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The Breaking Point The Criterion Collection
Special Edition, Criterion Collection
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Michael Curtiz brings a master skipper's hand to the helm of this thriller, Hollywood's second crack at Ernest Hemingway s To Have and Have Not. John Garfield stars as Harry Morgan, an honest charter-boat captain who, facing hard times, takes on dangerous cargo to save his boat, support his family, and preserve his dignity. Left in the lurch by a freeloading passenger, Harry starts to entertain the criminal propositions of a sleazy lawyer (Wallace Ford), as well as the playful come-ons of a cheeky blonde (Patricia Neal), making a series of compromises that stretch his morality and his marriage farther than he ll admit. Hewing closer to Hemingway's novel than Howard Hawks s Bogart-Bacall vehicle, The Breaking Point charts a course through daylight noir and working-class tragedy, guided by Curtiz's effortless visual fluency and a stoic, career-capping performance from Garfield.
DVD SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
- New 2K digital restoration
- New interview with biographer and film historian Alan K. Rode (Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film)
- New piece featuring actor and acting instructor Julie Garfield speaking about her father, actor John Garfield
- New video essay by filmmakers Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos, analyzing Curtiz s directorial techniques
- Excerpts from a 1962 episode of the Today show showing contents of the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, Florida, including items related to To Have and Have Not, the novel on which The Breaking Point is based
- PLUS: An essay by critic Stephanie Zacharek
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FWIW - the novel takes place in Florida/Cuba, in the Depression, and the captain isn't married. This film takes place in California/Mexico, in the 50s, and the captain is married with children. The Bogart film took place in Martinique, France during World War 2.
The film stars ruggedly handsome John Garfield (1913-52) as the boat captain with financial troubles. The original "method" actor. Garfield made his screen debut in 1938 with the popular "Four Daughters" (directed by Michael Curtiz) for which he received his first Best Supporting Actor nomination (he got his second in 1947 for "Body and Soul"), and "They Made me a Criminal" (1939) propelled him into the A list. He's best known for "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946). Blacklisted in the communist scare of the late 40s, his career was cut short, and he died in 1952 at age 39. He made only one film after this one.
Patricia Neal (1926-2010) plays the wise cracking companion of one of Garfield's clients. Neal won the Oscar for "Hud" (1963) and was nominated for "The Subject was Roses" (1968). She won two BAFTAs ("Hud" and "In Harm's Way") and was nominated for an Emmy 3 times. I liked her best in "A Face in the Crowd" (1957) and "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951).
Phyllis Thaxter (1921) plays Garfield's wife, a role not in the prior adaptation. Thaxter made more than 20 films before turning her attention to TV. Her most famous role was probably as Martha Kent in 1978s "Superman". She was an excellent actress and never better than in this film. Watch for an amazing sequence in which she transform herself into a Patricia Neal clone.
Chubby Wallace Ford (1898-1966) plays a shady lawyer. Ford appeared in over 100 films from 1930 to 1965, often as a comic foil. He did 5 films for John Ford including "They Were Expendable" (1945) and "The Last Hurrah" (1958). He was nominated for a Golden Laurel in 1965 for "A Patch of Blue", his last film.
Juano Hernandez (1896-1970) plays Garfield's partner (played by Walter Brennan in the 44 film). His film debut in "Intruder in the Dust" (1949) earned him a Golden Globe nomination. I liked him best in "Young Man with a Horn" (1950).
Look for Sherry Jackson (1942) as one of Garfield's daughters. Jackson went on to fame on TV's "The Danny Thomas Show" (1953-58).
William Campbell (1923-2011) plays a psycho gang member in his film debut. He made dozens of films but is probably best remembered for his many "Star Trek" appearances. And in an uncredited small part look for gang member John Doucette (1921-94)
The film's director Michael Curtiz (1886-1962) is best known for his 7 films with Errol Flynn. He was nominated for an Oscar for their first collaboration ("Captain Blood", 1935), and received 2 more nominations for films with Jimmy Cagney - "Angels with Dirty Faces"(1938) and "Yankee Doddle Dandy" (1941) - and one win for a film with Bogart ("Casablanca", 1942), one of eight they made together. Curtiz had a sense of humor about himself - he once declared "The next time I want an idiot to do this, I'll do it myself."
