John Garfield in The Breaking Point
John Garfield as Harry Morgan, cynical charter fishing boat captain and Navy veteran
Newport Beach, California and Ensenada, Mexico, Spring to Summer 1950
Film: The Breaking Point
Release Date: September 30, 1950
Director: Michael Curtiz
Wardrobe Credit: Leah Rhodes
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
One of the most intense and talented actors of his generation, John Garfield was born 110 years ago today on March 4, 1913 in New York’s Lower East Side. His birth name was Julius Garfinkle, with Julius added as a middle name that resulted in his nickname “Julie” among friends and family.
Garfield delivered many excellent performances during his too-brief life and career, eventually citing his personal favorite to be in his penultimate film The Breaking Point, a more faithful retelling of Ernest Hemingway’s novel To Have and Have Not than the popular and stylish 1944 adaptation starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
Lushly photographed and set against the docks of Newport Beach, The Breaking Point stars Garfield as self-described “boat jockey” Harry Morgan, a World War II veteran who makes a living for his supportive wife and daughter by chartering his fishing boat, Sea Queen, that ferries passengers back and forth from Mexico. His life grows more complicated after meeting a flirtatious passenger named Leona Charles (Patricia Neal) and getting embroiled into a plot through his shifty lawyer acquaintance F.R. Duncan (Wallace Ford) to smuggle eight Chinese stowaways aboard the Sea Queen, only to find both Leona and his loyal mate Wesley (Juano Hernández) have snuck back aboard the boat to help him… and that Duncan’s contact has double-crossed him.
In my opinion, The Breaking Point is one of the finest films of the era, though it suffered—as did Garfield himself—from the Red Scare hysteria that ruined so many Hollywood lives. “Before it was released, Julie’s name appeared in the anti-Communist pamphlet Red Channels, which alleged he was connected to seventeen different Communist organizations,” wrote Carla Valderrama in her excellent volume This Was Hollywood: Forgotten Stars and Stories. “The report made Warner Bros. nervous, and they released The Breaking Point with little fanfare in September.”
The resulting blacklist inspired Garfield to produce and star in films through his own company, though he only had the opportunity to complete the excellent noir He Ran All the Way before he died on May 21, 1952, at the age of 39. “The official cause of death was a heart attack,” explained Valderrama, but “his friends and family believed it was the strain of the government’s decade-long crusade against him that did him in.”
What’d He Wear?
Harry’s meager means and hardy profession limit his wardrobe to a rotation of hard-wearing pieces over the course of The Breaking Point, all anchored—so to speak—by his peaked mariner’s cap. The cap follows the traditional design for captain’s hats, with a dark navy wool serge cover detailed in the front with a gold bullion-embroidered pair of crossed fouled anchors superimposed by a life ring, a crest often associated with private yachtsmen though it also resembles the foundation of the U.S. Coast Guard seal. A black braid decorates the hat’s black grosgrain band, and the visor is also black patent leather.
While his hat, belt, and shoes (for the most part) remain a constant, Harry rotates through a selection of button-up shirts, contrasting undershirts, and coordinated trousers as he navigates the increasing stakes of his personal dramas at sea and on shore.
The Dark Flannel Shirt
Harry frequently wears a dark mid-weight flannel long-sleeved button-up shirt over a pale-colored cotton undershirt with a narrow crew-neck.
Though it lacks the characteristic breast pocket, the cloth and cut of Harry’s dark over-shirt reminded me of the dark blue woolen flannel shirts worn at the time by U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officers, resulting in its colloquialization as the “CPO shirt”. The shirt has a point collar, a substantial front placket, and button cuffs. All the buttons are a dark recessed plastic with two holes.
Harry’s dark flat-front casual trousers are made from a stiff, textured denim-like cloth, styled with belt loops and slanted “frogmouth”-style full-top front pockets, though no back pockets. The trousers have a comfortably full cut through the legs down to the plain-hemmed bottoms. His belt is made from a dark, well-worn leather and closes through a plain-finished metal single-prong buckle.
Harry typically wears sneakers (more on those later), but there are a few scenes where John Garfield can be spied wearing dark leather penny loafers attached to a set of lifts that would give the 5’7″ actor a few inches more height while acting opposite the 5’8″ Patricia Neal as his potential love interest.
Harry’s most frequently worn outerwear is a medium-colored cotton canvas zip-up work jacket with a large box-pleated patch pocket on each side of the chest, each covered by a large rectangular flap that closes through a single button.
The darker ribbed-knit collar, cuffs, and hem recall the nylon blousons being authorized for aviators at the time as the MA-1 bomber jacket, though Harry’s jacket may more accurately be considered a civilian evolution of the “jungle cloth” cotton deck jackets worn early in the war by U.S. Navy air crews, standardized by the Department of the Navy as NAF 1168 (contract no. NXs-1404).
