Field plays Emma Moriarty, a divorced woman with a 12-year-old son (Corey Haim) who moves to a small Arizona town where she tries her hand at boarding and training horses. Garner is Murphy Jones, the widowed town druggist who steers business Emma's way and begins a gradual courtship even though he is decades older. When Emma's shiftless ex (Brian Kerwin) shows up, her son is conflicted because he has grown to like Murphy but wants his father back in his life.
Despite the age difference, Emma finds Murphy's gentle ways hard to resist after he declares that he has found love "for the last time in my life." Carole King sings the theme song inspired by this line, "Love for the Last Time." Although Murphy admits to being 60, Garner's real age at the time was 57.
The screenplay was adapted by Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch from a 1980 novel by Max Schott. The married screenwriting team made several significant changes in the novel's story, with the central couple retaining a platonic relationship and Murphy marrying someone else.
The director of Murphy's Romance is Martin Ritt, who had guided Field to an Oscar® in Norma Rae (1979) and directed her again in Back Roads (1981). He described her as "one of the best, perhaps the best, actress I've ever worked with... She's simply astounding." Ritt enjoyed seven other collaborations with Frank and Ravetch including The Long, Hot Summer (1958), Norma Rae and Stanley and Iris (1989).
Field produced Murphy's Romance through her new production company, Fogwood Films, but she and Ritt had difficulty convincing Columbia Pictures to green-light the production. Studio executives were hesitant because the homespun story included no sex or violence, but capitulated after considering the track records of the star/director/screenwriters team, especially the success of Norma Rae.
The next hurdle was the casting of Garner, still considered by some as basically a television personality despite film successes ranging from The Great Escape (1963) to Victor/Victoria (1982). The studio preferred Marlon Brando, while the screenwriters asked that the role be offered to Paul Newman. When Newman declined, Field and Ritt were able to go with their first choice.
In reflecting upon her costar, Field commented that "If men only knew what's appealing to a woman is how a man makes her feel about herself. Jim is funny and dear, and he laughs at my jokes. That's what makes Jim sexy; it doesn't change with years." She would also say that her kiss from Garner in Murphy's Romance was the best she ever had onscreen.
William A. Fraker earned an Oscar® nomination for his cinematography of the rustic locales. Location filming took place in Florence, Arizona, whose preserved Main Street is featured prominently. The bar set used in Murphy's Romance was auctioned off to a restaurant in Glendale, Arizona, where it remained until 2004, when it was sold to a private collector. At the time of filming, Columbia was owned by the Coca-Cola Company, and product placement included the use of the word "Coke" in the dialogue and on frequently glimpsed signs.
Murphy's Romance, originally rated R because of the single use of a vulgarity for sexual intercourse, became one of the few films to successfully appeal its MPAA rating, getting it changed to PG-13. Although originally scheduled for a general release on Christmas Day weekend of 1985, the film was instead given a limited holiday release and went wider in late January 1986.
Critic Roger Ebert summed up the appeal of Murphy's Romance when he wrote that "Much depends on exactly what Emma and Murphy say to each other, and how they say it, and what they don't say. The movie gets it all right."
Producer: Laura Ziskin
Director: Martin Ritt
Screenplay: Max Schott (story); Harriet Frank Jr., Irving Ravetch
Cinematography: William A. Fraker
Music: Carole King
Film Editing: Sidney Levin
Cast: Sally Field (Emma Moriarty), James Garner (Murphy Jones), Brian Kerwin (Bobby Jack Moriarty), Corey Haim (Jake Moriarty), Dennis Burkley (Freeman Coverly), Georgann Johnson (Margaret), Dortha Duckworth (Bessie), Michael Prokopuk (Albert), Billy Ray Sharkey (Larry Le Beau), Michael Crabtree (Jim Forrest).
by Rogert Fristoe