I use hands to help my fellow man / I use hands to help with what I can / But when I face an unjust injury / Then I change my hand into FIST OF FURY

Breaking Point

tn_breakingpointBREAKING POINT is an early Bob Clark picture in sort of a DEATH WISH vein. DEATH WISH came out 2 years earlier. Bo Svenson (who had already been in WALKING TALL 2, and is my favorite Buford Pusser) plays Michael McBain, a regular guy who’s walking home with his stepson late one night when he sees two gangsters beating a man to death in an alley. He’s an honorable, manly kinda guy so he fearlessly goes over to tell them to cool it. But he’s too late to save the guy.

And being that that’s who he is, of course, he’s willing to identify the two guys who did it to the police. Or at least that’s the plan, but everybody starts saying he’s crazy to get involved. His wife, his sister, his sister’s fiancee – all of them think he should just stay out of it. So he gets second thoughts, and pretends he doesn’t remember anything.

But, ah shit. He’s Mike McBain! He can’t live with himself after a sissy move like that. He gets third thoughts. He goes to the officer in charge, Robert Culp, and tells him he’ll identify and testify. Turns out his testimony could bring down notorious Philadelphia crime boss Vincent Karbone (John Colicos), who pretends to be a legitimate construction magnate, but we all know the score. Karbone is in the middle of building a deluxe housing development over an iron mine, a self-contained rich people haven that could be the setting of David Cronenberg’s SHIVERS. He’s on the verge of something big here, so he’s in a fragile state. It’s a bad time to fuck with him.

It turns out Mike’s cowardly family members were right. Getting involved was dangerous. Karbone sends his thugs after Mike and his family. This includes but is not limited to throwing a molotov cocktail at the kid. It misses and lights his real dad (Stephen Young) on fire. So that makes things a little awkward between dad and stepdad.

Even after the trial is over, when the cops swear there’s no reason to keep messing with his family, Karbone keeps after them. There is harassment. There are threats. There are murders.

mp_breakingpointThey gotta go into witness protection. They move to Winnipeg and change their names and looks. Mike wears glasses, he looks like a professor. The trouble is the government can’t put up every last family member (what would the fiscal conservatives say?), so they leave behind the sister’s fiancee and the stepson’s father, causing trouble. The kid misses his dad, the dad is pissed that he doesn’t know where the kid is, this could end badly. Mike gets paranoid, but he’s right to be paranoid. He is absolutely correct that one of these chumps is gonna do something stupid and get followed by hitmen and get murdered.

So eventually Mike has to get to his titleogical breaking point. What makes the movie only okay is that that point only comes about 25 minutes from the end. That’s when he finally gives up on the system and puts his faith instead in how awesome he is at kicking ass. Instead of hiding he calls the motherfucker up, tells him he’s coming for him. Goes to a big party and threatens him to his face (he’s in the public eye, he has to play nice for the moment).

One thing I liked, they don’t mention at first what Mike’s job is until about 17 minutes in suddenly they show him instructing his judo class. So you know that’s gonna come into play. I didn’t know or I forgot that Svenson actually is an accomplished martial artist, having even been the Far East Heavyweight Judo Champion a good 15 years before this. You wouldn’t know it from the movie, though. It never turns into a martial arts movie, but he does grapple a guy in a filthy public restroom. He grabs the guy by the top of his head and sticks his fingers in his eyes and it looks pretty painful.

Best move in the movie is on the construction site, the only logical spot for this all to end. McBain sees his enemy silhouetted on the other side of a sheet, tosses a 2 x 4 that beans the shadow right on the head and knocks it over. It’s so cool (and hard to figure out how they did it) that it didn’t even occur to me until now that the 2 x 4 must be a WALKING TALL reference.

One of the guys he runs off the road, so it’s the cliche of the stuntcar that flies off a cliff, crashes, then explodes. Pretty standard stuff, but good set up for the very end when (SPOILER) he rolls the entire construction office off a cliff, and it also explodes after it hits. I’m not sure I could explain the science of that, but I like it.

BREAKING POINT was Clark’s next movie after BLACK CHRISTMAS. Other than a pretty stylish opening it’s much more filmatistically by-the-numbers and ugly than that one. To be fair, it’s a poor quality cropped transfer on the DVD, so it looks like any number of darkly lit ’70s movies you never heard of that you used to flip past on local TV channels on a Saturday afternoon. Writer Stanley Mann was the guy who wrote THE MOUSE THAT ROARED, he’s also credited with coming up with the idea of THEATRE OF BLOOD (a great idea), and later went on to CIRCLE OF IRON, DAMIEN: THE OMEN II, FIRESTARTER and CONAN THE DESTROYER. Co-writer Roger Swaybill was involved in LATHE OF HEAVEN and continued his Bob Clark collaboration with PORKY’S II: THE NEXT DAY.

I can’t say it’s a must-see, or even a might-consider-seeing, but it’s an okay programmer that takes advantage of Svenson’s charisma and physical presence. And that’s worth something.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013 at 11:36 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Responses to “Breaking Point”

  1. Bob Clark had a pretty weird career. Anyone who can go from gold like BLACK CHRISTMAS, MURDER BY DECREE and A CHRISTMAS STORY to shit PORKY’S, FROM THE HIP and BABY GENIUSES must either have a split personality or just don’t give a fuck.

  2. Wait, why isn’t PORKY’S on the “gold” list?

  3. Vern, you asking that makes me think there’s no way I can explain why without setting off an avalanche of American youth reminiscing about how this movie provided their first glimpse of pubic hair on film. And who wants that? But I could have mentioned a lot of other Clark movies from the 90’s instead, that’s true.