Later, when Harry is down bad and needing to make payments on his boat, he reluctantly agrees to take on yet another shady job for Duncan, this time helping a group of pinstripe-suited gangsters make their getaway from a racetrack robbery. Harry dresses for his initial meeting with the group in his usual garb of a dark shirt, trousers, and peaked cap but with a brown leather flight jacket like the A-2 that was worn by U.S. Army Air Forces pilots through the beginning of World War II.
The iconic A-2 is recognizable for its shaped shirt-style collar that can be fastened into place with concealed snaps, the fixed epaulets (shoulder straps), a covered-fly zip-up front, flapped patch pockets over the hips, and ribbed-knit cuffs and hem.
After spending much of the Sea Queen‘s initial voyage from Newport Beach to Mexico fending off Leona’s advances, Harry drops her and her supposed fiancé Hannagan (Ralph Dumke) off in Ensenada and runs into Duncan at a cantina/cockfight arena.
For this part of the journey into his evening, Harry dresses in matching shirt and trousers that are most likely khaki, echoing a service uniform he may have worn while in the Navy during World War II. The cotton gabardine service shirt has a point collar, front placket, button cuffs, and two chest pockets with mitred corners and rectangular flaps that each close with a single button, keeping his deck of Chesterfields in the left pocket. Consistent with his usual practice of contrasting layers, he wears the light-colored shirt over a dark crew-neck T-shirt.
The trousers are a similar shade as the shirt, likely made from a khaki chino-cloth cotton, and styled with wide belt loops, curved front pockets, and no back pockets. Harry wears the same dark belt and sneakers as with the previous outfit.
During a brief scene of Harry and Wesley fixing up the Sea Queen after its return from the Coast Guard, the captain wears a dark ribbed cotton mock-neck jumper with swelled seams across the shoulders and set-in sleeves.
Harry’s other most prominent outfit is seen mostly across the movie’s second half, as the action stretches from spring well into the summer. Over another dark crew-neck T-shirt that we see has very short “muscle” sleeves, he wears a chambray work-shirt similar to the blue chambray shirts he would have been familiar with during his Navy service.
The design of Harry’s chambray shirt differs from Navy-issue work-wear, with a mil-spec button-through patch pocket on the right chest but contrasted against a smaller, dropped patch pocket on the left side that closes with a single button through a shallow pointed flap. Assuming the fabric is a light-blue chambray cotton, we can also further assume the plastic buttons down the front placket, on the cuffs, and closing the pockets are all dark blue.
With the chambray shirt, he wears a lighter, medium-toned version of the trousers that he wore with his dark flannel shirt, following the same design with belt loops, frogmouth front pockets, and no back pockets, though the plain-hemmed bottoms appear to have more flare than was present on the darker trousers.
When preparing for his job with the mobbed-up crew of racetrack robbers, Harry pulls on the same two-pocket work jacket with the knitted collar, cuffs, and hem.
Once Harry makes it out to sea with the gangsters, he’s dressed in his shirt-sleeves while at the helm when he tells the gangsters he needs to retreat belowdecks for a jacket. He re-emerges in a dark woolen zip-up work jacket with a flat collar and set-in sleeves with knitted cuffs. The left side of the chest appears to have a leather patch similar to the insignia/ID badges often affixed to the same position on USAAF fliers’ A-2 jackets.
Harry’s everyday shoes are “high-top” sneakers, constructed with black canvas ankle-high uppers and dark rubber toe-caps and outsoles, specifically treaded for better traction which would serve Harry well aboard the potentially wet and slippery decks of the Sea Queen. These sneakers have nine sets of metal eyelets for his dark laces, with two similar grommets positioned on the inside of each shoe’s arch to ventilate the wearer’s foot.
Though Harry occasionally wears black leather cap-toe oxfords or the penny loafers hitched to a set of lifts, those are less congruous with his attire and seen considerably less, so we can consider the dark high-top sneakers to be Captain Morgan’s “canon” shoes, invariably worn with very dark socks.
Harry’s sneakers lack any clear badging that could easily identify their manufacturer, as used at the time by still-prominent shoemakers like Converse and Keds. This may also be an example of Harry continuing to wear military-inspired gear in his civilian life, as branches including the U.S. Army issued similarly styled basketball shoes for athletic training during World War II.
Harry typically wears a tonneau-cased wristwatch on a brown leather strap. The dial is framed with the Roman numeral hour indices offset from the center.
In what’s most likely a continuity error, some shots depict Harry at home wearing a round-cased wristwatch.
Given the shady characters in his orbit and his willingness to take on dangerous jobs for some extra cash, it’s little wonder that Captain Morgan feels the need to keep a few guns stashed around his boat and home. His primary long arm at sea is a Winchester Model 1892 lever-action rifle, which he loads when taking the Sea Queen out to pick up the eight stowaways he was hired to pick up by the mysterious Mr. Sing (Victor Sen Yung).
