It Had to Be You

Peter O’Toole carries this movie about a determined – albeit crazed – Navy man trying to sink the German U-Boat that killed his entire crew. Armed with nothing other than a bi-plane and rickety ship, O’Toole’s vengeance becomes ceaseless, even as his quest causes the death of locals on a small island settlement.

O’Toole’s Murphy becomes a notable figment of grief, the loss of his shipmates overwhelming, but Murphy’s determination turns into a single-minded (and single-manned) mission. By the final act, the war is over. The German captain relents, tries to stop Murphy, but his sense of self-preservation long since disintegrated.

The darkly comic madness O’Toole produces helps lift Murphy’s War from its stubborn, even leisurely pacing

Although a war film involving dueling boats and a plane, Murphy’s War remains isolated and small in scale. Just four characters matter over the course of this story, three of them alongside Murphy (including his real life wife, Sian Phillips, playing the island’s doctor). As such, it feels appropriately personal, with a warped sense of duty that turns into a private mission, almost gluttonous on a quest to avenge his fallen troops.

The darkly comic madness O’Toole produces helps lift Murphy’s War from its stubborn, even leisurely pacing. His complete refusal to listen to any common sense about his fight’s pointlessness creates a memorable screen hero from Max Catto’s source novel. The depicted madness is as darkly funny as it is depressing under the guise of modern understandings of PTSD.

Murphy gains nothing other than perverse pleasure for his efforts. All that he does, while ignoring the toll this takes on everyone, brings the war intimately close, particularly for the people on this island who have nothing to do with international conflict. Much as the title states this is Murphy’s war, the impact of this conflict is far greater, taking lives that were undeservedly lost. It’s warped patriotism, bred from feelings of hatred and a commitment to duty. And yet, Murphy’s War is an enormously entertaining and endearing tale of madness.

Filmed partly in Venezuela, there’s a localized exotic quality that easily separates Murphy’s War from the usual WWII epic. Plus, O’Toole’s snippy language and a willingness to show graphic deaths adds an authenticity missing from films preceding Murphy’s War. The changing cinematic landscape aids this film that banks everything on its star. Luckily, that star was one of the greats.

Video

On the softer side, Arrow doesn’t include any restoration info for Murphy’s War. It’s possible this was a licensed master, and not a recent one. That sounds negative, and it’s not a positive either, but the results look fine. Just fine though. The island cinematography lacks crispness, and the lower-end resolution could use some sprucing up. Grain barely appears in any major quantity, although the signs of digital manipulation are zero.

Texture can thrive in the proper circumstances, mostly in close, with wet or sweaty faces helping to pull out the fidelity. Medium and long shots falter, imprecise and even a touch blurry.

The print used is a clean one, small, near imperceptible scratches aside. Their faded qualities indicate some clean-up. The sunlight drapes Murphy’s War in pleasing contrast, with murky (if deep) black levels resolved well. Color loses a little zip through the years, but still presents rich greens, blues, and reds. Flesh tones bronze over, not unnaturally so.

Audio

A fantastic PCM mono mix is more of a highlight than the video considering the unexpected range. Boat engines, especially the German U-boat, produce a surprising low-end throbbing. It’s deep, clean, and natural.

Sure, dialog indicates age, somewhat worn and thin, but the score sounds magnificent in contrast, even the high-pitched treble. Murphy’s War is a sublime example of mono audio.

Extras

An appreciation from critic David Cairns runs close to 20-minutes. Co-editor John Glen is featured in an archival interview. Them, focus puller Robin Vidgeon speaks for 17-minutes. Finally, One Man Army features critic Sheldon Hall also runs for 17-minutes. Trailers and images round this one out.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Murphy's War
  • Video
  • Audio
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4

Movie

Murphy’s War features a wild and crazed Peter O’Toole in a performance that makes up for the somewhat sluggish pacing.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 39 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray:


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