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Made in 1950 Warner Bros. THE BREAKING POINT is one of Hollywood's nice and classic Movie Noirs! Meticulously directed by Michal Curtiz it is, after "Force Of Evil", John Garfield's greatest movie! Beautifully written by Ranald McDougall, from a short storyline by Ernest Hemingway, this was the third time it was filmed by Warner Bros. Both earlier versions "To Have & To Have Not" (1945) and "Key Largo" (1948) starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall but this ver was the more definitive and broadest reworking of the story.John Garfield giving one of his greatest difficult boiled performances plays down-at-heel charter-boat captain Harry Morgan who reluctantly falls foul of the law while trying to create ends meet for himself and his family. His wife (Phillis Thaxter overbearing in an over written role) pleads with him to give up his boat THE SEA QUEEN ("pop tells you can have a job anytime on his lettuce ranch in Salinas" to which Harry balks "I'm not going to squat on my hunkers down in Salinas, trying to pick lettuce quicker than the bugs can eat it, I'm a boat jockey, it's all I know"). But when a fishing party lets him down and he runs out of cash in Mexico - a shifty shyster lawyer, F.R Duncan, (brilliantly played by Wallace Ford) entices him to take some illegal migrants back on his boat into the United States, Harry has no choice but to comply. "Don't war it Harry - relax - roll with it - allow it happen" Duncan repeatedly advises Harry, to which Harry rounds on him - "you're poison!-....you'd sell your own mother if she was worth anything"! Soon in the film Duncan inveigles him to take a quartet of gangsters out to sea when they flee after their racetrack heist - culminating in the picture's gripping and climactic set piece - a suspenseful and bloody shootout on board THE SEA QUEEN.Peppered with sparkling dialogue throughout, everything in the movie is splendidly executed. The film just rattles along at a well defined pace. Crisply photographed by the nice Warner cinematographer Ted McCord ("Johnny Belinda"/ "Treasure Of the Sierra Madre") his brilliant low-key black & white camera work gives the film a compelling visual style. Oddley enough though the film goes virtually unscored but it does have a lovely and beguiling orchestral piece heard over the opening credits and for the finale. There is no melody credit on the picture except for Melody Supervision by Ray Heindorf but the piece sounds suspiciously like something Maximum Steiner would have written. In a letter from the esteemed composer to this writer in 1968 he intimated to me that he had indeed written the piece - without credit - adding that he wrote it as a favor to Ray Heindorf. The following year Steiner, again without credit, would oblige Heindorf with a supporting hand with the score for the Cagney classic "Come Fill The Cup"."The Breaking Point" is a terrific film that badly needs a DVD release! I am surprised that Warner Home Video have not already included it in one of their noir box sets. Perhaps it will turn up in their next one? Or maybe in an overdue Garfield set - who knows?Classic line from "The Breaking Point"....... when smart-mouthed nice time woman Patricia Neal, drinking in a Mexican bar - ignores the clamour of a cock-fight taking zone in the background - Garfield asks "don't you like cockfights? To which she blithely replies "all that problem for an egg".
Ernest Hemingway is told to have liked THE BREAKING POINT more than any another movie made from one of his stories and it's simple to see why--especially if you compare this to the earlier version, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. While that movie sizzled with their chemistry in the leading roles, the storyline here is much more compelling and has much more urgency in the telling.Of course, it's everytime a shame that Hemingway's anti-heroes fail to understand that testing around with crooked gangsters can be detrimental to the health of all concerned, but THE BREAKING POINT makes you sympathize with the hero of Harry Morgan that Garfield plays so well. The shady lady in this situation is smoothly played by PATRICIA NEAL, whose patrician presence made Garfield inform her (or so we're said by Miss Neal herself): "You know, don't you, you're testing a whore." She says this amusing anecdote in a documentary named THE JOHN GARFIELD STORY.PHYLLIS THAXTER is the plain wife of boat captain Garfield, who lightens her hair when she gets a load of the girl (Patricia Neal) she suspects her husband is having an affair with. Thaxter gives one of her greatest performances as the loyal wife struggling to hold her husband straight, away from the gangsters she knows will crash the lives of their tiny family. WALLACE FORD is perfect as the shady lawyer willing to take abusive treatment from Garfield as long as he goes along with the crooked schemes he has in mind.The movie has a stark movie noir quality to the perfect B&W photography and builds to a quietly effective ending after the long shootout that ends the story, an ending that makes the viewer more aware of the consequences of Garfield's stupid decision to conspire with gangsters who shoot his greatest friend. Michael Curtiz does a superior job of directing.
The Breaking Mission (1950)Forget for a second that this is a Hemingway story, or that it was more famously and loosely made into a film ("To Have and Have Not)" with Bogart and Bacall in 1944.Here was have John Garfield testing with nice realism a boating man, Morgan, who has hit difficult times. So he is tempted by an illegal run for some large money. And it goes badly. Then, to receive out of that jam, he is drawn into yet other one, which goes even worse.So this is really a storyline of a boy vs the odds. He's basically a nice person, which we see in how he treats his partner, his wife, his kids. But it's partly because of those others that he feels he has to come through and create some money. In a way, this is what Hemingway's novel is all about--how a boy copes with crisis. (This is everytime what Hemingway is about, in a way.) It's nice starting material.The two girls in the story, made to look slightly similar, are key in a Hemingway type of way, too, because a Hemingway boy is essentially torn by love all his life. Morgan's wife is terrific in a simple, unexciting way, and when Patricia Neal appears very sexually hungry, Morgan at first is not interested. Neal's hero is not quite a noir femme fatale, since she really wants nothing for herself, but is a distraction and siren.The two of them are terrific. Around them are a entire swarm of characters, some with necessary roles and perfect hero actors, but we really receive inside the head of Garfield and we really feel the weirdly brazen and carefree intensity of Neal. So why is this a forgotten film? For one, Garfield is a weak key leading man. He everytime is. His result is subtle. And Neal isn't a steaming hottie or an outrageous caricature like some leading (blonde) girls in these crime films. And then, frankly, they don't fully have chemistry on screen, which is neither one's fault alone, and which isn't so inaccurate to the story.And about Hemingway? The ebook is great. You have to like his style and his manly view, but if you can adapt to that, read it. Simple reading, too. And he set the stage in the waters between Florida and Cuba, which is where he lived and fished. The Bogart ver was set in the war, working for the French Resistance in Europe. The Garfield ver was set (and shot) in California, with a trip to Mexico. A soon ver (1958) is set in Florida.This is now a first rate movie. Part of the success depends on the writing-both Hemingway and the sharp, noir-influenced screenplay by Ranald MacDougall. Note that the photography is by the nice Ted McCord (Sound of Music, East of Eden, etc.).The plot has some deeply private aspects, both with Morgan's wife and children as they barely scrape by and with the temptation of the sort of femme fatale played with a cool sharpness by Patricia Neal. And it has a serious crime plot with few angles that develop and disperse and develop further. It moves from dark night scenes to launch water scenes to a faked fog ending (a flaw, visually, because you can say it's just been processed for lower contrast even though the sun is out). The film also has some aspects that strike me as socially relevant, starting with the smuggling of a group of Chinese folks out of Mexico at the begin and ending with the tragic dilemma of a tiny African-American man left literally alone on a large launch dock at the final fade. This last aspect (which I can't receive specific about without spoiling something) points to one of the really large interpersonal parts of the movie that is key, and that I want had been developed just a hair more because it's so key.On my third viewing, I continue to like it a lot. See it.
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