To Hell and Back


1h 46m 1955
To Hell and Back

Brief Synopsis

Film star Audie Murphy plays himself in this tale of how he became World War II's most decorated U.S. soldier.

Film Details

Genre
War
Biography
Adaptation
Release Date
Oct 1955
Premiere Information
World premiere in San Antonio, TX: 17 Aug 1955; New York opening: 22 Sep 1955; Los Angeles opening: 11 Oct 1955
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Fort Lewis, Washington, United States; Yakima Firing Center, Washington, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the book To Hell and Back by Audie Murphy (New York, 1949).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 46m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.55 : 1

Synopsis

In 1937 in northeast Texas, after his father abandons the family, twelve-year-old Audie Murphy supports his ill mother and seven younger brothers and sisters by quitting school and working for a neighboring farmer. Four years later, just as Pearl Harbor is attacked, Audie's mother dies, and he is forced to remand his siblings to the state orphanage. Desperate to raise enough money to support them, Audie turns to the military, but because he is underage and undersized, is rejected by the Marines, Navy and Air Force. Although he is finally accepted as an Army foot soldier, Audie suffers the teasing of the older soldiers. He ships out to a new infantry combat platoon in Casablanca, North Africa, where his superior, Lt. Manning, notes his physical deficiencies and recommends he be reassigned. Manning changes his mind, however, after Audie insists upon fighting and signs up for every educational course. The men soon accept Audie into their ranks, with gruff Brandon taking the boy under his wing. One night at a rowdy bar, they hear on the radio that the Allies have won Africa, but although they hope to be sent home, they are routed to Sicily. The Allies take the island in thirty-eight days, during which time Audie's leadership qualities earn him a promotion to corporal, an honor that causes his buddies, eager to avoid responsibility, to tease him. One night, Audie draws out of Brandon his story about the ex-wife and child he abandoned but now misses desperately, and Audie, thinking of his own father, urges his friend to reconcile. When he is then ordered to lead a dangerous mission to draw attention away from the incoming troops, Audie, hoping to keep Brandon safe, leaves him behind, and then performs admirably. In the morning, the battalion is attacked, and Manning is shot and the sergeant killed. Audie takes charge of the men but is ordered to stay in position as a decoy, a mission they barely survive. Over the next few months, the men struggle through horrific battles in pouring rain, growing frustrated and exhausted. Finally, Manning returns to the unit with news of Audie's promotion to sergeant, and a two-week leave in Naples for Audie and his friends. In the city, soldier Kovak refuses to carouse after seeing the poor Italian orphans. Johnson brings a girl to her home, only to talk endlessly about his American girl friend, and Kerrigan is seduced by a beautiful woman, but has his boots stolen. Audie, meanwhile, impresses local girl Maria by offering her brothers chocolate, and she invites him to dinner. When an air raid occurs, her family hides in the bomb shelter, and Maria stays with Audie in the kitchen, where they kiss. After their rest, the men fight on, and by the time they are ordered to attack an Italian farmhouse that serves as a headquarters, Audie is a seasoned leader. During the skirmish, a sniper in the house takes out Manning and Kovak, and Audie courageously targets and kills him. They capture the house, and when Italian tanks bear down on them, they give their coordinates to the American naval ships, which then bomb the lead tank, blocking the road. At night, while enlisted man Valentino mourns Kovak, Audie brushes off the new replacement soldiers, and Johnson explains to them that it is too painful for a soldier to make new friends, as he may lose them at any time. Audie soon hears the Italians repairing the tank, and, realizing the impending peril, he leads his men in an ambush, blowing up the tank. For his heroism, Audie is then offered a battlefield commission as lieutenant, but since it would mean transferring to another unit, he refuses. During the next battle, Johnson is killed, after which the battalion is sent to France for amphibious training, as the Nazis begin to fall back into Germany. At the front in France, Brandon falls out of contact while doing reconnaissance, and Audie goes after him. Although he orders Brandon out of harm's way, the soldier follows his friend and leader, and together they grenade a sniper. Thinking they are out of danger, Brandon stands and is shot. An enraged Audie storms the enemy foxholes one by one, killing each German soldier himself, and returns to Brandon's body, unable to leave him in the field. That night, the battalion commander offers Audie the lieutenant position and free entrance to West Point, as well as the right to stay with his troops until the end of the war. To their chagrin, Kerrigan and Valentino are also promoted. Next, they embark on a crucial mission to take the last stronghold city on the French/German border. With support minimal and Nazi troops coming on quickly, Audie orders his men to retreat but stays on at the front to direct naval bombs. Alone, Audie then commandeers an Allied tank and shoots down the approaching enemies one by one. His men watch in fear as the tank, loaded with gasoline and ammunition, catches fire, but Audie refuses to back down until he has caused the Nazi troops to withdraw. Only then does he collapse from a gunshot wound to his hip, and when Valentino tries to stay and help him, Audie orders his friend to leave. In the infirmary, a slightly wounded Kerrigan visits and learns that Audie's wound, while not life-threatening, will keep him from his dream of entering West Point. On 9 August, 1945, just after his nineteenth birthday, Audie receives an honorable discharge from the Army. In addition to the three Purple Hearts, Bronze Star Medal, Bronze Star Medal with Bronze Service Arrowhead, Legion of Merit, two Silver Star Medals, Distinguished Service Cross, and Legion of Honor Chevalier from the French governments, he is awarded the military's highest tribute, the Congressional Medal of Honor. As Audie accepts his award, he remembers the many dead friends who fought alongside him.

