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Los Angeles Film Festival 2012: The Breaking Point

Michael Curtiz

Michael Curtiz

The Film Foundation is sponsoring a special screening of director Michael Curtiz's The Breaking Point (1950), his adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, which had already found its way to screens six years earlier as Howard Hawks' inaugural Bogey-Bacall collaboration. While Hawks' film has solidified an iconic foothold in the history of cinema, Curtiz's version, which is far more faithful to the plot of Hemingway's story, is ripe for rediscovery.

Harry Morgan (John Garfield in his second-to-last role before his tragic death at 39, at his peak) barely supports his wife (Phyllis Thaxter) and two little girls by taking people out fishing on his boat. He's hired to take a couple (the female half of which is played by a bleached-blond Patricia Neal, who smolders and seduces at an alarming rate) to Mexico, but when the man runs out on him without paying the fare, Harry must find another way to make it back home. Harry agrees to smuggle a group of illegal Chinese immigrants into the United States, but after a gun goes off, things quickly go awry.

The ultimate tragedy of the film comes down to Harry's prideful inability to accept help from others (such as his wife or father-in-law), egocentrically shouldering the burdens of the world alone. Garfield turns in a marvelous performance, his surface coolness and stoicism sporadically disturbed to reveal fear and pain. And Ted McCord's deep-focus photography gives the film a tangible reality, the constant shadows warning of just how easy it is to step out of the light and into the darkness.