My Review of ‘The Breaking Point’ (1950)
This film is notable for being the second (and, arguably, better) adaptation of “Papa” Hemingway’s novel To Have and Have Not. Certainly, this version is more faithful to the source material than the romanticized Bogey and Bacall movie (which, itself, is notable for bringing that couple to the silver screen, at the expense of the original story).
Just so I’m clear, it’s not that I don’t like the Bogey-Bacall film. It’s fine and all that, but it never prompted me to read the novel. This more faithful adaptation of the novel was so good that I now feel compelled to read the book, too.
John Garfield does an especially masterful job of playing the lead character, Harry Morgan, a down on his luck, sport-fishing boat captain. He has a loving wife, Lucy (played by Phyllis Thaxter), whom he adores. They have two daughters, who cause the usual friction in the marriage that kids do. And, even though Lucy begs Harry to sell the boat (which hasn’t exactly produced a windfall) and take a job with her father on his lettuce farm in Salinas, California, so he can earn steady and sure money, Harry don’t want to do it. Imagine!
Unfortunately, in his zeal to make a go of his sport-fishing business, Harry takes a few wrong turns that lead him toward shady dealings with the criminal element. He does this despite warnings from his partner, Wesley (played as a capable fellow boater in this film by Juano Hernandez, rather than a doddering old fool like Walter Brennan in that other movie).
To give credit to the movie, the original material apparently was quite non-PC in its use of the N-word. As a way of making up for this (perhaps), Wesley’s role was cast with an Afro-Puerto Rican actor.
But, to return to Harry’s troubles, he ends up throwing his lot in with a crooked lawyer, primarily because (despite his years (?) of experience in the business) he still hasn’t learned it’s best to have the client pay a large percentage of the fee up front.
As a result, he nearly gets stranded in Mexico with the client’s … how can I say this nicely? … the client’s tart girlfriend (played by Patricia Neal) who practically throws herself at Harry. He doesn’t respond. Much. At first. But they do end up sharing enough chemistry to make you wonder what will happen.
Among the strongest aspects of the film are its depiction of a marriage that’s truly loving, despite the couple’s financial difficulties. And despite any attempts on the tarty girlfriend’s part to intervene, so to speak.
I was also deeply impressed by John Garfield’s performance, which he reportedly was most proud of. I think it may be his best performance in any film I’ve seen him in.
Of the end, I’ll only say that it bears an interesting similarity to that of the first movie adaptation. However, the differences are also quite significant.
If you’re a John Garfield or Patricia Neal fan, don’t miss this one. This was sadly the second to the last movie role Garfield played before his untimely death at age 39.
Garfield is an interesting person about whom I could write a whole book. Except somebody’s probably beaten me to it.
An excellent movie, directed by the awesome Michael Curtiz. Highly recommended!