“The Breaking Point” (1950) starring John Garfield, Patricia Neal, & Phyllis Thaxter

[1] Peppered with sparkling dialogue throughout, everything in the film is splendidly executed. The movie just rattles along at a well defined pace.

[2] ...this contains one of John Garfield’s best performances. Always a fine actor, he gets under the skin of his character and makes you understand his desperation and moral conflict, he’s riveting every second he is on screen.

[3] The relationship between Juano Hernandez’ Wesley and Garfield’s Harry is about as race neutral as it could be. … they are partners – and they seem truly friends beyond their business relationship.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Tagline: There’s nothing more deadly than a gentle man pushed too far!

This film is smart, touching, entertaining, well-acted, and well-shot. The Breaking Point comes from a novel by Ernest Hemingway (To Have and Have Not). This was identified by critic Thom Andersen as an example of film gris, a suggested sub-category of film noir w/ a left-wing narrative. Michael Curtiz, who also directed Casablanca, shows he had a tough side. The screenplay by Ranald MacDougall is considered (in certain scenes) to be even better than the novel! TCM’s Eddie Muller noted that star John Garfield thought this was his best performance and the film of which he was most proud. He provided many ideas to the producers and director, unofficially taking on an executive producer role. This was Garfield’s second to last role before being blacklisted.

Harry: A man alone ain’t got a chance.

Garfield was the type of leading man who resembled a working man- rugged, blue collar, and wearing a leather jacket. This kind of leading man would rise to prominence after WWII w/ actors such as: James Dean, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Steve McQueen. In Balboa, CA, Capt. Harry Morgan (Garfield) doesn’t quite fit in during peacetime. He earned a Purple Heart for his service in WWII, but now struggles to make payments on his boat and provide for his family (wife and two daughters). The domestic scenes between Harry and wife- Lucy (Phyllis Thaxter)- are touching and realistic. Though devoted to her stubborn husband, she’s determined and strong-willed. Harry’s mate, Wesley Park (Juano Hernandez- a pioneer among Black actors), is loyal, wise and patient; they worked together on the boat for 12 yrs. Unlike some other characters of the period, “he is not an example of noble Black suffering” (as Muller commented). Wesley has a shy/young son who walks to school w/ Harry’s daughters.

Harry: [to Leona as she reaches into his shirt pocket for a cigarette] Yuh know, one of these days you’re gonna get your arm broke reachin’ for something that don’t belong to yuh.

Leona: It’s all in a good cause.

The femme fatale in the story is Leona Charles (Patricia Neal); she meets Harry on one of his trips down to Mexico w/ her older male friend, Hannagan (Ralph Dumke). Leona is a platinum blonde, wears nice clothes, and leads w/ her feminine charms. Harry tries to ignore her (but in a nice manner); she keeps trying to get him interested. After the two-week fishing trip, Hannagan suddenly flies off before paying Harry, and stranding Leona! A shady lawyer, F.R. Duncan (Wallace Ford), offers to help Harry make up for the loss and maybe earn a lot more. Harry has never done anything illegal, but now is faced w/ a desperate situation. Watch the full movie below.

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