  4. Wait. There’s a film of Lathe of Heaven? That’s the sort of thing you don’t find out about on any other review sight.

    This sounds like one I’d happily watch if it came on tv but wouldn’t go out of my way for.

  5. caruso_stalker217

    April 3rd, 2013 at 5:16 am

    Hey now, I like FROM THE HIP.

  6. This movie is a great illustration of how important endings are to a movie. The majority of the running time is interesting if not all that exciting, but then the ending is pretty kickass, so that’s my overall takeaway from the movie: pretty kickass. Lots of seventies movies worked that way. They’d shore up most of the running time with filler to save all their budget for the end so they could send the audience out with a smile. I think that’s better than the modern model, which for some reason likes to put the biggest action set-piece either first or second and then skimp on the climax. This is counterproductive, because the earlier set-piece raises the bar to a level that the final shootout or whatever can’t reach, so you end up being kind of disappointed. To me, it just proves that its better to disappoint for 80 minutes and then kill it for the last 15 than the other way around.

    On a side note, and I don’t quite know how to say this, but I’m an American male of appropriate age (whose favorite horror movie is BLACK CHRISTMAS, no less) who’s never seen PORKY’S. I had to see pubes for the first time in an actual porno, like some kind of fucking animal. I have no excuse. The shame is all my own.

  7. As a huge fan of 60’s and 70’s movies, let me just add that those 80 minutes has to have something to keep the audience interested. And that’s why we got all these cool actors back then, as opposed to the bland kids of today.

  8. I didn’t see PORKY’S until I was older. It’s a legitimately good teen drama/period piece despite the cheesy subgenre that its success launched. That’s not just me, that’s the conventional wisdom on PORKY’S for anyone who’s seen it, that’s why I was surprised it was listed with BABY GENIUSES.

  9. PORKY’S is a classic comedy

    and let me say something in defense of the infamous shower scene, if you watch it closely you see that the girls in it are girls that you could conceivably see in a high school in the 50’s, there’s no Playboy models or anything like that (like in a similar scene in the cheesy PRIVATE SCHOOL that came out a year later), it’s meant to titillate sure but it’s still keeping in context with the rest of the movie

    that alone is proof in my opinion that Porky’s is a cut above your average 80’s teen comedy, but then you also have the movie dealing with more serious subjects like the racism of the era, you wont see that in *PRIVATE SCHOOL

    *to be fair, PRIVATE SCHOOL is a hilarious movie too, albeit for the wrong reasons, it’s a teen comedy starring Matthew Modine of all people (because when you think wacky teen comedy, you think Matthew Modine) trying and failing to be funny and the aforementioned shower scene is so beyond ridiculous and long (it even has “I Love Candy” playing during it) that it has to be seen to be believed

  10. I guess I could have mentioned a lot of other Clark movies as proof of the fact that the man was uneven as a director. And I do not want to open up the Sex in America vs Sex in Europe debate again. But I must say that the conventional wisdom on PORKY’S is a little bit different over here. So pretend I mentioned BABY GENIUSES 2 as the third movie, and let’s get back to one of my favorites; 70’s B movies. Vern, you mentioned that The Big Swede is your favorite Pusser. How would you rate Joe Don Baker, Brian Dennehy and Dwayne Johnson?

  11. Mr Majestyk, that’s also the tactic that 99% of those modern story arc heavy shows use. Most of the episode nothing happens, then BAM! Awesome ending and the viewer thinks he just watched another brillant episode of a great show.

  12. Oh, and that Hercules guy…

  13. I never see many of these movies – they seem to be hard to get in the UK, but I do love those kind of off-beat 70’s movies when I do see them, e.g. THE OUTFIT or HITMAN. It’s a shame because John Colicos is a very good actor (underrated by many probably due to chewing the crap out of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA but apparently well-respected by actors themselves) and I like to see movies he’s in. Is he good in this one? If so I may have to seek it out.

    CJ Holden – that’s so true about most arc shows being empty with a BAM! at the end to make you think you watched something. I’m watching season 1 of Homeland at the moment (nobody spoil it!!!!) and I feel that every episode is just that. I’d go further; as much as I love MAD MEN, I think every *season* is pretty much empty with a BAM! at the end of the last episode to make you think you watched something. There are exceptional episodes (I’m thinking of the Samsonite suitcase ep, for instance), of course, and there do appear to be themes but still…

  14. TCM is a good source for 70’s movies. And youtube is a virtual gold mine.

  15. Cosh,

    Yup, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN has been turned into a made-for-TV movie … twice!

    The first was for PBS in 1980 and starred Bruce Davison, and is the version mentioned in Vern’s review. It’s considered a cult classic.

    The second was for A&E in 2002 and stars James Caan, Lukas Haas and Lisa Bonet. I’ve never seen it but it’s gotten bad reviews.

    Both are on DVD.

  16. Even bigger movies from the 70’s used the slow build up. There are of course cool things happening from the start, but MR MAJESTYK, PRIME CUT, ROLLING THUNDER and THE OUTFIT (to name a few) all have an ending that sticks with us for years after watching them. But as I said earlier they also have Bronson, Marvin, Duvall and William Devane.

  17. PRIME CUT has a great middle scene in a wheat field with a giant harvesting tractor. That’s my takeaway from PRIME CUT.

  18. Yeah, PRIME CUT’s perhaps not an ideal example.

  19. TCM in the UK used to be good (for instance, PRIME CUT and THE OUTFIT I saw there) but nowadays it’s pretty useless, although it reruns DEADWOOD and BAND OF BROTHERS so it’s not all bad news. The BBC used to put on these kinds of movies on Monday nights, but those days are long gone. Never thought of looking on YouTube so thanks for that.

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