Upon finding that neither Leona nor Wesley had heeded his advice to stay away so that they wouldn’t be part of the dangerous and illegal job, he hands Wesley the Model 1892 and asks “you know how to use this?” “Just pump the lever and shoot it,” Wesley answers. “Yeah,” Harry responds, tossing him a box of ammunition, “only don’t put any holes in the hull.”
Designed by John Browning, the Winchester Model 1892 was an evolution of Browning’s prior lever-action design for Winchester, the venerable Model 1873 also known as “the gun that won the West.” Browning’s prototype of the Model 1892 was reportedly delivered within two weeks of Winchester requesting a design to compete with Marlin. More than a million Model ’92 rifles were manufactured by Winchester from its eponymous year of introduction through the end of production during World War II, available in a range of ammunition that included the .44-40 Winchester Center Fire (WCF) round popularized in the Model ’73 as well as small-game rounds like .25-20 WCF, .32-20 WCF, .38-40 WCF, and even a handful in the late ’30s produced for the .218 Bee cartridge.
Perhaps most prominently modified as John Wayne’s famous “Mare’s Leg” carbine, the Winchester Model 1892 became a Hollywood mainstay due to its ubiquity during the early studio years and its similarity to earlier lever-action rifles.
Harry’s wife Lucy (Phyllis Thaxter) senses the danger of the racetrack job when she spies the Colt Official Police in Harry’s waistband before he leaves the house. “This is my business, this is what I’m good at!” he responds, gesturing to the grips of the revolver in his waistband, before offering some gentle reassurance. “I’m just being careful, that’s all. The gun doesn’t mean anything unless it goes off! I got a right to be careful.”
Harry then exercises said caution by nailing a pair of leather holsters inside the top of a hatch aboard the Sea Queen, then sliding his pair of Colt revolvers inside them so he could unobtrusively access them while feigning mechanical issues. (Knowing that the gangsters may be looking for guns aboard the boat, he keeps the now-emptied Winchester rifle in a locker where they could easily find it… and toss it overboard.)
As implied by its name, the Colt Official Police was intended for the law enforcement market upon its introduction in 1927. The concept of double-action service revolvers with four-inch barrels and six-round cylinders of .38 Special had been standardized for a quarter of a century by Smith & Wesson, Colt’s primary competition. Colt evolved the existing medium-framed Colt Army Special by generally just rebranding it as the Official Police, and it became a fast favorite among cops, civilians, and crooks alike for more than forty years until production ended in 1969 with more than 400,000 manufactured.
Though differing in some details, the armament generally aligns with how Ernest Hemingway had described Harry’s on-board arsenal in the third chapter of To Have and Have Not:
Then I went below and got out the pumpgun and the Winchester 30-30 that I always had below in the cabin and hung them up in their cases from the top of the house where we hung the rods usually, right over the wheel where I could reach them. I keep them in those full-length, clipped sheep’s wool cases with the wool inside soaked in oil. That’s the only way you can keep them from rusting on a boat.
I loosened up the pump and worked her a few times, and then filled her up and pumped one into the barrel. I put a shell in the chamber of the Winchester and filled up the magazine I got out the Smith and Wesson thirty-eight special I had when I was on the police force up in Miami from under the mattress and filled it up and put it on my belt.
The pump-action gun—presumably a shotgun though pump-action rifles also exist—doesn’t appear among Harry’s on-screen arsenal in The Breaking Point, though he does still carry a .38 Special police revolver and a Winchester rifle. (The Model 1892 was never chambered for the .30-30 cartridge, which was introduced for the similar Winchester Model 1894 and is almost certainly the weapon that Papa was describing on Harry’s boat.)
What to Imbibe
Despite his rum-associated name, Captain Morgan is strictly a beer and whiskey drinker. None of the beer brands are clearly visible (unless he’s served the El Cerro cerveza clearly advertised in the Ensenada cantina where Leona orders a daiquiri), but you can stock a small bar with the varieties of whiskey he swills on screen.
When Harry and Duncan plan the captain’s potential route with his eight smuggled stowaways, they do so with a bottle of PM De Luxe blended whiskey and a pair of shot glasses that suggest it’s been fueling their brainstorm. Advertised for its “clean, clear taste”, PM De Luxe was a product of National Distillers, one of the “big four” American distilleries that rose to prominence in the decades following Prohibition.
After his boat gets impounded by the Coast Guard for his involvement, Harry again goes to meet Duncan at the Newport Beach tiki bar Christian’s Hut, where Duncan tries to talk him into yet another ill-conceived idea until Harry smartly dismisses him: “I had friends of yours on it, it took too long to blow the stink off. Now get away from me, you smell bad.”
