Saturday, June 29, 2013

After a Month of Audie Murphy Viewing

Although it isn't unanimous, it is overwhelming.  I'm talking about They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To's readers' poll of favorite Audie Murphy films.  With a full 76% of the vote, the winner is To Hell and Back, the film in which Mr. Murphy portrays himself.

For me, To Hell and Back holds somewhat of a #1 status as well.  No, it's not my favorite Murphy movie (it's #2 for me), but it is my absolute favorite of his roles.  Of course, since Audie Murphy is portraying Audie Murphy, and since Audie Murphy is one of my all-time favorite Americans, it's probably no surprise that it would be my favorite of his roles.

Coming in in the very-distant #2 position, with 13% of the vote, is No Name on the Bullet, followed by The Quiet American and Posse from Hell, each with 5% of the vote.  (Funny, that only adds up to 99%.) Garnering zero votes in the blog readers' poll are Gunpoint and, my personal favorite, The Gun Runners, proving, once more, that I often march to the beat of my own drum when it comes to movies.

Thanks to all who voted.  It was fun seeing everyone's take on Murphy movies.

For me, after a wonderful month, in which 92% of my viewing (and 100% of my reading) was Audie Murphy-related, here is how my top-10 list looks.  All 10 films are 5-star "love its," 4-star "really like its," or very high on the 3-star "like it" list.

1.  The Gun Runners  (1958---reviewed HERE)  Based on Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, this film is hands-down my favorite Audie Murphy film.  Interestingly, the 1950 adaption of the film is my favorite of John Garfield's works.  Obviously, it's a story which strikes a chord with me.  Adding to my enjoyment of the story itself is the romantic, playful interaction between Murphy and screen-wife, Patricia Owens.

2.  To Hell and Back  (1955---reviewed HERE)  5 stars for this film, 5 stars for the book of the same name which inspired it, and 10 stars for the man behind both!  See the film, read the book, then be thankful for men like Murphy who gave so much for the cause of freedom!

3.  The Red Badge of Courage  (1951---reviewed HERE)  Though the book of the same name has never been among my favorite reads, the film is fantastic. I think this is Mr. Murphy's best performance---he is absolutely brilliant here!

4.  No Name on the Bullet  (1958---reviewed HERE) My favorite of Murphy's Westerns, this film, in which Audie portrays a hired gun, is rather psychological in nature, because his quiet deliberateness is all that is necessary to completely unnerve the residents of the town he has just entered.  His very presence incites the men's greatest fears and makes them wonder what past or present action has brought a death sentence to their door.

5.  Ride a Crooked Trail  (1958---reviewed HERE)  One of those "redemption" kinds of films I love so much.  Featuring Walter Matthau and Gia Scala as Audie's love interest, this film gets me misty-eyed.

6.  The Unforgiven  (1960) This is Audie's second film with director John Huston, and while it's really a Burt Lancaster/Audrey Hepburn vehicle, with Murphy taking third billing, his acting is stellar.  I think it's one of his best performances.  This is one of the few films in which Mr. Murphy is not clean-shaven (always a hardship for me).

7.   Posse from Hell  (1961---reviewed HERE)  After an outlaw gang robs a bank and kidnaps a young woman, newly-deputized Audie puts together a hodgepodge of a posse and sets out to track them down.  Although warned that the gang is vicious and that he won't be able to apprehend them with such a small posse, he is determined.  Little by little, the posse grows smaller, as men are either killed or desert.  In the end, only two men remain.

8. The Wild and the Innocent (1959---reviewed HERE)  Who would have ever imagined that Audie Murphy and Sandra Dee would make such a delightful pair.  We could call this one Gidget Goes Western!  Cute, fun, and refreshingly innocent!

9. Gunfight at Comanche Creek  (1963---reviewed HERE)  In this film, detective Audie goes undercover, posing as a man wanted for train robbery, in order to infiltrate a dangerous band of outlaws.

10. Bad Boy  (1949---reviewed HERE)  Since I can't decide if this or Battle at Bloody Beach gets the #10 position, I am including both.  Bad Boy was Audie's first starring role, and it brought about his first 7-year contract with Universal.  He is very believable as a delinquent youth.

