The Audie Murphy Story
Over the years I have watched various Audie Murphy movies and in doing so come to learn a bit about the man, most significantly that not only was he a war hero but also the most decorated soldier in the U.S. during WWII. What is more remarkable is his actual story, the rejections as he tried to enlist, almost being transferred out because of health concerns and in the 3 years he was in service taking part in numerous campaigns including one where he jumped on a burning tank to use the machine gun to hold of waves of German troops despite the tank being full of fuel and explosives. It is Audie's own story which would be first published in the book "To Hell and Back" and would be adapted into this movie which Murphy, after initially not wanting to play himself would star in.
Now all that sounds great here we have the story of a bona fide war hero who would go on to become a huge movie star playing himself in his amazing story of bravery. Unfortunately "To Hell and Back" is not the great movie which Murphy's story deserved because it is typical of its time, not just in the portrayal of war but also in the portrayal of Murphy himself as a good old boy. Now I am not saying he wasn't the good guy portrayed in the movie but with no swearing and plenty of being decent and upright it has the air of being sanitized and building on the public persona of Audie Murphy rather than going for realism and truth.
It is frustrating that "To Hell and Back" is such a typical wartime biopic because Murphy's story is a brilliant one starting with the fact he dropped out of school to become provider for his brothers and sisters when his father walked out. But it is his battle to fight which is most amazing especially seeing that he was turned away from the Marines and Paratroopers as well as the Navy for being underweight. What isn't mentioned in the movie is that he falsified his age to get in and it is one of many things which deserved to be in the movie.
Because there are elements missing whilst we do have the story of Murphy's heroics and his humbleness in being awarded honours "To Hell and Back" becomes almost a routine war movie. We see the men, their camaraderie and joshing, there is dancing with pretty women and of course the combat, the battles in the trenches and bravery as well as the difficulty of dealing with the losses. I know I am sounding like a broken record but because the story is sanitized it turns what should be a great biopic into a decent but not great war movie. And if you don't believe me about being sanitized Murphy's mood swings which he himself mentions in the book "To Hell and Back" never once crop up but would have painted a more believable picture.
But whilst I have issues with the sanitized way both Murphy and war is portrayed I can't knock Murphy's performance at all because he gets across the humbleness of his character. You may not believe when Murphy seems a bit wet behind the ears when it came to pretty women but you do believe that when he was in battle he did what ever it took to win, fearless in battling the enemy. You also believe that whilst deserving of all the awards he almost felt uncomfortable with it as to him he was just doing his duty. It is because Murphy does such a good of playing himself, or at least the public persona of himself that it works.
What this all boils down to is that "To Hell and Back" is an entertaining war movie and biopic which portrays Murphy as the national hero which he was. But because it is a sanitized account with elements missing and war portrayed in an exciting less realistic manner it does end up not being as good as it should be and not the gritty biopic which Audie Murphy's amazing story deserved.