Murphy’s War. Getting his start in the film industry dubbing foreign films and editing documentaries, Peter Yates soon rose to become an assistant director before making his directorial debut with the Cliff Richard vehicle Summer Holiday (1963). However, it was the critical success of Robbery (1967) that brought Yates to the US for his breakthrough and iconic film Bullitt (1968); following that film with the low-key drama/comedy John and Mary (1969), Yates would reteam with producer Michael Deeley on a film adaptation of the Max Catto novel Murphy’s War. Previously released on Region B Blu-ray by Indicator, Arrow Video has licensed the movie from Paramount for its US Blu-ray debut.
The Production: 4/5
In the final days of World War II, the merchant ship Mount Kyle is sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Venezuela and its crew – save for Irish seaplane mechanic Murphy (Peter O’Toole) – is gunned down by machine gun. Murphy is brought to a settlement near the mouth of the Orinoco River, where he’s nursed back to health by the pacifist Quaker Dr. Hayden (Siân Phillips) and befriended by Louis (Philippe Noiret), the friendly oil company worker who found him. When he discovers the boat hiding further up the river in the jungle, Murphy begins to plot his revenge against the U-boat using homemade Molotov cocktails and the recovered seaplane from the merchant ship as his instrument for vengeance. But when the Germans surrender and WWII in Europe ends, Murphy is undeterred; for him, his war will only end when either him, the U-boat captain (Horst Janson), or both of them are dead and lying at the bottom of the Orinoco.
One of the more underrated WWII films of its era, Murphy’s War mixes the action/adventure elements of its source material with the anti-war sentiment of the Vietnam War era. Adapted from the Max Catto novel, Stirling Silliphant’s screenplay jettisons some of the darker and rougher elements of the book and changes the location from Africa to Venezuela for the film; Peter Yates, already proven himself adept at action with Bullitt (1968), guides the film with a sure hand, deftly mixing the competing elements of drama and action to form a cohesive whole. Douglas Slocombe’s location photography in Venezuela is a huge asset to the film, so too is the music score by both John Barry and Ken Thorne, which adds to the tension in key scenes of the film. However, the biggest plus here is that Yates manages to get quality performances from his cast. In the end, Murphy’s War proved that Peter Yates’ ascension to become one of the top directors of his time was no fluke.
Despite not being able to incorporate some of the darker elements of his character from the novel, Peter O’Toole still makes the film’s eponymous character one of his most underrated performances; the year after this movie, he would have of his most offbeat roles – one that earned him an Oscar nomination – as an English nobleman who believes he’s Jesus Christ in The Ruling Class. Married to O’Toole at the time of filming, Siân Phillips casts a memorable impression as the Quaker doctor who tries to talk Murphy out of his quest for vengeance; after this film and Under Milk Wood (1972), Phillips would mostly be seen on television before returning to the big screen in Nijinsky (1980). In their respective roles, Philippe Noiret and Horst Janson bring welcome support as – respectively – as the jovial Louis and the captain of the U-boat that Murphy seeks revenge against; Noiret would go to appear in memorable films like La Grande Bouffe (1973), Coup de Torchon (1981) and Cinema Paradiso (1988) while Janson would achieve cult status for portraying the eponymous character in Hammer Films’ Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974). Completing the cast here are John Hallam as the Mount Kyle’s seaplane pilot, Ingo Mogendorf as Voght and John Clifford, Harry Fielder, George Roubicek and Bob Simmons as members of the U-boat crew.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio, likely taken from the same HD transfer created for Indicator’s Region B Blu-ray release. Film grain, color palette and fine details are all presented faithfully with minimal problems like scratches, tears and dirt present on the transfer. Overall, this release bests the previous Paramount DVD in terms of visual quality and is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video.
The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a PCM track for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and music score by John Barry and Ken Thorne are all presented faithfully with minimal cases of distortion like crackling, popping and hissing present on the track. Overall, this release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video and surpasses the previous Paramount DVD release of the movie.
Special Features: 4/5
Running Out of War (19:49) – Created for this Blu-ray release, film critic David Cairns goes over the film’s history, the novel and its translation to the screen in this visual essay.
A Great Adventure (31:07) – Ported over from the Indicator Blu-ray, 2nd unit director and co-film editor John Glen shares his memories of working on the film.
Dougie, Chic and Me (17:17) – Focus puller Robin Vidgeon talks about working with cinematographer Douglas Slocombe and camera operator Chic Waterson on the movie in this interview from the Indicator Blu-ray.
One Man Army (17:18) – Film critic Sheldon Hall shares his appreciation for the movie in this interview carried over from the Indicator Blu-ray.
Image Gallery (17)
Theatrical Trailer (3:17)
Booklet feat. an essay by critic Philip Kemp
Not carried over from Indicator’s 2022 Region B Blu-ray release are an audio conversation with producer Michael Deeley, a 1999 documentary on cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, a Super 8 version of the movie and an additional essay by Julian Wheeler with an archival print interview with Peter O’Toole.
Despite a rather tepid reception from critics and audiences upon first release, Murphy’s War is still a solid anti-war adventure film that’s a highlight in the careers of Peter Yates and Peter O’Toole. Arrow Video has done a solid job of bringing the film to Blu-ray here in the US, with a solid HD transfer and a good mix of new and legacy special features (although not all of the features from Indicator’s Blu-ray release made the cut here). Very highly recommended and absolutely worth upgrading from the Paramount DVD.
Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.
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