Mom on Film: To Have and Have Not

During a recent cross-country move, from West Coast to East Coast, our television set was broken. Because replacing the TV was not high on our list of priorities, the task was continually put off, and the TV was, generally, not much missed. After roughly three weeks without cinematic stimulation, however, six-year-old Boy Wonder was jonesin' for a movie fix. When his sister informed him that Dad's computer could be employed to this end, he wasted no time in requesting that the laptop computer be transformed into laptop theater. His DVD of choice provided a much-needed sense that, occasionally, I am a really good Mom.

His selection, after a three-week dry spell, was Howard Hawks' 1944 production, To Have and Have Not.

To Have and Have Not is the film that teamed Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall on screen for the first time (and, ultimately, for life). It's the film that introduced the gorgeous, talented, smoky-voiced newcomer Bacall to moviegoers, and the one in which she uttered the immortal line, "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together, and blow." It's the film in which marvelous character actor Walter Brennan repeatedly asks, "Was you ever bit by a dead bee?" This film probably isn't included on any other lists of family movie favorites, but certainly could be.

The reasons films like To Have and Have Not are overlooked as family movie fare are likely various. Because it was made 64 years ago, it ranks as ancient history, and therefore uninteresting, in the minds of many movie viewers. Perhaps it's not considered because it was filmed in black-and-white. Its lack of an MPAA rating may unnerve potential viewers who want to see that G, PG, or even PG-13 on the back of the box before sharing it with the family. Maybe the setting and subject matter -- a fishing boat captain (Bogart) who becomes involved with both a sultry sometimes-chanteuse and pick-pocket (Bacall) and French Resistance fighters in Martinique during WWII -- gives parents pause. Whatever the case may be, I would suggest that all of these possible reasons for avoiding classic films like To Have and Have Not could also serve as reasons to recommend them.

Exposing our children, and ourselves, to classic films is a lot like exposure to classic literature. Watching the classics allows us to appreciate the foundations upon which modern movies are built and often exposes us to choice bits of cultural literacy. Discovering, or re-discovering, these films together also provides a break from the often hectic pace and low quality, profanity- and innuendo-laced dialogue of some modern films.

Although Bogart's characters may have pulled a gun now and then and occasionally thrown a punch, it was never gratuitous. He never had to swear or undress anyone to convey his manhood. All he had to do was put his lips together and blow.

Even a six-year-old can appreciate that kind of style.