1950 was a good year for films with Oscars for "All About Eve" (Picture, Director, Supporting Actor), "Cyrano" (Actor) and "Born yesterday" (Actress). The top grossers included "Cinderella", "King Solomon's Mines", "Annie Get Your Gun" and "Sunset Boulevard". Other notable films released in 1950 were - "The Asphalt Jungle", "Cheaper by the Dozen", "The Glass Menagerie", "Rashomon", "The Third Man", and "Twelve O'Clock High".
The NY Times said "All of the character, color and cynicism of Mr. Hemingway's lean and hungry tale are wrapped up in this realistic picture, and John Garfield is tops in the principal role".
The film is difficult to categorize. It is film noir in terms of the theme (a basically good guy gets caught up in a chain of events that quickly go south as a result of one bad decision) but the major film noir conventions (big city, cop/detective, night, rain) are absent. Garfield, of course, was comfortable with film noir as was Curtiz.
Bottom line - a good film noir and some excellent acting
Harry Morgan (John Garfield) captains a small fishing boat charter out of Newport, California, where he lives with wife Lucy (Phyllis Thaxter) and their two young daughters. But the fishing has not been great, nor the customers plentiful, so Harry continually struggles to pay the loan on his boat and support his family. A charter for a man named Hannagan (Ralph Dumke) and his comely companion Leona Charles (Patricia Neal), who want to go fishing in Mexico, promises to pay well. But Hannagan's weaknesses for liquor and gambling get the better of him. He strands Harry, first mate Wesley (Juano Hernandez), and Leona in Mexico. A sleazy lawyer (Wallace Ford) who handles quickie Mexican divorces and worse, tempts Harry with a job for big money and big risk.
John Garfield's tough-talking, unsentimental masculinity, his way of embodying ordinariness to the point of archetype, his soft spot for injustice and self-consciousness of his characters' faults, make him perfect for this role. It's easy to see why John Garfield was attracted to Harry Morgan. "The Breaking Point" is a solid thriller about a man battered by life's hardships who doesn't always do the right thing about it, though he certainly considers it. The film was all but forgotten for 60 years, because Warner Brothers chose not to promote it in 1950, allegedly because the studio became skittish when Garfield became the subject of HUAC inquiries. It fell unjustly into obscurity, which may have inspired some critics to overcompensate in the present.
Patricia Neal plays a wonderful bad girl in smooth, flirtatious Leona. I wish she had more to do. Wallace Ford is terrific as the sleazebag lawyer. You wonder how Duncan lived long enough to pester Harry. Phyllis Thaxter has been praised for her role as the strong, understanding wife, but I found her unaffecting. She simply emotes and throws her voice a few octaves higher when distressed or excited. She squeaks and overacts. Regardless, "The Breaking Point" struck me strongly as a film of the 1930s, not the 1940s or 1950s. "The Breaking Point" is being labeled "film noir" these days, but it is closer to proto-noir. It resembles the films of the 1930s in which a man is battered, not by an existential crisis over something he can't grasp, but by economic hardship or judicial injustice.
I felt that I was watching a 1930s film. Harry, Wesley, Lucy all give that impression. Leona does not necessarily, but her character is not in the book. It makes me wonder if audiences in 1950 had that feeling too. This is clearly Depression-era material. Ranald McDougal chose to remain faithful to Hemingway's Marxist undertones in an era when Freud was popular at the cinema, not Marx. Harry Morgan is a very good role for John Garfield, but I think it was always a film out of time. I'd call it proto-noir-after-the-fact crossed with romantic melodrama. Like the film for which Garfield is most famous, "Body and Soul" (1947), the actor was inspired by the world of his youth. In that case, he wanted to make a film about a Jewish boxing champion, inspired by Barney Ross.