11. Battle at Bloody Beach  (1961---reviewed HERE)  While this film has horrible IMDB reviews, I am able to look past the flaws and see the good in it. Set in the Philippines, it's an interesting, WWII-era story of a man who supplies ammunition to the Filipino resistance, all the while searching for the wife from whom he was separated during the Japanese invasion.  She's been working for the resistance since their separation, and she's not at all sure she wants to give up her work---or return to her husband.

Since time precluded the opportunity for me to review all the Murphy films I have watched, expect to see a bit more Audie Murphy in the coming months.  There are also many more of Mr. Murphy's films on my "want to watch" list---including Destry and The Guns of Fort Petticoat, both of which were recommended by blog readers---but tracking them down has proven to be a bit of a challenge.

Some of the titles I am most longing to see are World in My Corner (I'm actually dying to see this, as it is a boxing drama, and I love those kinds of films), Bullet for a Badman, Six Black Horses, Hell Bent for Leather, Seven Ways from Sundown, and The Kid from Texas. Unfortunately, these films are not out on DVD in Region 1, and it seems that the only station which airs them is Encore Westerns...and that is not a part of my Dish package.  Thus, I wait...and I wait...and I wait some more!  As I track each film down, though, I'll be reviewing it, so Audie Murphy is still going to be a major player around here.

I hope you, my dear blog readers, have enjoyed the opportunity of getting to know Audie Murphy a bit more this past month.  I hope you've added a few titles to your "must see" list and, more importantly, that you have discovered what a truly great man Mr. Murphy was!

NOTE:  All photos obtained from the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website  (HERE)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Audie Murphy in One Word---Humble

Having the courageous soldier-turned-actor, Audie Murphy, as my focus this month has been a real joy. I've loved the opportunity to shine the spotlight on a man whose name isn't often mentioned when we talk of classic films and classic film actors---or even when we talk about great Americans.

As I've watched documentaries and read biographies and biographical snippets about Mr. Murphy, the overwhelming word which comes to my mind to describe him is humble. Despite his great heroism, Audie Murphy remained an unpretentious man.  He didn't seek greatness, praise, or fame, and he wasn't comfortable receiving it.

Although he has gone down in history as the most-decorated soldier of WWII, that was not a title with which Mr. Murphy wanted to be identified.  Said he, "I never liked being called the most-decorated soldier.  There were so many guys who should have gotten medals and never did---guys who were killed.  The real heroes were the ones with the wooden crosses."  [1]

In This Week Magazine, he stated, "It occurs to me on Memorial Day that all of the dead deserve top medals.  What more can a man do than give his life for his country?...That's why - because of my own feelings at certain times - I didn't feel comfortable with my medals.  I am grateful to the Army for giving them to me.  But I feel today, some 10 years later, just as I did when I received them: that they rightfully belong to Company B, 15th Infantry Regiment, Third Division." [2]

"I feel they belong to a lot of people and not just me."  [3]

Over and over through the years, Audie would say that "the medals belonged to the men with whom he fought and that he was merely the person asked to hold them."  [4]

When Universal decided to make a film of Mr. Murphy's best-selling war memoir, To Hell and Back, they wanted Audie to portray himself; a national hero portraying his own life story was something that had never been done before.  Audie did not want to do it.  "Not wanting anyone to think that he had come to Hollywood to cash in on medals he had won at great cost, he suggested Tony Curtis take the role." [5]  Universal, however, insisted that no one could play Audie Murphy as well as Audie Murphy.

Another argument with the studio came because Audie did not want the film to include him receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor.  "Feeling that the real heroes were still there, in the ground of Europe, he did not want to call attention to himself."  [4]  Although he argued with studio executives, in the end, they won, for to them, a movie about America's most-decorated hero must show him receiving the highest honor for bravery.

