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USA 1950
Directed by
Michael Curtiz
97 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Breaking Point

A version of the 1937 novel by Ernest Hemingway 'To Have and Have Not' which was filmed under that title by Howard Hawks in 1944. Michael Curtiz’s version does not have the star power of Bogart and Bacall but it is grittier, much truer to the source material and is widely regarded as the best screen adaptation to date of a Hemingway novel.

Re-locating the action to California and Mexico (the novel was set between Florida and Cuba, Hawks’s film in Martinique). John Garfield plays Harry Morgan, a WWII vet and fishing charter boat operator who is struggling to make a living and support his wife (Phyllis Thaxter) and two children. When a client does a runner on him he is forced by financial necessity to take a job from a sleazy hustler (Wallace Ford). It goes wrong but Morgan manages to squeeze out of it only to find himself even deeper in debt. In desperation he agrees to provide the means of escape for a gang of armed robbers thinking that he can outwit them and get the reward money for their capture. Juano Hernandez takes the Walter Brennan part, up-and-coming Patricia Neal, yet to find her look, that of Lauren Bacall.

Eschewing the Hollywood slickness of the Hawks’ version, Curtiz gives us a commendably adult version of the story. Morgan is just an ordinary working stiff who loves his wife and kids but is not indifferent to Neal’s cynical siren call (she has some excellent lines from writer Ranald MacDougall), the wrong decisions that he makes the result of desperate pride, his fate the cruelty of life. It’s not exactly realism but it captures real life and has stood the test of time very well.




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