Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Brennan, Lauren Bacall, Dolores Moran, Hoagy Carmichael
SUMMARY: In 1940, France has fallen to Nazi Germany; parts of France, including its colony of Martinique, are controlled by the pro-German Vichy government. American Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) lives on Martinique, making a living by providing chartered fishing trips to tourists. He also employs Eddie (Walter Brennan) as a first mate, although Eddie’s frequent and heavy drinking means he is little help. Morgan lives in a hotel owned by Gerard, known as “Frenchy”, who sympathizes with the French Resistance. One evening after chartering a man named Johnson, Morgan returns to the hotel, where Gerard asks him to help smuggle some Resistance fighters. Morgan has no desire to get involved, and believes that the trip is too dangerous, anyway. He returns to the bar to deal with Johnson, who owes him a great deal of money for his charter trips, but sees an attractive young woman steal Johnson’s wallet. When she leaves the bar, he follows her upstairs and reclaims the wallet. The young woman, Marie “Slim” Browning (Lauren Bacall) takes it gamely, and the two hit it off. She explains that she wishes to return home, but has no money to do so. They return to the bar to confront Johnson, but a gunfight erupts in front of the hotel, and a stray bullet kills Johnson. Morgan and Slim are taken into custody and questioned by the Nazi authorities, who take Morgan’s passport and money before releasing both of them.
When they return to the hotel, Frenchy again asks Morgan to help smuggle Resistance fighters, but this time offers to pay him. Morgan agrees; Slim believes that this is in part to help her. In the dead of night, Morgan and Eddie set out, and manage to avoid the German patrols on the way over. They pick up Paul de Bursac and his wife Helene (Dolores Moran), and head back to Martinique. However, this time they are spotted by the German patrol, who opens fire. Morgan quickly maneuvers the boat into the fog and out of sight of the Germans, but Paul has been injured by a bullet. When they get back to Martinique, Morgan hands the Bursacs over to Frenchy. To his surprise, he finds that Slim has not taken a flight back to America, as intended (he purchased her ticket with the money from Frenchy), but has stayed behind to be with him. A short time later, Frenchy finds them again, and tells them that Paul’s wound is infected; Morgan reluctantly agrees to take the bullet out. He is aided by Helene and Slim, who takes a dislike to Helene and her attitude towards Morgan. Morgan learns that the Bursacs’ mission is to help a man escape from Devil’s Island; they request Morgan’s help in doing this, but he refuses. The next day, the Nazis arrive and inform Morgan that they know it was him who was on the water the night before. When Morgan refuses to reveal anything, the Nazis reveal that they have taken Eddie into custody: to make him talk, they are refusing to give him any alcohol. However, they have underestimated Morgan and Slim, who manage to seize the Nazis’ weapons and hold them at gunpoint. Morgan forces the leader to sign Eddie’s release, and to issue harbor passes for the entire group. When Eddie returns, Morgan announces that all of them — himself, Slim, Eddie and the Bursacs — are heading to Devil’s Island.
MY TAKE: This was an acknowledged attempt to capitalize on the success of Casablanca, but it has become more well-known because it was the screen debut of Lauren Bacall — and it’s where she met Humphrey Bogart. Their relationship is fun to watch; it’s not overly romantic, but they do seem to get along really well. Bogey appears to be genuinely confused by her at some points, and she has a unique ability to get under his skin. While this was obviously written in the plot, they pull it off so well that I suspect it wasn’t all acting. In particular, I got a kick out of the scene where Morgan is removing an unconscious Helene from the operating room — it’s pretty clear that Slim wouldn’t mind in the least just leaving her on the floor, or having Morgan drag her out. It’s not a terribly remarkable story, although there is more action than in Casablanca. However, that is made up for by the comic relief of Walter Brennan and the connection between the two stars.
Fun fact: it’s pretty well known by now, but Lauren Bacall’s famous look occurred because of nerves: she was shaking badly, so she tucked her chin, looked up through her lashes, and said her lines. This way, the shaking couldn’t be seen. You can see her do this on several occasions in this movie, which is probably where it all started.
This is also the movie where she says the famous line about whistling. However, I would like to note that it is not that simple, as I can put my lips together and blow and nothing comes out.