Movie Report: To Hell and Back (1955)

Book coverI ordered this film and Sergeant York in 2020, and I would have watched the film in 2020 except the copy that I bought back then was a European DVD. Although I did not soon find a used copy of To Hell and Back at a garage sale, I did find a copy at Vintage Stock when I had a gift card to burn. So when Independence Day came around and I wanted something unapologetically patriotic to watch, I finally popped this DVD in.

Like Sergeant York, the film starts with the pre-war bio. Murphy is a poor boy from a rural area who leaves school to support his family. When his mother dies, his siblings go to the church orphanage, and Murphy, although underage, eventually signs up with the army and is sent overseas. Although he is small and has had a rough passage, the men in his company take him under their wing, and they fight in North Africa, invade Sicily, invade the Italian mainland, and eventually invade France as part of the Third Division under Patton.

Murphy performs a number of acts of heroism, and a number of his friends die during their campaigns. In the final push to Germany, the film depicts Murphy alone lying ahead of a German advance to direct artillery fire until they’re almost on his position, and he then jumps onto a burning tank and fires on the advancing troops, hopping down after a couple of minutes before the tank explodes cinematically. I’d read that the film tones down what he did and squashes incidents–the particular climax here was taken from two separate incidents lasting an hour each, both of which resulted in medals for Murphy.

According to Wikipedia, Murphy got his start in the movies when James Cagney saw a magazine article about the most decorated soldier in American history and brought Murphy to Hollywood. Murphy played in a number of Westerns and whatnot, and when Hollywood optioned his autobiography, he was eventually convinced to play himself. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to go through it all again, albeit Hollywoodized.

Back when we watched Sergeant York, I asked who was cooler: Audie Murphy or Alvin York. I chose York then because he went back home to the farm after his wartime exploits, but in my research (reading Wikipedia) related to this post, it looks as though Murphy had a more exciting military career in addition to Hollywood. He died at age 41, though, not long before I was born. Hard to imagine such men lived almost during my lifetime.

Oh, and one other note: I invited my oldest to watch it, and he asked if it was about the guy who jumped on the tank. I said no because I hadn’t seen the film yet (Murphy does jump on a tank). But I thought my son was mistaking Murphy for Missouri’s own John Lewis Barkley, who also jumped into a disabled tank and won the Congressional Medal of Honor for it. But my son probably meant Murphy after all.

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