Breaking Point, The (1950): Michael Curtiz’ Remake of Hawks ‘To Have and Have Not,’ Starring John Garfield and Patricia Neal (Recycling)

Michael Curtiz made the engaging thriller The Breaking Point, Hollywood’s second crack at Ernest Hemingway’s 1937 novel To Have and Have Not.  The first film was directed by Howard Hawks in 1944, teaming Humphrey Bogart and Bacall for the first time.
The Breaking Point
The Breaking Point 1950 movie poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

A third version, The Gun Runners, in 1958, also based on Hemingway’s novel “To Have and Have Not” and stars Audie Murphy in the Bogart-Garfield role and Everett Sloane in Walter Brennan’s part as the alcoholic sidekick.
John Garfield, in his second-to-last film role before his death, stars as Harry Morgan, an honest charter-boat captain who, facing hard times, takes on dangerous cargo to save his boat, support his family, and preserve his dignity.
Left in the lurch by a freeloading passenger, Harry starts to enter­tain the criminal propositions of a sleazy lawyer (Wallace Ford), as well as the playful come-ons of a cheeky blonde (Patricia Neal), making a series of compromises that stretch his morality-and his marriage-further than he’ll admit.
Hewing closer to Hemingway’s novel than Hawks’s Bogart-Bacall vehicle does, The Breaking Point charts a course through daylight noir and working-class tragedy, guided by Curtiz’s effortless helming and visual fluency in the vocabulary of film noir.

Narrative Structure

Harry Morgan (Garfield), a sport-fishing boat captain whose business is on the skids and whose family is feeling the economic pinch, begins working with a shady lawyer, Duncan (Wallace Ford), who persuades him to smuggle Chinese men from Mexico into California in his boat.

When his plan goes wrong, Harry comes even more under the influence of the lawyer, who blackmails him into helping the escape of some crooks, who pull a racetrack heist using his fishing boat to get them away.

Harry’s loyal wife Lucy (Phyllis Thaxter) suspects Harry is breaking the law, urging him to stop but he refuses and walks out.

Meanwhile, Harry’s partner Wesley Park (Juano Hernandez) arrives, and Harry tries to send him on an errand. The crooks arrive before Wesley leaves, though, and kill him. Harry is horrified, but is forced at gunpoint to transport the crooks out to open sea without drawing attention of the Coast Guard. Harry learns that Duncan was killed during the escape from the heist. Wesley’s body is dumped overboard. Harry uses a ploy to get the guns he had hidden away prior to the journey and kills the crooks in a dramatic shootout.

When Harry is critically wounded, Lucy tries to convince him to allow the amputation of his arm (which he initially perceives emasculation), Speaking with difficulty, Harry then reaffirms his love for Lucy as he closes his eyes.

Last Reel (Spoiler Alert)
Lucy pleads with the Coast Guard officer to keep Harry alive, but he says nothing.  In the final, highly emotional scene, Wesley’s son, who was briefly introduced earlier, stands alone on the dock looking around for his father.

The Breaking Point lacks the prestige of To Have and Have Not (Garfield is not Bogey), but some critics prefer this version due to its fast-speed, adherence to the spirit of Hemingway’s characters, and above all a stoic top-notch performance of Garfield.

Over the years, this feature has become a staple of noir classics, shown frequently in retrospectives of the genre as well as those devoted to the impressive if short career of Garfield.


John Garfield as Harry Morgan
Patricia Neal as Leona Charles
Phyllis Thaxter as Lucy Morgan
Juano Hernández as Wesley Park
Wallace Ford as F.R. Duncan
Edmon Ryan as Rogers
Ralph Dumke as Hannagan
Guy Thomajan as Danny
William Campbell as Concho
Sherry Jackson as Amelia Morgan
Donna Jo Boyce as Connie Morgan
Victor Sen Yung as Mr. Sing


Directed by Michael Curtiz
Produced by Jerry Wald
Screenplay by Ranald MacDougall, based on To Have and Have Not 1937 novel by Ernest Hemingway
Music by Howard Jackson, Max Steiner
Cinematography Ted D. McCord
Edited by Alan Crosland Jr.

Produced and distributed by Warner Bros.

Release date: September 30, 1950

Running time: 97 minutes