The Breaking Point

THE BREAKING POINT, one of 1950’s stellar crop of film noir pictures, was the second run at  Ernest Hemingway’s 1937 novel “To Have And Have Not”. Not as famous as Howard Hawks 1944 version with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, this one, though changing the title and locales, was somewhat more faithful to the book. It actually got a rare pass from Hemingway, who nearly always boiled over about movies made from his work (scruples didn’t stop him from taking the dough). Michael Curtiz directed the script written Ranald MacDougall, and John Garfield was now the sardonic anti-hero ‘Harry Morgan’. *

MRS. COOLEY (neighborhood busybody): “Heard you lost your boat, Harry. Heard you got in trouble down in Mexico.”   HARRY: “I’m crazy about you, Mrs. Cooley, but how would you like to mind your own business for once?”   MRS. COOLEY: “Why Harry Morgan… If I were a man I’d….”  HARRY: “You’re a long way toward it with that build.”

When a client skips out on paying him, and leaves him flat broke in Mexico, war vet and family man Harry Morgan is so in hock with his sport-fishing business that he’ll lose his boat if he can’t come up with some quick cash. Desperate, he takes a smuggling deal from a slimy shyster, but that ends up with Harry not only losing money but killing a guy (in self-defense) and stuck trying to evade a real jam. Enter the lousy lawyer with another scheme. Complicating Harry’s web is slinky seductress ‘Leona Charles’ (Patricia Neal), who makes her living off using men, and doesn’t give much of a hoot about whether snaring Harry will wreck his marriage to loyal but fraying ‘Lucy’ (Phyllis Thaxter). What’s more trouble: money you need and can’t get, gangsters with guns who have you cornered, or a tantalizing tramp who just wants to play hide-the-ethic, and who happens to look, move and talk like 24-year-old Patricia Neal?

You women – you remember everything a guy says and then you hit him with it.”

Curtiz directs with customary verve, and Ted D. McCord’s fine black & white camerawork gets good mileage from the California locations in and offshore from Newport Beach and Balboa Island, as well as the Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia. As the sleazy attorney, Wallace Ford makes a good case for a kick in the shins, and the dignified Juano Hernandez has a nice role as Harry’s good-hearted partner. Neal is a hard-to-resist handful (ask Gary Cooper), a walking definition of sexual innuendo, especially next to syrupy sweet Thaxter, who was always too gooey-dewy. Garfield is good, there’s a neat gunfight near the finish and the final shot is a real gem. **

A man alone ain’t got a chance.”

97 minutes, with Edmon Ryan, Sherry Jackson, Donna Jo Boyce, Victor Sen Yung, William Campbell, James Griffith, John Doucette, Peter Brocco, Juan Hernandez (the little boy at the end, and the actual son of Juano Hernandez), H.W. Gim. Box office results tag it 104th for the year with a gross of $3,000,000.

* The story was remade again in 1958 as The Gun Runners, with Audie Murphy. Back in ’50, the hard cases presented by Garfield & Curtiz had extra stiff competition from The Asphalt Jungle, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, No Way Out, Caged, Night And The City, Panic In The Streets, Whirlpool, Where The Sidewalk Ends, Appointment With Danger, In A Lonely Place, Gun Crazy, Quicksand and Mystery Street.  Whew! Better get a war going to relieve the tension…

** While this judge-of-all-things-ladylike never felt the love from Phyllis Thaxter, going back to her debut in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, I concede that later in life she was quite moving as Clark Kent’s earthly mother in 1978’s classic Superman. We’ll always have Smallville…


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