You know how it is, early in the morning on the water? Everything is quiet, except for the seagulls, a long way off.
And you feel great.
And then you come ashore and it starts.
And in no time at all you’re up to your ears in trouble.
And you don’t know where it began.
Harry Morgan, The Breaking Point (1950)
Captain Harry Morgan is a loyal family man under pressure. His dream of operating a fleet of charter boats following his retirement from a decorated career in the navy has not panned out – his business is failing and the wolves are at the door. After being stiffed by a client who hired his vessel for a vacation to Mexico, he and his first mate find themselves stranded in a foreign port without sufficient funds to make their way back home. Preying upon Harry’s desperation, a predatory lawyer makes a lucrative proposal involving the illegal transport of human cargo. As Harry turns the offer over in his mind, he stands at the entrance of a pathway leading into the abyss.
Michel Curtiz, best known for directing Casablanca, crafts a terse noir film about an honourable man’s existential crisis when he can’t make ends meet to support his family. He is besieged by an array of shady characters who take delight in their efforts to compromise his integrity.
The film serves as a reminder that otherwise law-abiding citizens can find themselves on the wrong side of the law when the security of their family is threatened.
The film also examines our inherent capacity for violence and the psychological consequences that ensue when it is unleashed. Harry is underestimated by his newfound nefarious associates - he doesn’t like violence, but he has been hardened during the brutal Pacific War. When his life is threatened, the lion within him emerges, and he struggles both physically and psychologically in the aftermath.
· The Breaking Point is an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. As stated by Julie Garfield, relaying Hemmingway’s comments to Patricia Neal, “Hemmingway felt that it was the only good film ever made of anything he ever wrote in his life.”…( Julie Garfield on John Garfield” (2017), Criterion Collection).
· The definitive consumer release of this film in North America is the 2017 Blu-ray edition released by the Criterion Collection (spine #889).