THE BREAKING POINT
Review by Gordon Justesen
Garfield, Patricia Neal, Phyllis Thaxter, Juano Hernandez, Wallace Ford
Director: Michael Curtiz
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Aspect Ratio 1.37:1
Features: See Review
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: August 8, 2017
“I get teed off sometimes. No sooner do I get my head above water than somebody pushes me down again!”
A dead on example of pitch perfect film noir, The Breaking Point was the second attempt at adapting Ernest Hemingway’s “To Have and Have Not”. The first version was released six years prior and starred Humphery Bogart. But there’s no question that this version directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) is the more faithful adaptation.
The story tells of Harry Morgan (John Garfield), a former P.T. boat captain and now fishing guide. He is a devoted husband and father. In fact, he’s so devoted that he will do anything to ensure he can provide for them, including illegal activity.
When a current nefarious job involving the smuggling of Chinese immigrants ends in manslaughter, Harry finds himself on the wrong side of the law. He’s forced to leave the immigrants stranded in Mexico and head back to the States as a possible fugitive, alongside Leona Charles (Patricia Neal), a very flirtatious passenger. She throws many advances his way, but he rejects them as it’s one more complication his life doesn’t need.
Once back in America, Harry’s lack of income from the current job leads him to taking up another one from Duncan (Wallace Ford), the shady lawyer who provided the immigrant job. This new job promises higher pay, which is no doubt Harry’s key motivation. Always at Harry’s side with support is his wife, Lucy (Phyllis Thaxter), who has been working from home to supply extra income.
The film has become a forgotten gem, as it was unfortunately buried by the studio at the time of its release, due to star John Garfield’s wife having ties to the Communist party. This was also his second to last picture, as Garfield died two years later at the young age of 39. Both the film and performance deserved greater recognition and, with it’s wonderful Blu-ray handling, will likely garner it.
The Breaking Point is a most hard-edged slice of film noir, especially for a 1950 release. Michael Curtiz was one of the hardest working directors of the time, working in multiple genres from adventure (The Adventures of Robin Hood) to romance (Casablanca) and demonstrates the same masterful handling in the noir genre with this film. And John Garfield’s fantastic performance illustrates that we lost a great talent far too soon.
Criterion delivers yet again with a remarkably striking handling of this forgotten gem. The Black and White picture, brought to life by way of a glorious 2k restoration, is strong with tremendous and beautiful detail. In fact, this might be one of the all around best presentations I’ve ever seen of a Black and White film on the format. Black levels are amazingly strong here, and brightness to the image that lends more than quite a bit. All in all, the absolute best format to discover this film in.
The mono mix is expectedly adequate, in that Criterion always delivers a grand presentation with a limited sound mix. Dialogue delivery is top notch, and bits of gunfire during a couple of shootouts sound most impressive. Overall, the sound is terrifically crisp and honors the source extremely well.
Criterion does this film very nicely with the extras it provides, including a new interview with critic Alan K. Rode (author of Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film), a new piece featuring actor and acting instructor Julie Garfield on her father, as well as a new video essay by Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou analyzing Curtiz’s methods. Also included are excerpts from a 1962 episode of “Today” showing contents of the Ernest Hemingway house in Key West, Florida, including items related to “To Have and Have Not”. Lastly, we have a Trailer and an insert featuring an essay by critic Stephanie Zacharek.
The Breaking Point is a film nor gem that was forgotten but aged extremely well over time. It remains as hard edged in its noir storytelling, with on point performances and a tremendously faithful telling of Hemingway’s original story. The Blu-ray from Criterion is first rate all the way!