Sunday, May 21, 2017


God bless the Criterion Collection for their forthcoming Blu-ray of a nifty 2K restoration of The Breaking Point (1950), the second swipe at Ernest Hemingway’s novel To Have and Have Not, which is on the company's release schedule for August 2017. You may have heard of the first version... Bogie, Bacall, Hawks, “You know how to whistle, don’t ya?” Remember that one? Well, this one, the story of a down-on-his-luck charter boat captain Harry Morgan (John Garfield) who gets manipulated into a deadly smuggling run to help make ends meet, is directed by Michael Curtiz, and it trades Hawks’ larky, Casablanca-derived vibe for something decidedly darker, a daylight-splashed noir that somehow ferrets out all the chiaroscuro shadows in Hemingway’s material nonetheless. Throughout The Breaking Point, but especially in the movie’s riveting second half when Morgan allows himself to get roped into a second, even more dangerous scheme, Curtiz builds incredible suspense the way the rest of us eat lunch—usually without a second thought—and his camera is always finding fresh and fascinating ways to interpret the motivations, regrets and hidden fears of his cast of unusually rich characters.

Speaking of the cast, I don’t see how anyone could have improved on the work turned in here by John Garfield as Morgan, squirming to maintain his dignity under the thumb of bad luck, temptation and curdled expectations for post-war prosperity; Phyllis Thaxter as Morgan’s picture-postcard wife, a loving spouse whose boundaries will be tested and whose passions for her husband robustly hint at another sort of boundary, that of the Hollywood Production Code; Wallace Ford as the sloppy, sweaty, crooked-like-a-creek-bed lawyer Duncan; and most especially Patricia Neal (above), in one of her first juicy roles, as Leona Charles, an opportunistic party gal who hitches a ride with Morgan on his first ill-fated boat ride and who pops up at various junctures throughout the picture, forever testing Harry’s loyalty and his own personal morality with her own undeniable measure of impertinent allure.

The Breaking Point is a terrific, ultimately devastating movie which never lets its characters, or the audience, completely off the hook—its ostensibly upbeat, relieved conclusion is haunted by a silently insistent ghost of the consequences of Morgan’s moral lapses and it leaves you reeling, saddened, and convinced of the gravity of Curtiz’s achievement. This is one movie which deserves to be considered among the top-tier of Hollywood classics instead of languishing, as it has for a good, long while, in relative obscurity within the shadow of its more high-profile, star-driven predecessor. And now, thanks to Criterion, it’s gonna get its chance in the spotlight. The upcoming package includes new interviews with writer and scholar Alan K. Rode (Charles McGraw: Film Noir Tough Guy), Garfield’s acting instructor daughter Julie, a new video essay analyzing Curtiz’s masterful, almost-invisible directorial techniques, and a booklet essay by critic Stephanie Zacharek, this looks like a shoo-in for one of the best Blu-rays of the year. And the August 8 release date plays right into the hands of those, like my dear wife, who may soon be compiling a birthday list for a certain someone who looks and sounds a lot like me.


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