Warner Bros. had originally made this film six years earlier as To Have and Have Not with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. That film was very loosely based on the Ernest Hemingway novel of the same name, but really the only thing similar to the novel was its title as the story department had rewritten the entire script which made it have an entirely different plot.
Upon its release, Hemingway said this movie was the best film adaption of any of his books to date, and there had been quite a few. Though To Have and Have Not had sizzling chemistry between its stars, the plot here is much more compelling. The Breaking Point is about a charter boat captain, Harry Morgan (played by John Garfield), who reluctantly falls foul with the law while trying to make ends meet for himself and his family. His plain wife (Phyllis Thaxter) begs him to give up the boat and find a more stable job after a fishing party lets him down stranding him without money in Mexico, forcing him to take illegal migrants on his boat back to the United States. If he wants to get home, Harry has no choice but to comply as he needs at least $100 to clear port.
Patricia Neal plays a two-timing woman and has minimal involvement in the plot. Later in the movie a shyster lawyer inveigles Harry to take a quartet of gangsters out to sea when they flee after their racetrack heist - culminating in the picture's gripping and climactic set piece - a suspenseful and bloody shootout on board.
Everything in the film moves along at swift pace. The crisp cinematography by Ted McCord (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Johnny Belendia) gives the film a low-key visual style. The movie didn't do well at the box office because by the time it was released John Garfield (who was in talks with Warner's to sign a long term contract) had already been targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Warner Bros. therefore did very little to promote the movie and distanced themselves from the star. However, Garfield gives one of his best performances in this rarely seen gem. The Breaking Point is a terrific film that I recommend.