Monday, November 26, 2018

CONSENSUS #97 To Hell and Back

SYNOPSIS: "To Hell and Back" is the Audie Murphy story starring the hero himself. It is essentially Murphy's "greatest hits" and covers the major incidents in his career starting in Sicily and leading up to the climactic Medal of Honor moment in Southern France.  Although a biopic, the movie does have a squad feel to it as Murphy leads a typical cinematic heterogeneous unit.  There are several good battle scenes.

BACK-STORY: To Hell and Back is an autobiopic released in 1955. It is based on the book by the same name. It stars Audie Murphy as himself. It was his 16th movie. He had come to Hollywood after WWII at the urging of his friend James Cagney. This movie was his biggest hit in a career dominated by B westerns. He also starred in the acclaimed war movie version of The Red Badge of Courage. Murphy was reluctant to play himself because it smacked of self-promotion. He wanted Tony Curtis for the role. Studio execs and friends convinced him to take the part. They were right.

The movie was a critical and box office success. In fact, it was Universals biggest hit until Jaws. It was not a hit with Murphy, however. He felt that even though he had acted as technical adviser and tried to get things right, the studio sanitized the blood and gore of combat. He also felt the movie muted the unpleasantness of war and the negative emotions it brings out. He noted that the climate conditions that he actually fought in (mud, rain, snow) were usually depicted as nice, sunny weather.

TRIVIA:  imdb, Wikipedia, TCM
1.  In the Medal of Honor scene, Murphy was actually on a M10 tank destroyer, not a M4 Sherman.
2.  Murphy did not want to play himself because he thought it would come off as too egotistical.  He wanted his friend Tony Curtis.
3.  The production used 50,000 rounds of ammunition, 300 pounds of TNT, 600 pounds of blasting powder, and 10 cases of dynamite for the battle scenes.
4.  The movie was a huge hit and was Universal Pictures top film until “Jaws”.
5.  Audie Murphy in “To Hell and Back” was the inspiration for Rambo.
6.  The movie popularized the term “dogface”.
7.  It is still the only biopic that stars a movie star as himself.
8.  Murphy wanted to make a sequel called “The Way Back”, but could not get the financing.
9.  It was Murphy’s sixteenth film.
10.  Murphy was the technical adviser and was very hands-on in getting everything realistic.
11.  Murphy did not like the finished product and referred to it as a “Western in uniform”.  He was angry about the battle scenes being filmed in nice weather when the reality was worse.  He did not want the film to close with the Medal of Honor ceremony.  (He had left it out of the book.)  He generally felt the movie was not gritty enough and did not explain why he suffered from PTSD.
12.  Murphy was tabbed to be the villain in “Dirty Harry” when he died in the plane crash.

Belle and Blade  =  4.5
Brassey’s              =  2
Video Hound       =  3.8
War Movies         =  3.8
Military History  =  #77
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:   “To Hell  and Back” is a classic WWII movie.  Although it is rife with the usual clich├ęs and stock characters, it is special because of the involvement of Audie Murphy.  Murphy, the most decorated American soldier of the war, deserved to have his story told and the fact that he stars as himself is unique.  It was a huge hit, but now seems a bit outdated in comparison with the more realistic and gritty films that began to hit the screen in the 1960s.  For instance, you get little of the reasons why Murphy was haunted by PTSD the rest of his life. 

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