Saturday, 29 August 2020

Alternate Best Actor 1950: John Garfield in The Breaking Point

John Garfield did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Harry Morgan in The Breaking Point.

The Breaking Point is another effective adaptation of To Have and Have Not, which follows a charter boat captain being forced into the black market after becoming financially strapped.

This adaptation being closer to the original novel as the nature of the man's situation is not during wartime changing the dynamics a bit of our lead character. John Garfield is an actor I'll admit to having struggled with a bit. Someone who I can sense the talent of more than I often see it, someone I've been waiting for his great performance. Well...this may be what I was waiting for. Garfield's style perhaps came too early, as he was a predecessor of the method actors that became the rage of the 50's. This style though perhaps less fitting to some of the parts found in the studio system. Here though we get a role that is ideal for that approach, and we also seem to have Garfield most within his element. This as we get a sense of the guy's financial difficulties just from the outset in Garfield's performance. This as he speaks with exasperation towards his wife about his woes as a fisherman and his inability seemingly to do anything else. Garfield's work has a quiet quality within the intensity here that is remarkable. This as he grants a sense of the man's years of a failure at this point as he speaks about it. Garfield granting it as much with a feeling of an acceptance of defeat in life more than anything. Although he carefully does create the stakes of likability just in the earnest warmth he brings in his interactions with his wife (Phyllis Thaxter), emphasizing just an honest love essential to where his character goes from this point.

We see though as Harry plies his trade and Garfield here is terrific in creating the sense of desperation in the immediacy of his action and suspicion. This with a sardonic quality he brings towards every word and a bit of suspicion towards his clients. Garfield finding a man whose suffered one defeat after another and is almost expecting just another one around the corner. This to the point of even interacting with the sultry costumer Leona (Patricia Neal), the idea of flirtation Garfield initially puts forth is almost an aggressive dismissive quality. This though is quite articulately performed though in the way Garfield so bluntly speaks Harry's words about how much he likes his wife, the intensity of that suggests so well the undercurrent of interest he does have in the woman. Another misfortune, by the way of a trip to Mexico where a costumer runs from the bill, leads Harry to take a job with a black market dealer, in order to just get out of Mexico. The job though, initially seeming an easy job of transporting illegal immigrants, quickly results in self-defense killing when the lead man tries to kill Harry. Garfield is great in these silent moments here as his eyes instantly capture this killer instinct of a man who formerly had combat experience. It with desperation though still in the moment of the fight, bringing a real visceral quality to the moment, something that typically rare in films from the time. Garfield though here finds the real darkness of the story by presenting within the struggle a real fight for one's life, and not just a typical hero stopping a bad guy.

When coming back from that job though Harry begins to be pulled between multiple forces in life. This including the two women in his life and again Garfield is excellent here in striking up two unique chemistries with Thaxter and Neal separately. This with Thaxter there is just a straight forward sense of affection and even vulnerability in Garfield's performance. This as he speaks of killing the man there's no sardonic edge, just a man revealing his personal sensitivity with an intimate poignancy. This against the moments with Neal where he carries that blunt shield of casual dismay though again within that, particularly in the way he looks at her, a palatable lust even if he barely falls upon it. Garfield's work though excels here leaning on that edge of the work and creates the sense of the way the two worlds seem to be pulling on him. This more overtly found though as his wife, and his partner (Juano Hernandez) pulling him away from more black market jobs, while his desperation and something else pulling him towards it. I think the later is important, and perhaps codes didn't allow the film to completely get it into it, however it is alluded to effectively within Garfield's performance. This being that same lust towards Neal, Garfield portrays a glint of thrill when negotiating and preparing for a job of taking some bank robbers after a robbery. Garfield's performance suggesting the lure of the darkness without being overt about it, yet creating a palatable sense of the urge towards the criminal world. This falling apart within the climax where the robbers truly hijack his boat and murder his partner in the process. Garfield is outstanding in this largely silent work from him, this in being absolutely captivating in building the tension of each moment of the sequence. This in building the man's discontent internally while bringing this incisiveness within his eyes of the man waiting to make his move against the men. This is the best work I've seen from Garfield. This as the role not only seems cued within his presence, but Garfield's work brings to life the distinct darkness within his portrait of a man more willing to commit to the criminal world than he admits. It is the sort of performance of an actor truly coming into his own, even if sadly it was one of his last.


Calvin Law said...

Spot on about how Garfield was kind of ahead of his time a bit. Real shame this was his penultimate role. Really enjoyed the film too.

Thoughts on the rest of the cast and the ending shot?

Aidan Pittman said...

Didn't mention it in the last post as the time was obviously not right, but I had a double feature last night with The Godfather: Part III and The Two Jakes. The former while not terrible simply couldn't live up to its predecessors' greatness, and the latter was just one strange sequel.

Pacino - 4.5
Garcia - 3
Coppola - 1
Keaton - 3
Shire - 2.5
Wallach - 3
Mantegna - 2
Duvall - Oh wait :(

Nicholson - 3
Keitel - 2.5
Tilly - 2
Stowe - 2
Blades - 2
Farnsworth - 3

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Happy to see you really liking his work here.

