DVD Review HTF REVIEW: "Murphy's War"

Discussion in 'DVD' started by StuartGalbraith, Jun 6, 2003.

  1. StuartGalbraith

    Jun 2, 2003
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    DVD Review – Murphy’s War
    Director, Peter Yates; Producer, Michael Deeley; Screenplay, Stirling Silliphant, based on the book by Max Catto; Director of Photography, Douglas Slocombe; Art Director, Disley Jones; Editors, John Glen and Frank P. Keller; Music, John Barry and Ken Thorne.
    Cast: Peter O’Toole, Sian Phillips, Philippe Noiret, Horst Janson.
    A Michael Deeley-Peter Yates Films, Ltd. Production. A Paramount Pictures Release. Color (Rank). Panavision. 106 minutes. MPAA Rating: PG (re-rated PG-13 for home video). Released January 13, 1971.

    DVD: Released by Paramount Home Video. Street Date June 10, 2003. $19.99
    2.35:1 / 16:9 anamorphic.
    Dolby Digital Mono.
    Special Features: None.

    Reviewed by Stuart Galbraith IV

    Very much an early-'70s movie, Murphy's War is an ambitious but ultimately tedious war drama with a couple of nicely staged action sequences to make it bearable. Though based on a novel, the film plays like a short story stretched far too thin for its 106-minute length.

    Peter O'Toole plays an Irish seaman, the lone survivor of a brutal attack by a German U-Boat on a British vessel in the waning days of World War II. He becomes stranded on a remote tropical island where the U-Boat lies in wait upriver. Perhaps intentionally, the story's setting is vague. There is a passing reference to Trinidad and closing titles reveal the picture was shot mostly in Venezuela, so presumably the action is set off the northeast coast of South America. Except for a few native islanders, the only other inhabitants are austere Sian Phillips as a Quaker doctor, and French actor Philippe Noiret as some sort of forgotten company caretaker.

    [spoilers ahead]

    Nursed back to health by Phillips, O'Toole becomes obsessed with sinking the submarine that killed his mates. He recovers a downed seaplane and decides to use it to attack the sub. Apparently a machinist, O'Toole easily repairs the craft, but has never flown before, and in an amusing sequence, realistically attempts to teach himself how to fly the aircraft.

    O'Toole's attacks on the Germans are intelligently conceived. O'Toole's plane is slow and sputtery, but editors John Glen (of Bond series fame) and Frank Keller (who cut Bullitt) cleverly use the sound of the plane's engine to keep the sub's crew on edge: they can hear but can't see the plane until the last minute. Glen and Keller cleverly invert this idea for a barge vs. sub climax, with the barely-operable barge plainly visible as it putt-putt-putts toward the sub intent on ramming it.

    None of this, however, can save the picture from its simplistic, incomplete script. Radios broadcast news of Germany's surrender, but O'Toole isn't going to let such trivial details stand in his way – after all, the name of this picture is “Murphy's War.” His obstinate behavior goes mostly unexplained. The film offers no back-story on his character: he's single-minded and little else. The result is Murphy becomes irritating instead of sympathetic or even interesting, giving audiences little reason to care when the picture reaches its inevitably tragic and ironic conclusion.

    Indeed, there's very little characterization in the film at all, making the talents of such fine actors as O'Toole, Phillips (so memorable as the scheming Livia in “I, Claudius”) and Noiret (Cinema Paradiso) seem particularly squandered. The only other significant part is that of the submarine's kommandant, played by Horst Janson, whom genre fans will remember as Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter.

    The picture was directed and co-produced by Peter Yates, a million light years from earlier successes like Summer Holiday (1963) and Bullitt (1968). Never a predictable filmmaker, Yates' career became even more schizophrenic around this time. Consider his two films of 1983 – Krull and The Dresser. Screenwriter Sterling Silliphant had found success penning the scripts of In the Heat of the Night (1967) and Charly (1968), but by the mid-1970s was working mainly for Irwin Allen. Maybe they both went crazy like O'Toole's seaman.

    Though not as pretentious as John Boorman's similar war-in-microcosm drama Hell in the Pacific (1968), Murphy's War likewise leaves viewers cold and wanting characters instead of symbols. The picture draws what power it has on its few but suspenseful action scenes, but beyond that has very little to offer.

    Special Features
    None. No trailer. Nothing.

    How is the Transfer?
    Murphy's War was filmed in Panavision and has been given a 16:9 transfer from okay but unexceptional source material. The Venezuela locations have surprisingly limited visual interest, and the image really only comes alive with some striking aerial photography. The mono sound is acceptable.
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator

    Dec 9, 1998
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    This film has some plot holes but the film's ending somewhat makes up for those inconsistencies. I received my dvd yesterday and hope to view it sometime this weekend. Again, thanks for a great review.

  3. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

    Aug 3, 2002
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    Not a cult film, but certainly not universally appreciated, Murphy's War still remains a fascinating film, and a must-have for O'Toole fanatics like myself.

    The ending is corker.

    Pity that the transfer is not top-notch. Still, I'm glad it's finally on DVD! [​IMG]

    Thanks again, Stuart.


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