About his Distinguished Service Cross, Mr. Murphy said, "I won the medal, but Lattie (best friend, Lattie Tipton, who was killed only moments before the action for which Mr. Murphy was awarded the DSC), who was the bravest man I ever knew won only death for himself."  Murphy gave the decoration to Lattie's daughter, who had last seen her father when he left for war when she was 9-years old.  [3]

For the courageous actions which brought about the Congressional Medal of Honor, Mr. Murphy downplayed his heroism, saying, "No man stands out there in the front all alone; not for long he doesn't.  Help must, and does, come from somewhere if he is to survive."  [4]

He dedicated To Hell and Back to two fallen friends, Joe Sieja and Lattie Tipton, with the inscription, "If there be any glory in war, let it rest on men like these."  [6]

Even in death, Mr. Murphy's humility shines, for the headstones of Medal of Honor recipients buried at Arlington National Cemetery are normally decorated in gold leaf.  However, Audie had requested that his stone remain plain and inconspicuous, like that of an ordinary soldier."

Audie Murphy never sought greatness, praise, or recognition, and for me, those who don't seek such things, are the ones truly deserving of them.  As a person who prizes humility above nearly every other character trait and who detests the pride, arrogance, and self-exaltation of most of today's celebrities (and society in general), I find Mr. Murphy to be a breath of fresh air and the kind of role model I want for my children.  What an overwhelming privilege it has been to showcase such a man this month!

[1]  From Real Men, Ten Courageous Americans to Know and Admire, by R. Cort Kirkwood, Cumberland House, 2005.

[2]  From This Week (magazine), May 29, 1955

[3]  From American Hero, The Life and Death of Audie Murphy, by Charles Whiting, Eskdale Publishing, 2000.

[4]   From American Hero, The Audie Murphy Story, by Peggy Caravantes, Avisson Press, Inc., 2004

[5]  From Audie Murphy:  Great American Hero, A&E Biography, 1996.

[6] From To Hell and Back, by Audie Murphy, MJF Books, 1949

All photos were obtained from the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website (HERE)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Man (1960)

Regular readers of They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To know that I am crazy about Robert Ryan.  He's one of my absolute favorite actors---probably my #1 guy---and a man I deem sensational in nearly every role he ever took on. Well, the other night, I had a real treat---I had an opportunity to see "man of the month" (and one of my top 20 favorite actors!), Audie Murphy, taking on a Robert Ryan role. Yes, I'm serious---Audie Murphy stepped into Robert Ryan's shoes---and you know what, Mr. Murphy was every bit as terrific in the role as Mr. Ryan was.

In 1952, Robert Ryan starred along with Ida Lupino in Beware, My Lovely (reviewed HERE), a suspenseful drama in which a mentally unbalanced man (Ryan) worms his way into the home of widow Lupino, and after getting hired as a handyman, terrorizes her by locking the doors, removing the keys, and basically holding her captive inside her home.  Unstable, he vacillates between anger and kindness, confusion and lucidity.

To my utter surprise, I discovered that Audie Murphy took on that exact role in The Man, a 1960 episode of the live TV drama, Ford Startime.  In the Ida Lupino role is Thelma Ritter, and except for a few minor changes (including the ending), the stories are virtually identical.  While this made-for-TV drama is slightly under an hour in length, and thus not as in-depth as the film, it nevertheless packs quite a punch.

Newly arrived in town, Howard Wilson (Audie Murphy) sets out to find the address of Mrs. Gillis (Thelma Ritter), the mother of a man he knew back in his Army days.  Without telling Mrs. Gillis that he knew her son, Howard attempts to rent a room from her; when he's unsuccessful, he seeks to have her hire him for a few handyman jobs.  Lying that he is doing some post-graduate work at the local university, Howard is eventually successful in convincing the kind widow to give him a few hours of employment. Though the man is obviously troubled in some way, that isn't at first apparent to Mrs. Gillis.

After gaining access to Mrs. Gillis's house, Howard meanders into what used to be her son's room, eventually suggesting that he could move into that room and stay there forever.  Mrs. Gillis is alarmed by Howard's strange request and by the fact that he is often confused, forgetful, and prone to rages.  And when she realizes that Howard has locked her in the house and removed the keys from the locks, she is quite panicked.

