)
1/2 cup lime juice (from 4 limes)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 scotch bonnet or habanero chile, seeded and thinly sliced
2 allspice berries, crushed
1/2 cup shallots, thinly sliced
2 scallions, chopped
2 allspice berries, whole
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 bouquet garni (a spring of thyme, sprig of parsley, and one bay leaf wrapped & tied in cheesecloth)
4 cups water, divided by half
Wash the fish under cold water and put in nonreactive bowl. Add lime juice, garlic, chile, and the 2 crushed allspice berries. Cover with 2 cups of water. Let marinate in refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
When ready, remove fish from marinade. RESERVE MARINADE.
Bring to boil the marinade along with 2 cups of water, the shallots and scallions, the 2 whole allspice berries, salt, and the bouquet garni. When it reaches boiling add the fish, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes or until fish is cooked. Remove from heat. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Remove fish and place on platter or large bowl and ladle some of the liquid over it. Serve.
To Have and Have Not: Lauren Bacall, by Matt Trynauer @ Vanity Fair Mar 2011
Lauren Bacall @ Life Magazine, Oct. 16, 1944
What Becomes a Legend Most, by James Kaplan @ NY Magazine, Oct. 10, 1994
Howard Hawks, by David Boxwell @ Senses of Cinema
Humphrey Bogart, by Frank Kelly Rich @ Modern Drunkard
The Official Martinique Tourism Site
To Have and Have Not DVD
Hawks on Hawks (Directors on Directors), by Joseph McBride
Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood, by Todd McCarthy
By Myself and Then Some, by Lauren Bacall
Bogart, by AM Sperber & Eric Lax
To Have and Have Not (Wisconsin / Warner Bros. Screenplays), by Bruce F. Kawin
To Have and Have Not (A Scribner Classic), by Ernest Hemingway