Just when you think you've found the right guy, someone even worse comes along.
Murphy's Romance is an authentic little romantic comedy that moves at its own pace, much like the small Arizona town it is set in. The story is predictable but not formulaic, unpretentious but full of smiles. All told, a well made movie with fine directing, great performances, and witty dialogue. Columbia is releasing this fun little film now on DVD, though unfortunately not one of their best efforts.
Lets start with the people. Director Martin Ritt (Hud, Sounder, Norma Rae) has worked with two-time Oscar winning actress Sally Field (Norma Rae, Places in the Heart, Forrest Gump) before. It was their desire to work together again that in part got this picture made. Add in one of my favorite actors, James Garner (Support Your Local Sheriff, Maverick, My Fellow Americans) and there is the makings for a nice movie. Garner may be better known for his extensive TV work, such as the The Rockford Files and Maverick series. Even a young Corey Haim puts in a nice performance. The rest of the supporting cast is authentic and full of interesting people.
Emma Moriarty (Field) comes to a small ranch in Arizona to start a horse boarding and training business. In the small town nearby she meets drugstore owner Murphy Jones (Garner), and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to determine these two belong together. But first Emma needs to get her business of the ground, and deal with the pesky ex-husband who shows up.
Doesn't sound like a whole story, does it? Well, it is. What makes this movie work is the characters and the dialogue, along with a surprise or two. Garner's performance of Murphy is pure honesty and homespun realism. His views on life and people, along with the ability to mix gruffness and generosity make him a real person you'd like to know. He is eminently likable, but has his own way of doing things. From his pristine 1928 Studebaker out front with the "No Nukes" sticker on the window, to his willingness to force the town council to remove the parking meter from his storefront by getting (and paying) a ticket every single day til it is removed, he is irascible but funny. He doesn't take himself too seriously but acts like he does. Best yet, he gets some great lines in an overall terrific script. I'm not surprised he garnered (no pun intended) a Best Actor Oscar nomination for this role.
Sally Field gets to play her usual plucky, levelheaded role but this was a role that called for exactly that. Though times are tough for her, and she has some hard work and choices ahead, that level head and spunk brings realism and likeability to her character. She manages to combine vulnerability with a tough work ethic to bring off her role perfectly. Brian Kerwin (Mr. Jealousy, The Myth of Fingerprints, Roseanne) plays the ne'er do well and lazy ex-husband well, and manages to combine his sleaze with a desire to do better, despite the conflict of wanting to have fun over responsibility. He makes up the third leg of an awkward triangle.
Another reason the film works in how things happen rather than what happens. When Emma needs money to stay afloat, Murphy doesn't just loan her the money. He buys a horse, has her stable and train it, sees her expertise, and then drums up business for her with his knowledge of her ability. In this way she works for everything she gets, though with a helping hand when she needed it. When he sees Bobby Jack (Kerwin) easing his way back into Emma's life, he becomes a dinner guest every night.
Truthfully, I could go on and on about this movie. Nothing about it screams "special" yet it manages to find a place in my heart. The town, the people, and the movie as a whole seem like a place you'd just like to visit. The direction is well done, with full use of the widescreen for framing; this means forget about the pan-and-scan transfer on the flip side of the disc.
Speaking of the disc, I have to say this is one of the best mono soundtracks I've heard yet. Remastered into Dolby Digital mono, dialogue is always clear, the noise floor is very low, and even the music feels like it has a full range. The score by rock/pop legend Carole King sounds sweet with plenty of punch, all from a mono track.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
All right, so the film is great and highly recommended. Now for the bad news. Though as usual Columbia has done an anamorphic transfer in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, it has quite a few flaws. First and foremost of these is the grain. Fortunately it isn't always there, but many times through the film the picture becomes very grainy. There are a fair number of nicks and specks from the source print as well. From the digital end of the picture, motion artifacts are a minor but constant presence. On the good side, colors are mostly well done, except blacks in one scene about 17 minutes in. Truthfully picture quality varies from very good to rather poor depending on the scene. Fleshtones are natural looking at least.
Columbia doesn't go very far with the extra content either. Talent files for director Ritt, James Garner, and Sally Field, with pretty selective filmographies are the main extra. There is a leaflet of production notes inside the case at least. The theatrical trailer and three bonus trailers comprise the rest of the extra content. The bonus trailers are for Absence of Malice, My Best Friend's Wedding, and Sleepless in Seattle. None are in very good shape, though Sleepless is better than the others.
Despite the picture not being what it should be I have to recommend the movie. I suggest a rental to see if the picture quality puts you off. The picture isn't what I'd like and the extra content does nothing to make me want the disc, but the movie itself will keep this one in my collection.
Columbia is given a very hard slap on the wrist for mucking up the transfer on this movie. Usually their picture quality is much better so I will refrain from doing more. The cast and crew of Murphy's Romance are acquitted to live their lives in that small town I hope to visit.
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