Does Howard hurt Mrs. Gillis?  Or is she able to obtain help?  Those are the questions which play out in the remainder of the show.

Audie Murphy is not only very believable in this role, he's actually quite brilliant!  The way he vacillates between anger, gentleness, and lunacy is remarkable.  And those eyes---there is a distinct glint of madness in them!! Mr. Murphy was really a much better actor than people give him credit for being. Thelma Ritter is terrific too---you can definitely see and feel her character's rising panic. Obviously, as a 49-minute TV show, The Man lacks the depth of the 76-minute movie, but it is still very interesting and exciting...and suspenseful without being scary.  I'm giving it the same 4-stars I give the film. If you'd like to check it out, HERE is the link to the YouTube video.

Happy viewing!!

NOTE:  The photo used in this article is from the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website (HERE)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Red Badge of Courage (1951)

Who among us doesn't remember those mandatory readings of our high school literature class?!  Those required readings and our enjoyment of them---or lack thereof---may well have meant the difference between an "A" and a "C" in the class.  It was that way for me anyway. While The Great Gatsby and The Scarlet Letter were breathtakingly wonderful reads for me and, thus, inspired passionate discussions and even more passionate essays, William Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams had the very opposite effect. Every page---no, make that every word---was a struggle, and my resulting assignments were lifeless and dry. While I wouldn't put Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage in the same category as Williams and Shakespeare, it was definitely only middle of the road for me.  I made it through Mr. Crane's novel, but I was rather ambivalent about the thing, so for that reason, seeing the film version of his story has never been high on my list of things to do.  It is only because Audie Murphy portrays one of the lead characters in the 1951 film and because it is one of his few non-Western films that I bothered to give it the time of day.  Wow!  I am so glad I did, because I think it is brilliant!  It's easily a 5-star film---my 5th such "discovery" this year---and my third favorite of Mr. Murphy's works.

Directed by John Huston, The Red Badge of Courage is one of Audie Murphy's earliest works; in fact, it's his 7th film.  Also featuring Andy Devine, Royal Dano, Bill Mauldin, Douglas Dick, and John Dierkes, this film was considered to be a casting masterpiece.  "Hedda Hopper had told an MGM executive " would be nice seeing a real soldier playing the part of a screen soldier for a change.  With so many of our young men going to Korea, putting Audie in the picture would aid in boosting their morale."  [1]  Director Huston agreed and pushed for Audie when MGM officials wanted a more known star.  Another piece of casting genius was WWII cartoonist, Bill Mauldin.  Murphy and Mauldin, only a few years removed from the battlefield, obviously drew on their own real-life experiences, for they brought an incredible sense of realism to their portrayals.

As the American Civil War inches into its second year, a regiment of newly-trained Union soldiers is preparing for its first battle---there's the Cheery Soldier (Andy Devine), the Tattered Man (Royal Dano), the Loud Soldier (Bill Mauldin), the Lieutenant (Douglas Dick), the Tall Soldier (John Dierkes), and the Youth, Henry Fleming (Audie Murphy).  While the majority of the men seem excited and fearless about what is soon to come, the Youth is frightened and has extreme doubts about his ability to fight.

The next day, as the battle rages around him, the Youth's courage fails him and he runs away. After the fighting subsides, Henry, ashamed of his cowardice, wishes he had his own "red badge" (war wound), for it would signify that he had had the courage to fight.  Returning to his regiment and discovering that in the chaos of battle, no one knew he had run away, he lies that he was grazed by a bullet.  With his guilt and shame eating away at him, Henry seeks to make amends in the next battle.  He is determined to conquer his fear and not allow it to render him a coward again.

The Red Badge of Courage was a box-office disaster; however, Audie Murphy's acting received great reviews.  One magazine said, "Audie Murphy proves himself almost as good an actor as he is a soldier." [2]  For me, this is the best performance of Audie's entire career---he is absolutely sensational!  I could vividly see and feel every single emotion Henry experienced---the fear, the shame, the anxiety, and the victory.

