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The Breaking Point (Blu-ray Review)

3 min read


It's hard to do an adaptation justice at the best of times. More so when it's based on a book by Ernest Hemingway. That's not to say that Hemingway's work somehow sits on some high mountain ledge accessible only to elites. It's just a lot of his work deals with what's under the surface; his Iceberg Theory, which can be difficult to communicate via visual media. Based on his novel ‘To Have and To Not', The Breaking Point is a 1950 , out now on rerelease as part of the Criterion Collection.

Starring as Harry Morgan, The Breaking Point chronicles Harry's involvement with shady lawyer Duncan (Wallace Ford). A sport fishing boat captain, Harry is a morally upright family man, struggling under debt while trying to keep his business afloat. After his latest customer skips town without paying him $800, Harry is approached by Duncan to smuggle a group of people from Mexico to the US. When the deal goes lethal and south, Duncan puts muscle on Harry to carry out other jobs for him. Harry, added by his partner Wesley (Juano Hernandez) and Leona (Patricia Neal), has little choice if he wants to support his wife Lucy (Phyllis Thaxter).

Unlike other film noir, much of The Breaking Point occurs in daylight or in well-lit locations. Shadow's out. Natural light is in. Making this a Film Lumière. It maintains the seediness of good film noir, however. A morally upstanding character dragged into the gutter by poverty and exploitation, though the opportunity for social commentary has been overlooked, possibly due to real-world issues of the time. Because of this, Breaking Point lacks the impact it could have had and ends up lingering in the shadow of the book's earlier Bogart and Bacall adaption.


It is a strange film to watch. The scenes that should have the viewer on the edge of the seat seem pedestrian. And that's part of the film's strength. It truly steps into its own during domestic scenes with Garfield and Thaxter. Garfield plays Harry as someone trapped by his family. Without them, he would be free of the mess he's in.

Meanwhile, Thaxter's Lucy has to witness her husband spiral into a dark place while having to support him emotionally.

The disk comes with : A Life in Film, a featurette on director Curtiz by film historian Alan K. Rode, and a piece with actor Julie Garfield discussing her father, John.

The disk also includes a video essay on Curtiz's directorial style by Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou of YouTube's “Every Frame a Painting”.

The Breaking Point is a flawed classic of film noir and literature adaptation. A working-class tragedy that is also a slice of the human condition. While it may not inspire on the same level as the adaptations of For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, it is still a film worth your time.


  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with critic Alan K. Rode (Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film)
  • New piece featuring actor and acting instructor Julie Garfield on her father, actor John Garfield
  • New video essay by Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou analyzing Curtiz's methods
  • Excerpts from a 1962 episode of Today showing contents of the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, Florida, including items related to To Have and Have Not, the novel on which The Breaking Point is based
  • Trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Stephanie ZacharekNew cover by Greg Ruth

The Breaking Point was released on Special Edition Blu-ray from Criterion on August 15th