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Haskell, M. (1993). To Have and Have Not: The Paradox of the Female Star. Am. Imago, 50(4):401-420.

(1993). American Imago, 50(4):401-420

To Have and Have Not: The Paradox of the Female Star

Molly Haskell

Most of you will recognize the tide as belonging to a movie by Howard Hawks, based on a novel by Ernest Hemingway, which introduced to the screen a slinky, husky-voiced young model and star-to-be named Lauren Bacall. It refers also, of course, to the notion of fetishism itself as diagnosed by Freud, the compensatory resolution of the trauma of loss whereby the neurotic patient sees woman as both having and not having a penis. The specter of the “castrated” mother as a boy child perceives and an adult male interprets it presumably haunts all men…. and, if we are to believe the dominant school of feminist academic film theory, haunts the classical Hollywood movie as well. More than haunts: castration anxiety has become the centerpiece of a way of looking and thinking about classic cinema that has dominated academic film discussion for almost twenty years. In its fixation on a masculine dynamic of creation and viewing of film, and in the language—a language of disease and symptoms—by which it places movies on the couch and keeps women immobilized, it has shut off other avenues of interpretation and fantasy. I want to suggest some of the complexities and ambiguities that have been foreclosed—or marginalized, or repressed—by that version of film semiotics known as theory and by feminism in general.

In To Have and Have Not, Bacall first appears leaning on a piano in a crowded Martinique hotel bar. The time is 1940, after the fall of France. Humphrey Bogart, who fell in love with Bacall during this, their first film together, is a commercial fisherman who rents his boat to tourist-fishermen for day trips. She's a drifter, a woman “with a past,” who's run out of money.

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