The Breaking Point

The Breaking Point ★★★★★

A real shame we lost John Garfield when we did. Like Robert Walker or even Montgomery Clift, his brilliance as an actor is harder to talk about considering how short of a time they had to prove it. I consider both to be among the best. Perhaps if Garfield had a few more years to thrive rather than suffer under a blacklist, he'd rise the ranks to Bogart or Grant.

The Breaking Point has to be my favorite Michael Curtiz so far, and probably for all time. A tall task considering its source material already received an adaptation in 1944 under the watchful eyes of Howard Hawks and William Faulkner. Granted, The Breaking Point is considered far more faithful of an adaptation, though I wouldn't know.

I honestly adore both versions for entirely different reasons. Hawks is drenched in smoke and charisma, Curtiz is sun-drenched and restrained. Both are remarkably human, but Hawks is the urbanite to Curtiz's equally clean and unsettling working man. A weird place for Curtiz to find himself considering his variable and often extravagant history, but he's shockingly comfortable in this position. And between two unbelievable casts, Hawks gets the best out of his female lead Lauren Bacall whereas Curtiz gets Garfield at his finest. But really, half of the humanity is in overall cast list. Even Curtiz's child actors (Sherry Jackson and Donna Jo Boyce) are a rare instance of kids playing into the innocence factor without feeling like a distraction.

Perhaps it's all some perfect storm: a faithful Hemingway adaptation with extraordinary actors on the edge of their own canon, a director having already dabbled effectively in every genre under the sun, the tight-as-sin editing of Alan Crosland, Jr. (who would later work with Aldrich and Mackendrick), the comfortably gorgeous cinematography of Ted D. McCord (already having worked with Huston, later collaborating with Kazan and Wise), all to this single point - an understated yet passionately held spot in cinema history.

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