Audie said, "There's a thin line between being a hero and a coward.  That's something the book tries to show and something I learned too." [1]  Basically, being courageous doesn't mean an absence of fear; rather, it means, as Audie exemplified in his own life, moving forward even in the midst of fear...defeating it and not allowing it to render you immobile or cowardly.  The young man who learned that lesson in this film is brought brilliantly to life by Mr. Murphy.

The film's lack of success wasn't due to the acting, direction, or cinematography.  All of those things are perfect.  In beautiful black and white, with appropriate dust and smoke, the film gives the appearance of being actual documentary footage of war---it's that realistic.  The downer for me is the use of a narrator (speaking Stephen Crane's penned words).  I didn't really find the narration necessary.  Also, the MGM brass cut 25 minutes of footage, resulting in a film barely over an hour long.  While we will never know the full film John Huston envisioned, I think this abbreviated version is terrific, realistic, and well worth viewing.

This is the first of two films Audie Murphy made with John Huston.  The two would work together again nine years later, in 1960's The Unforgiven.  Again, while the film was not a success, Mr. Murphy's work received much praise, proving that while many consider Murphy a sub-par actor, when under the direction of a gifted director, he was capable of not just a solid, believable performance, but of extremely wonderful work.

Out on DVD, The Red Badge of Courage should be fairly easy to track down.  I think it's not only a terrific Civil War film, but a terrific war film period.  It really evokes the emotion of the soldier.

Happy viewing!!

[1]  From American Hero, The Audie Murphy Story, by Peggy Caravantes, Avisson Press, Inc., 2004

[2]  From American Hero, The Life and Death of Audie Murphy, by Charles Whiting, Eskdale Publishing, 2000.

All photos in this article were obtained from the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website  (HERE)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Happy Birthday, Audie Murphy!!

Happy 88th birthday to one of my all-time favorite Americans and one of my top 20 favorite actors---the man who has turned me into an appreciator of Westerns---the brave and courageous war hero-turned-actor, Audie Murphy.  (June 20, 1925[1]- May 28, 1971)

Born into extreme poverty to sharecropper parents in Texas's cotton country, Audie Leon Murphy was the seventh of twelve children. His father, who was never particularly successful in his role as a provider, abandoned the family when Audie was 15, at which time, Audie dropped out of school in order to support the family.  He had left school often through the years, in order to work and help support the family, but after 5th grade, he dropped out for good. (He hadn't started school until age 9, and with breaks, he was 15 after 5th grade.) Following his beloved mother's death in the summer of 1941, teenage Audie was on his own.

Upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Audie desired to join the war effort and sought to enlist in the military.  After being rejected by both the Marines and the Navy because of his size and his age, Mr. Murphy was accepted into the U.S. Army in the summer of 1942 .  He was 17 at the time---too young to enlist---but, with his oldest sister's help, he falsified his birth year, claiming it to be 1924, rather than 1925.

Although his size might have dictated otherwise, Audie was a fierce and committed soldier, and he quickly moved up the ranks.  A capable leader, he never expected or asked his men to do anything he wouldn't do himself.  It wasn't that Audie was fearless; on the contrary, he said that he "never moved into combat without having the feeling of a cold hand reaching into (his) guts and twisting them into knots" and also that "he and fear had each other by the throat, and he never knew which was going to conquer."[2]  Audie was always the victor, conquering his fear and refusing to allow it to render him immobile or cowardly.  In the course of his wartime service, he was wounded three times, and each time, he always returned to the front.

Audie regularly received promotions and decorations.  Ultimately, he became the most-decorated soldier of the Second World War (some sources say in all of American history), being awarded a total of 33 decorations---12 of them for valor---including the Medal of Honor. His Medal of Honor citation states the actions which resulted in the Medal "prevented the encirclement and destruction of his company."  Visit the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website (HERE) for information about each decoration he received.

Mr. Murphy's battlefield heroics are the stuff books and movies are made of---which, in fact, they were, with the publication of his war memoir, To Hell and Back, and the production of the film of the same name.  Audie wrote the book, he said, "to remind a forgetful public of a lot of boys who never made it home."

