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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.37:1 Standard
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New interview with biographer and film historian Alan K. Rode (Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film)
  • New piece featuring actor and acting instructor Julie Garfield speaking about her father, actor John Garfield
  • New video essay by filmmakers Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos, analyzing Curtiz’s directorial techniques
  • Excerpts from a 1962 episode of the Today show showing contents of the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, Florida, including items related to To Have and Have Not, the novel on which The Breaking Point is based
  • Trailer
  • An essay by critic Stephanie Zacharek

The Breaking Point

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Michael Curtiz
1950 | 97 Minutes | Licensor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #889
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: August 8, 2017
Review Date: July 27, 2017

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SYNOPSIS

Michael Curtiz brings a master skipper’s hand to the helm of this thriller, Hollywood’s second crack at Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. John Garfield 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—farther than he’ll admit. Hewing closer to Hemingway’s novel than Howard Hawks’s Bogart-Bacall vehicle, The Breaking Point charts a course through daylight noir and working-class tragedy, guided by Curtiz’s effortless visual fluency and a stoic, career-capping performance from Garfield.


PICTURE

Michael Curtiz’s The Breaking Point (the second attempt Warner Bros. would make at adapting Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not) receives a rather stunning Blu-ray upgrade from the Criterion Collection. The film is presented in 1080p/24hz high-definition in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, and comes from a new 2K restoration scanned from a 35mm fine-grain safety, struck directly from the original negative.

Nothing of a real surprise here since I came into this with high expectations and they were pretty much met. Like most of the Warner titles coming from Criterion the transfer and restoration are both very good, the restoration having cleaned up damage (there’s nothing of note here), the digital encode being cleaning and natural, leading to the final image looking clean and film-like with excellent grain rendering.

And though not razor sharp on the whole the image renders the fine details and textures quite well and some close-ups do indeed look spectacular. Contrast also looks fine, and the image manages black levels and the tonal shifts in the gray levels superbly. Overall it’s an exceptional looking presentation.

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The lossless linear PCM 1.0 mono track also comes off pretty well. There can be some background noise noticeable but the track has been cleaned up in other areas and I didn’t notice any other severe issues. It’s not an overly dynamic track, limited in fidelity, but music isn’t edgy and sounds clean, while dialogue is clear. Perfectly serviceable.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion’s Mildred Pierce interestingly didn’t have a lot on Curtiz (that release focused more on Joan Crawford) but Criterion remedies that a bit here by including a new interview with writer Alan K. Rode, author of Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film. Rode spends the first bit of his 21-minute discussion going over Curtiz’s early career doing various film related jobs before falling into becoming a director, which eventually led to him being picked up by Warner Bros. when they were looking to fill positions. Curtiz cranked out movies (six a year at one point) but became more discriminatory in his later years, which led to The Breaking Point. It’s here where Rode goes over Curtiz’s visual storytelling style, using a number of scenes and shots in the film, and explains how the director added his own touches and threw in his own progressive touches to override what he calls Hemmingway’s “passive racism” in the original story. Rode also explains why this film, which he considers one of Curtiz’s best, got lost in the shuffle. I have a feeling there must be some bigger Curtiz supplement Criterion could throw on here but this is a rather solid overview.

Fluid Style is a 10-minute visual essay by filmmakers Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos, “fluid” referring to what looks like Curtiz’s “effortless” looking style. They breakdown a number of scenes which so easily set-up moments and characters, conveying a lot of information in so little time. Of course the point of this essay is to show that even though the effort in the scenes barely registers because the scenes move so smoothly and feel so uncomplicated, the reality is they are actually fairly complicated in their staging, camerawork, and editing, keeping us aware of the layout of the setting (which is usually a confined space), reminding us of the presence of other characters, keeping our attention on the right area, and keeping things moving by, well, keeping the actors and the camera moving. The segment is short-and-sweet at 10-minutes and it covers its subject very well, offering some good insights.

The 17-minute On John Garfield features daughter Julie Garfield talking about her father, covering his early days in theater studying Stanivslavski’s system and then his work for Warner Bros., before his career effectively ended after accusations were thrown at him that he was a communist (the stress from this ordeal probably led to his premature death). Following that is a short 5-minute clip from Today chronicling items from Ernest Hemmingway’s house, including various objects like pens and a number of clippings, some of which revolve around To Have and Have Not. This latter feature is a bit random ultimately but somewhat amusing.

A trailer then closes the disc. The release then features an essay by Stephanie Zacharek, going over the film and the source novel (and the Hawks film to an extent), while also explaining why the film got sort of lost in Curtiz’s filmography.

I would have maybe expected material on the book and more on Hemmingway, and maybe even a bit more about the original Bogart/Bacall film (Warner released To Have and Have Not themselves on Blu-ray through the Warner Archive) but the supplements we do get, though slim ultimately, are all rather good. Nice job overall.

6/10

CLOSING

As the supplements pointed out the film has undeservedly been looked over since its initial release and Criterion does a wonderful job in saving it from obscurity with a fresh new presentation. Highly recommended.


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