Murphy's Law Wins the War
On face value "Murphy's War" could be grouped together with various other war movies such as "The Eagle has Landed" where it's all about sticking it to the Germans by any means possible. And as such I would have to say "Murphy's War" would be weak in comparison as whilst there is some creative and amusing sticking it to the Germans it never gets you gripped. But then "Murphy's War" is in many ways more a movie of depth, a study of a solitary man whose endeavours to stick it to the Germans leads him over the edge as he becomes obsessed and deranged. Watching it to see how deranged and obsessed Murphy becomes is actually where "Murphy's War" works best and between the brilliant South Atlantic backdrop and a very good performance by Peter O'Toole it then becomes entertaining.
As World War II creaks to an end Seaman Murphy (Peter O'Toole - How to Steal a Million) finds himself in a missionary hospital somewhere off of the Orinoco river when his ship is sunk by a German U-boat, leaving him as the sole survivor. Despite being easy going Murphy is determined to get revenge by repairing an old sea plane and sticking it to the Germans. But despite his bravery his attempts seem in vein causing him to become more and more deranged as he must get revenge.
Taken purely as a revenge war movie "Murphy's War" works but isn't spectacular. It builds nicely as we meet Seaman Murphy as the ship he is serving on is sunk by a Nazi U-boat and we warm to his Oirish charm as he is rescued and nursed back to health at a Missionary on a small island. But then whilst we watch as he rebuilds a plane and comes up with a plan to blow up a U-boat something is lacking. Oh there is a certain amount of fun ingenuity to Murphy's plans but the actual action, be it when he is flying or towards the end when he takes a creaking steam boat fail to really grip you. Although in a strange way there is something slightly gripping by the ultimately daft ending, just a shame that what goes before doesn't have the same level of excitement and tension.
As such if you watched "Murphy's War" expecting to be gripped by action, by one man's endeavours to stick it to the enemy you would probably be a little disappointed. But "Murphy's War" turns into more than just a simple action movie as we watch Murphy sliding over the edge and becoming deranged by his determination to blow up a German U-boat. It is thanks to a brilliant performance by Peter O'Toole that it works because he initially creates this lovable Irish charmer, a stereotypical laid back fun loving guy. But then we watch the character change, the fun loving side slowly receding as anger boils up inside him leading him to becoming deranged. It is this side of "Murphy's War" which ends up making the movie both interesting and entertaining.
Whilst the actual various scenes of action lack something special it has to be said that director Peter Yates has some good ideas. The scene where Murphy flies the plane for the first time borders close to being exciting as we watch the sea plane skipping across the water as he tries to work out how to fly it. Unfortunately Yates allows it to go on to long and it goes beyond being exciting and ending up feel drawn out. The same can be said of the ending which gets you gripped but also gets you wishing that it would be over sooner.
Whilst Peter O'Toole is the star and the reason why "Murphy's War" ends up entertaining rather than dull SiĆ¢n Phillips and Philippe Noiret provide a bit of welcome variety. Phillips, who was married to O'Toole at the time, as the stern Dr. Hayden doesn't have a lot to do other than trying to keep Murphy under control but the affection between them that boils under the surface adds a nice element and Phillips doesn't allow it to over crowd what is otherwise a rather no nonsense character. Philippe Noiret on the other hand is perfect when it comes to giving "Murphy's War" some lighter touches, providing a bit of laid back entertainment which works in perfect harmony with Murphy being laid back. The scenes when they are repairing the plane are lovely examples, amusing but never full on comedy.
What this all boils down to is that "Murphy's War" is an entertaining and interesting movie but not at the simplest level. If you watch it expecting a clever, action packed movie where one man takes on the enemy you will probably be left wanting as the action is lacking something. But then the entertaining side comes from Peter O'Toole's portrayal of Murphy and his slip from being an easy going Irish man to one who is so focussed on destroying a German submarine that he ends up deranged.