Friday, September 18, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Murphy's Romance (1985)

I'm not sure I'd seen MURPHY'S ROMANCE since I first saw it in a theater at the time of its release, or perhaps I rented it at some later point. In any event, I suspect it had been at least 20 years or so between my last viewing and watching the film tonight. Although I remembered certain scenes, in some ways it was like seeing the movie for the first time. What a treat!

The movie stars one of my very favorite actors, James Garner, in his only Oscar-nominated performance. It was a well-deserved honor. Garner is impeccable as the initially crusty but always-there-when-you-need-him Murphy Jones, a small-town pharmacist. Murphy gradually becomes enamored with Emma Moriarty (Sally Field), a much younger divorcee who arrives in the area with her young son and opens a business boarding and training horses.

Emma's life struggling to make a living and raise her son is complicated when her immature, irresponsible ex-husband, Bobby Jack (Brian Kerwin), turns up like a bad penny. Perhaps against her better judgment, Emma lets Bobby Jack stay in her house for their son's sake. When Murphy starts coming around to visit, things get particularly interesting.

The movie is simply a lovely character study and portrait of small-town life. The cast is excellent -- I suspect many of the very "real" faces in bit parts were cast with local citizens -- and one of the film's biggest positives is the atmosphere captured with location filming in Florence, Arizona. Whether it's the wonderful old pharmacy with its soda fountain or the pleasures of dancing to fiddle music or playing bingo at the Elks Club, the movie has an authentic feel. The town reminds me a little of the small town in the Sierras we visit most summers.

The resolution of Emma's "Bobby Jack problem" was a bit too convenient, although in keeping with Bobby Jack's character. Otherwise this is a very honest, natural film which slowly but inevitably builds to a positive conclusion.

It hardly needs to be said that Garner's timing is one of his greatest assets, and some of his line readings in this are an absolute crackup. At the same time, some of his best moments require no dialogue at all. He is a master of the thoughtful gaze. The rest of the cast is excellent, with Corey Haim notably believable as Field's son.

The wonderful character actor Charles Lane appears in a couple of scenes. Georgeann Johnson, who later appeared in several episodes of the TV series DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN, plays one of Murphy's lady friends.

MURPHY'S ROMANCE was directed by Martin Ritt, whose credits include THE LONG, HOT SUMMER (1958), HUD (1963), SOUNDER (1972), and NORMA RAE (1979).

Parental advisory: This movie is rated PG-13 for foul language (including one word which surprised me) and a couple brief but frank discussions. Otherwise it is a family-friendly film which quietly celebrates the value of hard work, maturity, and commitment.

MURPHY'S ROMANCE has been released on DVD in a nice widescreen print. It's currently available at Deep Discount for not a whole lot more than the cost of a movie rental.

The movie has also had a pan-and-scan VHS release.

The trailer is available at IMDb.


Blogger Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

I could take up two comment spaces discussing why this is one of my favorite movies, but suffice it to say I will only use enough bandwidth to agree 100% with your review. Garner is an absolute gem, and in a perfect universe he would have had the Oscar that year (he had tough competition; William Hurt won it but Jack Nicholson deserved it more).

3:12 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Glad to know you enjoy this film too, Ivan! It truly was an Oscar-worthy performance.

Best wishes,

12:43 PM  

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