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Murphy's War

For the novel by Gary Paulsen, see Murphy's War (novel)
Murphy's War
File:Murphy's War Poster.jpeg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Peter Yates
Produced by Michael Deeley
Written by Max Catto (novel)
Stirling Silliphant
Starring Peter O'Toole
Siân Phillips
Philippe Noiret
Horst Janson
Music by John Barry
Ken Thorne
Cinematography Douglas Slocombe
Edited by John Glen
Frank P. Keller
Michael Deeley-Peter Yates Films
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • 1971 (1971)
Running time
107 min.
Country UK/U.S.
Language English and German

Murphy's War is a 1971 war film starring Peter O'Toole and Siân Phillips. It was directed by Peter Yates and, while it has much in common with The African Queen, it is based on a novel by Max Catto. The cinematography was by Douglas Slocombe.


In the closing days of World War II, Irishman Murphy (Peter O'Toole) is the sole survivor of the crew of a merchant ship, Mount Kyle, which has been sunk by a German U-boat, which then machine-gunned the survivors in the water. Murphy makes it ashore (to a missionary settlement on the Orinoco in Venezuela) where he is treated by a pacifist Quaker doctor, Dr Hayden (Siân Phillips).

When he discovers the U-boat is hiding further up river, under the cover of the jungle, he sets about obsessively plotting his revenge to sink it by any means, including using a surviving Grumman J2F Duck floatplane from the Mount Kyle. The floatplane had been recovered, the wounded pilot later being shot dead in his hospital bed by the U-boat captain, in order to preserve the secret of the sub's location and, presumably, its action in shooting survivors in the water.

Murphy learns how to fly the aircraft in the most daring way, getting it out on the choppy waters of the river and discovering how the controls work by trial and error. Murphy soon finds the U-boat's hiding place and attempts to bomb it using home-made Molotov cocktail bombs, an attempt which fails. Meanwhile, word has come that Germany has surrendered, but Murphy is obsessed with revenge and makes plans to ram the U-boat with a floating crane owned by the friendly Frenchman Louis (Philippe Noiret). This also fails as the U-boat dives under him. However, the dived U-boat becomes stuck in a mud bank. Murphy uses the crane to recover an unexploded torpedo fired earlier from the U-boat and drops it on the trapped crew, killing them. Murphy is also killed, as the explosion from the torpedo causes the crane jib to pin him to the deck as the floating crane sinks to the river bed.



Paramount Pictures agreed to provide half the finance of the film in exchange for world distribution rights.[1] The other half of the budget came from London Screenplays, a finance company.[2] Michael Deeley says that he and Peter Yates turned down the chance to make The Godfather (1972) to make this film.[3]

As well as filming in the regions of Puerto Ordaz and Castillos de Guayana on the Orinoco River in Venezuela, there was a stint of location filming in Malta for scenes depicting the burning of the merchant ship, after it has been torpedoed by the U-boat. For these particular scenes O'Toole was called upon to swim through water afire with oil and with explosives going off right and left of him. "I used to do all my own stunts when I first started" he said. "I made it a principle. Everything in Lawrence of Arabia I did myself. But after suffering a paralyzed hand, a bad back, broken ankle and countless knocks, I decided never again. It was stupid. Films employ stunt men. They can do these things far better than I. I refused to do any more stunts. [Then] I thought, well, just one more time. So I talked myself into it. In Venezuela I even fly a seaplane. If you want to see a picture of sheer terror have a look at the shots of me when I first fly that seaplane."[4]

The extensive flying scene involves lots of shots of the floatplane veering sharply to avoid buildings, the jungle and stalling. For that sequence a camera was strapped to the wing of the aircraft.[4][5] The director, Peter Yates, said he was particularly interested in "the way in which three people — Murphy, a doctor and a Frenchman left in the backwash of war — are really brought together by circumstance and how each character plays on the other and makes them do things that they wish they hadn't and things they sometimes feel proud of."

Several of the sequences were extraordinarily photographed by Douglas Slocombe — particularly the scenes of Murphy piloting the floatplane and the visuals along the Orinoco River. Especially notable is a spectacular airborne shot of a flock of scarlet ibises in flight along the shore of the river during the closing credits.

The editing by Yates's favorite Frank P. Keller, along with John Glen, was especially well done — most notable in Murphy's piloting sequences.

Several Peace Corps volunteers serving in towns near the Orinoco River were recruited to play Nazi submariners. The volunteers donated their daily wages to the Venezuelan school districts or other organizations with whom they were working at the time.

Filming began on 23 February 1970, at a number of locations including Venezuela, Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath and Twickenham Film Studios, Middlesex, England and was completed in Malta on 5 July.[6] Deeley described the shoot as the toughest of his career and it led to the breakup of his partnership with Peter Yates, with whom he had made several films.[7]

File:Grumman OA-12 Duck USAF.jpg
Grumman O-12 Duck at the National Museum of the United States Air Force

The fictional Type IX U-boat was portrayed by ARV Carite (S-11); this was the former USS Tilefish which had been sold to the Venezuelan Navy in 1960. The floating crane was a former World War II tank landing craft. The OA-12 Duck used in the film was restored and flown by Frank Tallman[8] and is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.[9] In the original book, the aircraft was a Fairey Swordfish.


Murphy's War was not well received either critically or at the box office. Roger Greenspan's review in The New York Times centred on the awkwardness of the plot. "The sense of a film in which nothing quite works with anything else pervades "Murphy's War," and it extends from such crucial technical details as the sloppy and finally tedious cross-cutting between things (the seaplane, the motor barge, etc.) and the people who are supposed to be operating them, to the playing together of the principal actors."[10] Although's O'Toole's performance was praised, another review in The New York Daily News called the film a "... sluggish action spectacle."[11]

Groggy Dundee of Nothing is Written said, "Peter Yates makes Murphy's War enjoyable. War movie fans get their money's worth, with Yates mixing beautiful Venezuelan (visuals) with violent action. Yates mixes conventional set pieces, like the Germans' violent shore raids, with more inventive fare, like Murphy's haphazard plane rides." [12]



  1. ^ "Notes: Murphy's War." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: 19 August 2013.
  2. ^ Deeley 2011, p. 83.
  3. ^ Deeley 2011, p. 82.
  4. ^ a b Photoplay Film Monthly, February 1971.
  5. ^ "Notes: Murphy's War." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: 19 August 2013.
  6. ^ "Original Print Information: Murphy's War." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: 19 August 2013.
  7. ^ Deeley 2011, pp. 84–88.
  8. ^ Air Trails, Winter 1971, p. 15.
  9. ^ "Grumman OA-12 Duck." National Museum of the United States Air Force. Retrieved: 19 August 2013.
  10. ^ Greenspan, Roer. "Murphy s War (1971); O'Toole's head cast in 'Murphy's War'." The New York Times, 2 July 1971.
  11. ^ Freedland 1985, p. 153.
  12. ^ Groggy Dundee, "Murphy's War" Nov. 20, 2013


  • Deeley, Michael. Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off: My Life in Cult Movies. New York: Pegasus Books, 2011. ISBN 978-1-60598-136-9.
  • Freedland, Michael. Peter O'Toole: A Biography. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985. ISBN 978-0-31260-362-5.

External links