Criterion restores lost classic ‘The Breaking Point’ on Blu-ray

by Eric Melin on August 10, 2017

in Blu-ray/DVD Reviews,Reviews


[Rating: Solid Rock Fist Up]

As a fan of classic film noir, I’m always trying to fins any hidden gems that might have slipped through the cracks, and The Breaking Point, only previously available on a bare-bones custom-burned DVD-R from Warner Bros. has been on my radar for quite some time. So when I heard it was coming on via Blu-ray on The Criterion Collection with a new 2K digital restoration, I was thrilled to see it the first time in the best presentation possible.

I was not let down.

Starring John Garfield as hard-luck ex-WWII PT boat captain Harry Morgan, it’s what many in noir studies would call a “daylight noir.” Absent the shadowy nighttime trappings and big-city setting of most of its contemporaries, The Breaking Point instead trades in the classic plot and character themes of what would come to be known as noir: a flawed character compromises his morals and gets in way over his head, especially with the resident femme fatale.

In this case, that’s Patricia Neal, and she’s vaulted up pretty high on my list of all-time greats with this searing, leering performance as Leona Charles, the aggressively independent and flirtatious dish who happens to be on the arm of an untrustworthy rich guy. Tired of struggling to provide for his family, he takes the advice of a shady lawyer and ferries the couple to the Mexican border. As they tend to do in film noir, things get worse from there.

Ernest Hemingway‘s 1937 novel To Have and Have Not was previously adapted in 1944 by Howard Hawks and is perhaps best known as the movie that introduced Bogart and Bacall as an on (and off)-screen couple. As snappy as the performances and dialogue are in that film, The Breaking Point adapts Hemingway’s book and wrings out some genuine notes of solid tragedy, as well as a more nuanced performance from its lead actor. It’s also more faithful to the novel, even though it still takes its own liberties, trading Cuba for Mexico and Florida for California, among other things.

A new 10-minute video essay on the Blu-ray by Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou breaks apart the strategies and analyzes the fluid style and methods of director Michael Curtiz, who is known mostly for being the guy who made Casablanca. With The Breaking Point, Curtiz proves once again what an efficient and masterful storyteller he is. he’s truly a classicist, and and the essay goes into specific scenic detail about how he gets across so many ideas in so little time.

There’s also a new 17-minute featurette with Julie Garfield talking about her father, and a 5-minute reel of excerpts from a 1962 episode of Today showing contents of the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, Florida, including items related to the novel.

Critic Alan K. Rode (Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film) is interviewed in an informative 22-minute piece, also produced this year, that talks about the studio, the many kinds of styles of movies Curtiz helmed over his long career, and specific tales related to The Breaking Point.

These features and this restoration make a great case for this overlooked film joining the discussion of classic-era Hollywood all-timers.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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