Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Patricia Neal and John Garfield
THE BREAKING POINT (1950). Director: Michael Curtiz.

"A man alone ain't got no chance."

NOTE: Some plot points are revealed in this review.

Harry Morgan (John Garfield) is married to a loving wife named Lucy (Phyllis Thaxter) and has two adorable little girls. Harry is trying his best to keep his charter fishing business afloat, but it doesn't help when one client takes off and stiffs him, leaving behind his girlfriend of the moment, Leona (Patricia Neal). Harry resists Leona's charms, but he can't resist getting into criminal activity to pay his bills, and after an interlude with some smuggled Chinese, winds up using his boat as a getaway in a robbery. But will anybody get away with anything? The Breaking Point is the second (and apparently more faithful) version of Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, and for much of its length plays like gritty if meandering film noir. Patricia Neal makes the most of her few scenes, but she seems thrown in for little purpose except to test the anti-hero's resolve -- at least one scene seems completely contrived. Garfield is good, while Thaxter perhaps underplays too much as his wife. Wallace Ford [The Mummy's Hand] is memorable as a slimy lawyer who offers Harry less kosher jobs when he needs the money, and Victor Sen Yung [Charlie Chan in Honolulu], formerly one of Charlie Chan's sons, scores in a sinister role as a man smuggling his fellow Chinese but who doesn't give a damn about them. One of the most notable performances comes from William Campbell [Dementia 13] as a smart-talkin' hood with an itchy trigger finger. Juano Hernandez is also fine as Wes, Harry's ill-fated deck hand who tries to keep his boss and friend out of trouble to his ultimate regret. The final shot of the film, showing Wes's little boy all alone on the dock wondering where his father is, is absolutely heart-breaking, reminding the audience of the tragic cost of  Harry's actions. It is an unusual way to end the film, as generally the lives and deaths of supporting (especially minority) characters were forgotten by the closing credits. The Breaking Point is imperfect, but it may be the best adaptation of Hemingway ever. Superior cinematography from Ted D. McCord. Composer Max Steiner was clearly not allowed to break out all the stops but he should have been.

Verdict: Absorbing, generally well-acted melodrama with an extra layer of depth. ***.


angelman66 said...

Neal was often used sparingly, she did a lot of supporting and character roles to beef up a storyline, as in Breakfast at Tiffany' my opinion she did not have enough starring roles during her career.
I need to see this one again.
- C

William said...

She was under-utilized in both this picture and in "Tiffany's."