Harry evidently has some pull at the bar, as Charlie the bartender leaves the bottle of Old Crow bourbon with Harry to serve himself. Even after that, Harry asks “Charlie, I got any credit here? I wanna tear myself loose,” prompting Charlie to smile in response: “Go ahead, put a dent in it.”
Across the bar, he spies Leona—who had been singing “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” to a group of male customers—and they sit together for an increasingly flirtatious conversation as Harry gets increasingly inebriated, though he smartens up enough to abruptly end the conversation when his wife Lucy struts into the bar and approaches them, having been called by Charlie to give Harry a ride home if he drank too much… as he’s very blissfully doing. When Lucy is stunned to see that Leona is far more attractive than the homely description Harry gave of her, she helps herself to a shot from his bottle of Old Crow.
While now comfortably populating the bottom shelves at most liquor stores, Old Crow has a long and illustrious history—of which I’ll spare you most of the detail—as one of the oldest continuously produced American bourbon brands, first distilled by Scottish immigrant Dr. James C. Crow in the 1830s and eventually a favorite of American icons like Henry Clay, Ulysses Grant, Hunter S. Thompson, and Mark Twain.
If drinking together in a dark corner of a tiki bar wasn’t compromising enough, Harry later visits Leona in her apartment, where she greets him in a satin gown and invites him to have a drink. He pours himself a dram of Old Angus blended Scotch, ignoring the Ron Merito that she had poured for herself. (Between that and her daiquiri order in Ensenada, it’s safe to say that Leona is a rum drinker… no wonder she falls so hard for Captain Morgan!)
After drinking Old Crow and Old Angus, Harry completes the trio of “Old” whiskies when he finds a bottle of Old Overholt rye whiskey on his boat, taking pulls from it during the racetrack robbery getaway.
Old Overholt remains the oldest continually maintained brand of whiskey in the United States. It was first produced in the first decade of the 19th century by Henry Oberholzer, a German Mennonite farmer who had relocated to western Pennsylvania, where he continued his family’s tradition of distilling korn liquor into whiskey. Business gradually grew, with the “Old Overholt” brand finally solidified by 1889, featuring the likeness of Henry’s son Abraham Overholt, who had taken over the operation in 1810.
Thanks to its association with Andrew W. Mellon, then Secretary of the Treasury in President Warren G. Harding’s famously corrupt administration, Old Overholt was one of the few American liquor brands to survive the restrictions of Prohibition by receiving a permit to continue selling its whiskey for, uh, “medicinal use”. (This situation was dramatized in the third season of Boardwalk Empire, featuring the great James Cromwell guest-starring as Mellon.)
Though once favored by presidents (including, again, General Grant), Old Crow slowly fell out of favor over the course of the 20th century until the rye-naissance of the last few decades returned it to its still-modestly priced prominence.
How to Get the Look
Captain Morgan’s seafaring profession and financial position call for a limited wardrobe of hard-wearing staples inspired by his naval career, rotating through rugged work-shirts—inspired by the Navy’s khaki service shirts, navy CPO shirts, and blue chambray shirts—with coordinating trousers and always worn with his peaked captain’s hat, trusty deck jacket, and the traction-soled sneakers that allow him to effectively keep his footing on the Sea Queen‘s wet decks.
- Dark cotton canvas zip-up work jacket with dark ribbed-knit collar, cuffs, and hem and two large box-pleated chest pockets (with button-down flaps)
- Navy-inspired long-sleeve button-up shirt, including:
- Navy cotton flannel shirt
- Blue chambray cotton work-shirt with button-through right pocket and flapped left pocket
- Khaki cotton gabardine service shirt with two flapped chest pockets
- Contrasting crew-neck short-sleeve T-shirt
- Flat-front trousers with belt loops, slanted “frogmouth”-style full-top pockets, and flared plain-hemmed bottoms
- Dark leather belt with plain metal single-prong buckle
- Black canvas “high-top” sneakers with nine-eyelet lacing, ventilation grommets, and black rubber toe-caps and outsoles
- Dark socks
- Peaked cap with navy wool serge cover, gold-embroidered crossed anchors, black braided hatband, and black patent leather visor
- Tonneau-cased wristwatch with Roman numeral hour indices on brown leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out this excellent movie. They don’t make ’em like this anymore… and to be honest, they barely even made ’em like this back then!
A man alone ain’t got no chance.
This is indeed an excellent movie, with fine supporting performances as well. A shame it was suppressed at the time of its release. Great post!
You know, Patricia Neal has always been a conundrum. There was the voice, the eyes…but was she really sexy? Perception changed film to film. I never could really figure it out. It was never incredibly obvious, as in, say Rita Hayworth. But I was always a sucker for the voice.