Pros: Two Pros....Sally Field and James Garner at their best.
Cons: Unrealistic look at small town life after dark.
I'm not quite sure what it is about some films that makes me want to watch them over and over. Is it a sense of familiarity or a feeling of camaraderie? Maybe its a feeling of coming home. In Murphy's Romance (1985) I think it is because I could relate so well to the leading female character, Emma Moriarity, played wonderfully by Sally Field.
Having recently divorced, Emma packs up her son, Jake (Corey Haim), and all of their belongings in an old pickup truck and heads for a small town in Arizona. Emma wants to start her own business boarding and training horses. For those of us that have had these same dreams of putting our past behind us, Emma is a character that we understand.
Ms. Field does a wonderful job portraying Emma. Can you really say you're surprised? She is an actress with such versatility and depth. She's come a long way since her days as the Flying Nun. I'll never forget the scene in Steel Magnolias when she exploded with emotion over the death of her daughter. It took a full box of Kleenex to get through that one. Her role here as Emma is a bit similar to the one she played in Norma Rae, with both women having to be tough and fight for what they want. In Murphy's Romance, though, she shows a softer, more vulnerable side.
Emma and Jake arrive at their new home, a run-down house with a rusty tin-roofed barn. They buckle down and work together to get the place livable. It is obvious that Emma is a determined and strong woman. She digs right in, making repairs and wielding tools as well as any man. Instead of squealing and running away when she sees a huge rat in the middle of the kitchen floor, she removes her boot and throws it at the critter. Once the house and barn are in order, Emma needs to advertise her new business.
It is while she is distributing flyers under the windshield wipers of the cars parked in town that she runs into the local Pharmacist, Murphy Jones (James Garner). When she attempts to put a flyer under the wiper of his shiny red antique car, right on top of the bumper stickers claiming "No Nukes" and "Re-Forest America", she hears the words...Lady, You're covering up my Causes.
James Garner was nominated for this role of Murphy Jones by the Academy awards as Best Actor in a leading role. Once you've seen the film, you'll understand why. He plays the part beautifully. He's tough when he has to be, without being a real jerk. When fighting to have a parking meter removed so that he can park his heirloom car in front of his store he dukes it out with the city officials....
Emma......So what are you? The town oddball?
Murphy.....When I'm pushed, I shove.
Emma.....Don't you know you can't fight City Hall?
Murphy....You can wrestle 'em
Murphy Jones is the kind of man that every woman dreams of. Ok, ok, I'm not necessarily talking about appearance here. James Garner is a good-looking fella, but no Mel Gibson for sure. It's the character of the man that is so appealing. He is kind, thoughtful and quite witty. He's also a decent guy....something that can be hard to find these days. And James Garner plays this role exactly the way it should be played.
Now back to Murphy's Romance....As time goes by, Emma and Murphy have frequent run-ins and their friendship blossoms. Murphy will not loan her money when she finds herself running short, but he does buy a horse at an auction, simply with the intention of bringing some business to Emma. It also gives him an excuse to visit her home to "check on his horse" every evening. Murphy also offers an after-school job of washing glasses to Jake.
My favorite scene is when Emma is hospitalized after being run off the road by a teenage driver. Lordy, I knew exactly what was going through her mind. I've been there, done that.....
Emma....It costs $3.00 for an aspirin in here (sobbing)
Murphy....Blow your nose (hands her a Kleenex)
Emma......It costs a dollar for that (cries even harder)
The appearance of Emmas' homeless and penniless ex-husband, Bobby Jack, (Brian Kerwin) throws an interesting twist into the story. Watching the excitement of Jake upon seeing his Dad, and hearing Bobby Jack telling Jake, "I'm Back, I'm Back" concerns Emma. Eventually she gives in and lets him stay, but expects him to work for his keep....and keep his hands to himself.
Once the Ex arrives, there are quite a few really cute scenes. A bare rear-end (don't worry...if your kids are watching, they won't see a whole lot...definitely less than anything they'll see on MTV), Murphy and Bobby Jack dancing together (the look on Emmas' face as they sashay by is hilarious), and a roll in the hay (it's a good thing Emma didn't take any Sinutab first!).
The story continues with a lot of supper invitations, a crooked card game, scenes from a slasher movie, a little Bingo game (Ok, ok...a spoiler here....Emma does win Bingo!), a Birthday party, and a down-home, rodeo type celebration. There is also the arrival of a pair of twins (no, Emma does not get pregnant, nor does Murphy have a fling with Mary Kate and Ashley), but I'm not going to tell you how they fit into the story.
One of the aspects that I truly enjoyed in Murphy's Romance was the music of Carole King. Her voice suits the mood of the film perfectly. She writes and performs 4 songs, and also wrote the song the Brian Kerwin sings at the rodeo, I Love You Only. The cast list says that she played the role of Tillie in the movie. I never could figure out who "Tillie" was, though, and I've watched this movie a dozen times or more.
The remainder of the cast in Murphy's Romance all play relatively small roles. I would like to mention the director, Martin Ritt. He and Sally Field worked together in 3 out of his 4 films between 1979 and 1985 (Norma Rae, Back Roads and Murphy's Romance), some of his last work before his death. The 4th one during that time, Cross Creek, is another of my favorite films. Mr. Ritt had a real eye for everyday folks and their own situations and personal issues. He had a way that would make me forget that I'm watching a movie and feel like I was a part of the story.
Murphy's Romance was filmed in Florence, Arizona and runs for just under 2 hours (107 minutes, if you want me to be exact). The one and only thing that I had a problem with in Murphy's Romance is the scenes of the evening life. There were so many vehicles in the streets and people walking around, it looked more like Mardi Gras time in New Orleans. That part of the story just wasn't realistic to me. For those of us that live in small communities, we know that most of the sidewalks fold up after dark. It's the one thing that keeps me from giving this film 5 stars. The bottom line is that if you find yourself in the mood for a really sweet, funny and touching love story, this is the one I'd recommend before any other.