And could Davis possibly go up for All About Eve.

Louis Morgan said...


Thaxter - 3.5(I don't think she quite makes her the heart of the film that I think the part could have enabled. Having said that I did like in general the sort of straight forward affectionate quality she delivers. I think there was room to take the part further to something truly impactful but she does a fine job still.)

Neal - 4(Makes the most out of her role. She is indeed incredibly sultry here, however I like how she doesn't overplay the quality. She finds a wonderful flirtatious quality within her work, but finds a bit of depth within it. This in portraying a genuine sort of interest within Garfield's character that goes beyond that. She's terrific in really finding the importance of her character.)

Hernandez - 3.5(Always nice to see him and brings a nice earnest quality here. Like his warm chemistry with Garfield, and indeed finds the right heart within his character's sort of manner of truly supportive at all times. Would've loved to have had even more of him honestly.)

Ford - 3(Decent bit of sort of more affable sleaze from him.)

That final shot is amazing, and absolutely heartbreaking in its simplicity of really seeing the forgotten cost of it all even beyond what happens with Garfield's character.


I guess...

Anonymous said...

Louis: Thoughts on the cinematography and production design of The Man Who Laughs?

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the South Park episode "Trapped in the Closet"?

Lucas Saavedra said...

Anonymous: he gave his thoughts on that episode here:

Trapped in the Closet - (The most overrated episode of the series next to Awesome-o in my mind. The whole Tom Cruise side of things is extremely repetitive, as really is even Stan's side. The whole episode is just an excuse for the dramatization of the core beliefs, which is funny, but the episode around it is pretty weak I find.)

Matt Mustin said...

Looking over my original ratings for the cast of Da 5 Bloods, I'm gonna bump Boseman up to a 4, because he's really pretty haunting in it, in the way he should be.

Emi Grant said...

Louis: Thoughts on Benny Safdie working with PTA?

Matt Mustin said...

I watched Marshall, because of Chadwick Boseman. Uh, it's decidedly not about him at all, which is a questionable choice, to be sure.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Could either of Garfield's Oscar nominated performances go up slightly.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Could you check out The Clouded Yellow with Jean Simmons and Trevor Howard.

Louis Morgan said...


The Man Who Laughs's cinematography is beautiful expressionistic work. This in just the way Veidt is lit is something special all in itself. This in capturing and carrying a natural emotional quality within the overt darkness and more the swell of light within it. Otherwise a beautifully composed film again, with so many shots seeming to be an immaculate portrait, again particularly so many shots of Veidt.

Although the production design isn't even something you focus on too much within the film, because of the nature of the aforementioned cinematography. Although still notable when noticeable in capturing the merging of styles, that of this sort of period setting though stylized to be a touch twisted like our central character's face.

Emi Grant:

Well quite excited, though not surprising given their love for PTA. As I've stated before, PTA's casting ability is just about flawless, not sure the size of the role, but intriguing bit of casting nonetheless.


Body and Soul, yes, Four Daughters no.

Shaggy Rogers said...

Hey Louis and guys!

Tell me your "TOP10 of the best performances of actors with detonated filmography".
The list works as follows: choose actors and actresses with filmographies formed by films of medium to bad quality, but in the middle there is a work that the person had a great performance that makes you take off your hat. OK let's start...

1. Richard Pryor - Blue Collar
2. Adam Sandler - Uncut Gems
3. Sandra Bullock - Gravity
4. Val Kilmer - The Doors
5. Melissa McCarthy - Can You Ever Forgive Me?
6. Rock Hudson - Seconds
7. Ben Affleck - Hollywoodland
8. Michelle Rodriguez - Girlfight
9. Brendan Fraser - The Quiet American
10. Cameron Diaz - Gangs of New York

What would be your TOP 10?

Tim said...

I can only recommend this new video from Lessons From The Screenplay to everybody.

It's, guess, about Nolan.

Mitchell Murray said...

Shaggy: By virtue of "Tomb Stone", "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", "Heat" and "The Prince of Egypt", Kilmer shouldn't be on that list.

Also, I preferred Diaz in "Being John Malkovich", even though I'd describe her performance as good, not great.

Matt Mustin said...

Shaggy: Do you actually think Cameron Diaz gave a great performance in Gangs of New York?

Shaggy Rogers said...

Mitchell: I had forgotten about Heat. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is just ok, Tomb Stone and The Prince of Egypt are average movies.As for Diaz, I didn't like her on Being John Malkovich.

Matt: For me her best work is Gangs of New York.

Shaggy Rogers said...

Update of my TOP 10:

1. Richard Pryor - Blue Collar
2. Adam Sandler - Uncut Gems
3. Sandra Bullock - Gravity
4. Melissa McCarthy - Can You Ever Forgive Me?
5. Rock Hudson - Seconds
6. Ben Affleck - Hollywoodland
7. Michelle Rodriguez - Girlfight
8. Brendan Fraser - The Quiet American
9. Cameron Diaz - Gangs of New York
10. Will Ferrell - Stranger Than Fiction and Ben Stiller - The Royal Tenenbaums (TIE)

Louis Morgan said...


I'll certainly consider it.