Movie Critique – The Breaking Point

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: Exceptional adaptation of Hemingway's novel bringing out the best not only in the acting capabilities but also evoking emotions from them making them live their characters. A gripping drama with all the elements of a film noir, definitely deserves a watch.

The Breaking Point is a 1950 American film noir crime drama directed by Michael Curtiz. Starring John Garfield, Patricia Neal and Phyllis Thaxter, this is the second film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's 1937 novel To Have and Have Not.

Harry Morgan (portrayed by John Garfield) is the captain of a small fishing boat with his marriage on rocks and business on the slide. He makes an illegal deal with a shady lawyer, Duncan (portrayed by Wallace Ford), to aid his financial troubles. But the troubles only mount for Morgan, adding more fissure between him and his wife, Lucy (portrayed by Phyliis Thaxter), and increasing his waywardness towards Leona Charles (portrayed by Patricia Neal), and a path down to murder and deceit. 

The prior adaptation to this film was the 1944 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, was titled the same as the novel; and directed by Howard Hawks. Hawks had boasted five years prior to Hemingway that his worst novel, To Have and Have Not, could be converted to a decent movie. A 19 yr old Lauren Bacall was introduced to movie goers with this film.

Although that movie had nothing to do with the novel, other than Bogart playing the part of Henry Morgan and operating a fishing boat. Critics claimed that Hawks' adaptation looked like a remake of Casablanca.

Ranald MacDougall, a screenplay writer, insisted to bringing justice to Hemingway's novel. And six years later this 1950 adaptation was released. He made quite a few other changes to the script that veer off slightly from the original novel. He also lightened the racism which was heavy in the novel. 

Produced by Jerry Wald, he still took on the film even though Garfield's previous film Under My Skin, also released in 1950, also based on Hemingway's 1923 short story, My Old Man, had failed at box office. 

It came to me as a surprise that in a matter of 14 years, Hemingway's book got adapted to film three times. Of all the three, and despite having big name stars in the first adaptation, this 1950 version came close to what Hemingway intended to give the readers through his novel. 

This film marked the second to last film and his final film with Warner Brothers for Garfield, before his death. MacDougall successfully presented an honest and true picture of Hemingway's Morgan and his many issues with marriage, family, and conducting his business. 

Patricia Neal's Leona Charles was MacDougall's figment of imagination. Hemingway's general description of opposite sex being femme fatale and conniving, boiled down to one character for MacDougall - Leona Charles. The two timing blonde broad looks very regal even while seducing you one moment, and throwing you to the dogs the next.

Not sure about her voice in singing though. She sings a cute little number in the bar, 40 mins into the film, "Please Don’t Talk About Me When I'm Gone". Lyrics penned by Sidney Clare and Music composed by Sam H. Stept. Cute song, but felt odd coming from her voice. Didn’t match her femme fatale persona. 

There is a very interesting scene where the Morgans and Leona are in a bar; and Leona and Lucy have a conversation that revolves around Harry but doesn’t point to him directly. In a manner of purses, drinks and other mundane subjects both women clearly make their point - one telling that she would stoop to anything to grab what she wants, while the other stakes her claim firmly. 

In the film, Garfield's Henry Morgan comments that his wife Lucy Morgan had dyed her hair. However, according to some sources, Phyllis Thaxter had bleached her hair and had not used a wig for that part in the film. She changes from black haired woman to a blonde haired one in the second half.

Phyllis makes a very convincing mother and wife who can stretch a dollar to it's maximum limit while taking care of their two girls and household on the shore. Garfield's Morgan, despite his flaws, is still loyal to his wife, finds humor in the smallest things, all the while trying to fight his battles. 

Juano Hernandez portrays the suffering mate of Morgan, Wesley Park. He is the one who always tries to bring his Captain on to the moral line, even if it comes at a greater cost. The kid who played the part of his son, Joseph Park, in the film is in fact his real son, Juan Hernandez. 

A dialogue from Hemingway's novel floats into the movie, summarizes it perfectly - that one man cannot solve all the problems, and he needs support as solid as Lucy in Morgan's life to wade through any hurdles. Fitting well for the ending specially when the movie leaves the fate of the Morgan family in the minds of the viewers. 

A man alone ain't got a chance.

A very heartbreaking ending for the movie that I haven't seen in a long time - an orphaned child; a cunning woman complaining about mornings; and a family struggling between life and death. That final shot of just the lonely boy wrenched my heart, more than Lucy Morgan's tearful performance at the end. 

Exceptional adaptation of Hemingway's novel bringing out the best not only in the acting capabilities but also evoking emotions from them making them live their characters. A gripping drama with all the elements of a film noir, definitely deserves a watch.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. The third film adaptation of Hemingway's novel To Have and Have Not, is the 1958 film The Gun Runners starring Audie Murphy and Everett Sloane, directed by Don Siegel.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. When Leona first steps on to the boat, at about 7:50, she says "we're off to sunny Mexico" but her lips don’t move.

b. In the bar, when Harry orders two beers, waiter brings two glass with 3/4th filled and rest all foamed up. However in the very next scene, the foam is only an inch in the top and more beer now in the glass. 

c. How could it have been possible for Leona Charles to lug three suitcases and a purse down the ramp into the boat without sweating or struggling, unless they were all empty!


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