Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Murphy's War" Loses Punch After a Promising Start

Cleveland Press August 27, 1971

This is one of those tales about one man against overwhelming odds and for a time it is fairly entertaining. Then, about two-thirds of the way through it starts to fall apart.

Peter O'Toole is the Murphy of the title, lone survivor of a ship sunk by a U-boat in the closing days of World War II. No average sinking was this because the German submarine surfaced and systematically slaughtered the survivors.

The scene is the coast of Venezuela at the mouth of the Orinoco River. Murphy is rescued by a French oil engineer (Philippe Noiret) and is treated by a spinster doctor (Sian Phillips -- Mrs. Peter O'Toole) at the nearby Quaker mission.

Then another survivor shows up, a flier who has crash landed his plane farther up the river and who pleads with Murphy -- an aircraft mechanic -- to salvage the plane and get it back.

While Murphy is up river a crew from the sub lands, kills the flier thinking it is the survivor the doctor has mentioned in a radio message and destroys the transmitter.

Murphy sets about to rebuild the plane, decides to destroy the sub. He finally gets the plane up, bombs the sub with homemade Molotov cocktails, thinks he has destroyed it.

He hasn't, and the sub returns, killing natives and destroying the plane. This time Murphy takes the Frenchman's barge up the river, determined to ram the sub. At this point the war is officially over but Murphy doesn't care.

The movie is best as Murphy patches up the old flying machine, devises bombs out of giant water bottles, makes his bombing run and gleefully returns. The dialog between him and the doctor suggest drama that never develops.

His continued maniacal pursuit of the sub, his one-man war just doesn't jell. There is nothing in the character to suggest such zeal, such self-sacrificing dedication. Just the contrary -- Murphy is presented as something of a reprobate who would be only too happy to sit out the war.

O'Toole's accent leaves some of the dialog in doubt, that part that he isn't grunting. Miss Phillips and Noiret are both excellent. The scenery is good, but adds little to the picture.