Carmichael had put his life in order, dropping the law for “Star Dust,” which he wrote in 1927. And he had had songs in movies aplenty in the thirties, like Crosby doing “Moonburn” in Anything Goes (36, Lewis Milestone). And somehow Hoagland had got to be acquain- tanced with Slim and Howard Hawks and Howard had asked him to hang around the To Have and Have Not set and be atmospheric.
And it worked out that the new girl, Bacall, had this little song to sing. It won't be hard work, said Howard, you can do the whole thing sitting down. And if maybe Hoagland said. “Howard, I haven’t been on camera before,” Hawks could have said, “It doesn’t show. You can do this stuff yourself, if you try.”
So Carmichael and Bacall play around with “How Little We Know,” and the whole film is this strange new tango Bogart and Bacall do, with three guys—Marcel Dalio, Walter Brennan, and Carmichael—riding point. And you realize the weird luck that could fall on an Ernest Hemingway having such magic fall on his not-the-worst- book-in-the-world novel.
The story goes that whenever Carmichael was working, William Faulkner came to the set to watch. To be so lucky.
Hoagy Carmichael is there again and very good in The Best Years of Our Lives (46, William Wyler), in Night Song (47, John Cromwell), and in Young Man with a Horn (50, Michael Curtiz). And he has his songs in and out of pictures—he shared an Oscar for “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” in Here Comes the Groom (51. Frank Capra). But the rest was relatively normal, and sensible, and what might be expected. Whereas Cricket was out of nowhere. Nowhere except the best and kindest mind that ever made an American picture.
He sits at a piano that manages to be set aslant everything else in the world. He has white pants (they might be cream or ivory) with a dark stripe in them, and it could be crimson or dark blue against the cream (this is Martinique light). And in the shirt there is the same pattern of vertical dark striping on a pale ground, except that the stripes are twice as regular. He has a tie too, a rather full, floppy silly thing, with big diamond patterns on it. And I'll be damned if he hasn't got a decorated band above his right elbow, of the kind card players or saloon pianists sometimes wear to keep their hands free.
He is called Cricket, and he has the sharpest face in the whole sharp film. This is 1944, at Warner Bros., To Have and Have Not—even the title knows what is happening, and appreciates that this is the mystery of cinema, the dream itself.
Hoagland Carmichael dressed himself for the occasion, checking ever now and then with the Howard Hawks he revered as both friend and style master.
For Hawks was a dandy, and both men could wax lyrical together as connoisseurs on what a hip piano player reckoned to look like in the 1920s if he had done Indiana U. (law) first and was knocking around with Bix and Trumbauer, and Eddie Condon was due in tonight.