After the war ended and Audie returned to the states, he sought to figure out a direction for the future.  A telegram from James Cagney helped him in that regard.  Mr. Cagney invited Audie to visit Hollywood, at his expense.  He ended up staying at the Cagney's home for several weeks and was encouraged by many to pursue a film career.  Eventually, he decided to accept Mr. Cagney's offer and went on Cagney's company payroll, taking acting and speech lessons (to lessen his strong Texas accent) and developing his social skills while waiting for film work.

That first film role finally came---in the form of an 8-word line in the 1948 Alan Ladd/Donna Reed film Beyond Glory.  Always humble, Audie joked that it was about seven more words than he could handle.  His first starring role came the following year, in Bad Boy, a performance which resulted in a 7-year contract with Universal and the establishment of a career which would span the course of 20 years and 44 films, mostly Westerns.

In addition to his success as a soldier and an actor, Mr. Murphy also wrote poetry and, with Scott Turner and other songwriters, penned the lyrics to county & western songs.  "Shutters and Boards" is one of his most famous collaborations.

Writing poetry was a bit of a balm to Audie during the somewhat-discouraging period between arriving in Hollywood and beginning his acting career.  While nearly all of the poems Audie penned have been lost, a few remain and are posted on the Audie L. Murphy Memorial website (HERE).  They are all moving and heartfelt.  "Freedom Flies in Your Heart Like an Eagle" (as copied from the website) was written as part of a speech Audie gave at the dedication of the Alabama War Memorial.

Dusty old helmet, rusty old gun,
They sit in the corner and wait.
Two souvenirs of the Second World War
That have witnessed the time and the hate.

Mute witness to a time of much trouble
Where kill or be killed was the law.
Were these implements used with high honor?
What was the glory they saw?

Many times I've wanted to ask them...
And now that we're here, all alone,
Relics all three of that long ago war. . .
Where has freedom gone?

Freedom flies in your heart like an eagle.
Let it soar with the winds high above
Among the Spirits of soldiers now sleeping.
Guard with care and with love.

I salute my old friends in the corner.
I agree with all they have said . . .
And if the moment of truth comes tomorrow,
I'll be free, or by God, I'll be dead!

. . . Audie Murphy, 1968

Always involved with the military, Audie joined a division of the National Guard in 1950 and remained with the Guard (in both active and inactive statuses) for 16 years.  In 1966, he transferred to the United States Army Reserve, with the rank of major, and was still with that group at the time of his death.

All was not roses in Mr. Murphy's life, though.  As discussed in a previous post (HERE), his valiant fight to uphold the cause of freedom came with an enormous price tag---his own health. He battled the devastating effects of PTSD for all the remaining years of his too-short life. Said a man who interviewed him in 1967, "He was more than the most decorated soldier of World War II, more than the war hero of our time.  He was also a casualty---so much of his spirit, in fact, had been killed in action." [2]  Especially by the late 1960's and into the 1970's, Audie was deteriorating rapidly, and even his good friends hardly recognized him.   Wrote dear friend, "Spec" McClure, after an early 1971 get-together with Murphy, "He seemed awfully tired---spent.  I looked at him and realized that I would not have recognized my old friend had I seen him on the streets...For years Audie seemed to be eternally young and then, as if the raging emotional and mental fires within had surfaced, he seemed to grow old overnight..."[2]

Audie's troubled life came to an end less than a month before his 46th birthday.  It was Memorial Day weekend, 1971, when the private plane in which he was a passenger, crashed in the mountains of southern Virginia.  He was killed instantly, leaving behind a wife, two teenage sons, and the forever example of valor and courage, even in the face of fear. As the most-decorated U.S. soldier of World War II, his final resting place, quite fittingly, is in Arlington National Cemetery, where his grave is second only to that of President John F. Kennedy in the number of visitors received.

While I appreciate, admire, deem a hero, and am incredibly thankful for the tenacious teenage warrior who bravely fought for the cause of freedom, it is the troubled man I've come to love. The man who, though hurting inside, strapped on a gun belt, donned the charming, movie-star image into which he had been typecast, and entertained film-going audiences. The man whose humility, combined with his concern for the needs of other vets, allowed him to be public---in a time when it was taboo to mention such things---about his battle with the emotional effects of war.  The man who didn't call attention to himself or his many decorations but, instead, called the real heroes those left behind in the ground of Europe. The man who, despite financial problems, refused offers for liquor and cigarette commercials, because such things weren't good for kids. The man whose inner pain had become so great that, according to director Budd Boetticher, he intended to "blow his brains out," but refrained from doing so after Boetticher reminded him how it would affect those who looked up to him. [3] The man who, even before his death, had been largely forgotten by a fickle, forgetful, complacent America. [4]

So, Mr. Audie Murphy, I am remembering you on your 88th birthday.  Thank you for all the entertaining films you made, but more importantly, thank you for your selfless service to our country and to the cause of freedom!  I love you and am forever grateful for all that you did to uphold the freedom we so often take for granted!  In the words of George Eliot, "Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them."  I have not forgotten you, Audie, dear...nor will I ever!

[1] Both IMDB and the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website (HERE), list 1925 as Audie's year of birth; other sites (and even his gravestone) list it as 1924.  The discrepancy is due to the fact that Mr. Murphy filed a falsified birth certificate at the Hunt County, Texas Courthouse, in order to join the military before he was of legal age.

[2]  From American Hero, The Life and Death of Audie Murphy, by Charles Whiting, Eskdale Publishing, 2000.

[3]  From Audie Murphy: Great American Hero, A&E Biography, 1996.

[4] From Real Men: Ten Courageous Americans to Know and Admire, by R. Cort Kirkwood, Cumberland House, 2005..."On May 28, 1971, when his plane crashed into Brush Mountain, near RoanokeVirginia, killing all aboard, a reporter called a Veterans of Foreign Wars post for a comment about Murphy. Answered the voice on the phone, "Who's Audie Murphy?"  The major networks gave only a few minutes of their evening news to his death, and when the Old Guard laid him to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, two of the three networks ignored it."

NOTE:  All photos used in this article were obtained from the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website (HERE)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ride a Crooked Trail (1958)

One of my favorite Audie Murphy Westerns is Ride a Crooked Trail.  From 1958, the film also stars Gia Scala and features Walter Matthau and Henry Silva in supporting roles.  The film was directed by Jesse Hibbs, who directed Mr. Murphy in several other films, including his own story, To Hell and Back.

After unsuccessfully attempting to rob a bank, Joe Maybe (Audie Murphy) is being hunted by lawman Jim Noonan.  During the chase, Marshall Noonan plunges off a cliff and to his death, whereupon, Maybe takes the man's horse and badge and heads into the river town of Webb City.

Webb City's hard-drinking Judge Kyle (Walter Matthau) is determined to keep the riff-raff out of his town and, thus, stops all strangers as they enter the city limits.  If they and their business are legitimate to the judge, he bids them welcome; if not, he directs them out of town.

Claiming the new arrival fits the description of bank robber Joe Maybe, Judge Kyle is ready to arrest him.  After a quick shootout with the man results in a wounded shoulder for the judge, he notices that the stranger carries the legendary broken-star badge of Marshall Noonan, and he assumes that the man is, in fact, the famous marshall.

With the judge needing to recover from his gunshot wound, he asks "Noonan" to hold down the fort and keep the peace for him.  Though Maybe wants to get on out of town, the judge won't take "no" for answer, so Joe Maybe takes on the law-abiding identity of Marshall Jim Noonan.

His cover is nearly blown when The River Queen docks in Webb City and old flame Tessa (Gia Scala)  disembarks. Part of Sam Teeler's (Henry Silva) gang, Tessa is in town to scope out the local bank.  Upon catching sight of her former love, Tessa calls him "Maybe," but the quick-thinking Joe lies that she's his wife and that she called him "baby."

Happy to meet the respectable wife of a U.S. Marshall, Judge Kyle sets the couple up in a lovely little house, where they must keep up the pretense of being a loving, law-abiding married couple, all the while planning to rob the bank when Sam Teeler and his gang arrive in town.

Adding to Maybe/Noonan's dilemma is the presence of the little orphan boy, Jimmy.  A ward of the court, he needs respectable parents, and it seems that Mr. and Mrs. Noonan fit the bill. With Jimmy watching him, Judge Kyle beginning to get suspicious, and the Teeler gang anxious to get to the robbery, the "marshall" isn't quite sure what he wants to do.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

Ride a Crooked Trail is loads of fun.  As stated, it's one of my favorite (so far) of Murphy's's right up there with No Name on the Bullet as one that is a 4-star, "really like it" film.  First of all, I'm a sucker for these kinds of storylines.  They draw me in every time. Besides Audie, who looks like he is having a lot of fun in this film, the one to watch here is Walter Matthau.  He is terrific in his role!  Gia Scala, who I'm not overly familiar with, is beautiful, and I think she is great in her part.  She and Audie have fantastic chemistry together. Finally, the film has a couple of very touching moments, both of which got me a little misty-eyed.

This film ought to be fairly easy to track down, as it is out on DVD, plus it is available in its entirety on YouTube.  Fans of Murphy, Matthau, and Scala ought to quite enjoy it.

Happy viewing!!

NOTE:  All photos in this article were obtained from the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website  (HERE)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Whispering Smith (1961)

As a child of the 1960's, I grew up on TV Westerns---Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, The Rifleman, Wagon Train, Death Valley Days, and The Virginian were all part of the fabric of my growing-up years.  Even though several of those shows were a bit before I was old enough to understand TV, through re-runs, the shows caught up with me.  And even if I never watched an episode of a particular show, because my Western-lovin' dad did, I had at least heard of it.  So imagine my surprise to discover, through my search of Audie Murphy's filmography, that he, too, starred in a TV Western---1961's short-lived (26 episodes filmed/20 aired) Whispering Smith. No one in my life had ever mentioned this show, so it wasn't until a few short months ago that I learned of its existence.

Based on the 1948 Alan Ladd film of the same name, the story---set in the 1870's---is about a Denver police detective named Tom "Whispering" Smith.  (The nickname "Whispering" is due to Smith's soft-spoken demeanor---talk about a perfect role for Audie!)  With lawlessness going gangbusters in the West at that time, Detective Smith has more than his share of crimes to solve and criminals to apprehend, and he does so with the help of his partner, George Romack (Guy Mitchell).

Having discovered the existence of Whispering Smith, I immediately popped on over to Amazon, where I found the 3-disc, 26-episode series available for $11.99 (the price has increased slightly since then).  Despite having never seen a single episode of the show to know whether or not I'd like it, I quickly added it to my cart, grabbed a book or two, then made my way to the check-out.  When my package arrived three or four days later, I hastily opened it and then popped the first disc into the player. Yes, I was in need of an Audie fix, but even more, I wanted to see this show I had never heard of.  My verdict?  A big, 4-star thumbs-up!

Because the series lasted for only 1 season---giving me a mere 26 episodes to enjoy---I don't want to race my way through it.  I want to savor it...make it last as long as possible.  (I feel similarly about Audie's filmography; while I want to catch every film he made, there's a sadness in doing so, since there will never be any more.  When I'm done, I'm done.)  Thus, as of now, I've only watched 6 episodes of the series, but I have "really liked" every single one.

Each 30-minute episode is interesting and fast-moving and features a couple of guest stars---Robert Redford, Gloria Talbot, Harry Carey, Jr., and Richard Chamberlain are some of the notable ones I've seen so far.

Oh, just have to say, episode #5 ("Safety Valve") features a short swordfight scene between Audie and one of the guest stars.  After my recent month of Stewart Granger viewing, I have come to very much appreciate swashbucklers, and it was loads of fun seeing Audie taking on that role.

Without question, I heartily recommend this series.  For me, it's a great, 4-star way to get an Audie fix when I don't have time for a whole movie...or when my family is rebelling and demanding we watch someone other than Audie for a change!

NOTE:  All photos used in this article are from the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website  (HERE)

For more information about the production history of Whispering Smith, check out this article at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Website (HERE)