Cast

Audie Murphy

Audie Murphy

Marshall Thompson

Johnson

Charles Drake

Brandon

Jack Kelly

Kerrigan

Gregg Palmer

Lieutenant Manning

Paul Picerni

Valentino

David Janssen

Lieutenant Lee

Richard Castle

Kovak

Bruce Cowling

Captain Marks

Paul Langton

Colonel Howe

Art Aragon

Sanchez

Feliz Noriego

Swope

Denver Pyle

Thompson

Brett Halsey

Saunders

Susan Kohner

Maria

Anabel Shaw

Helen

Mary Field

Mrs. Murphy

Gordon Gebert

Audie, as a boy

Julian Upton

Steiner

Tommy Hart

Klasky

Anthony Garcen

Lieutenant Burns

Howard Wright

Mr. Huston

Edna Holland

Mrs. Huston

Maria Costi

Julia

Didi Ramati

Carla

Barbara James

Cleopatra

Rand Brooks

Lieutenant Harris

Nan Boardman

Maria's mother

Henry Kulky

Stack

John Pickard

M. P.

Lee Warren

M. P.

James Mclaughlin

M. P.

Ashley Cowan

Scottish soldier

Don Kennedy

Marine Recruit Sergeant

Ralph Sanford

Chief petty officer

Howard Price

Truck driver

Alexander Campbell

Rector

Rankin Mansfield

Dr. Snyder

Madge Meredith

Corinne

Gayle Kellogg

Air Force sergeant

Ernesto Morelli

Waiter

Helena Da Vinci

French girl

Gisele Verlaine

French girl

Genette De Bard

French girl

Tao Porchon

French girl

Edward Sweeny

Soldier

Mort Mills

Soldier

Newton A. Broussard

Soldier

Lisa Fusaro

Italian woman

John Bryant

Jim

Bruce Frichtl

Richard at 11

Robert Diamond

Gene at 10

Andrea Lee

Nadine at 8

Patty Ann Gerrity

Beatrice at 6

Terry Murphy

Preston at 4

Dale Hartleben

Gene, several years later

Joan Vie

Nadine, several years later

Karen Green

Beatrice, several years later

Jimmy Baird

Preston, several years later

Sonny Howe

Company clerk

Victor Marlow

Soldier replacement

Charles Gibbs

Medic

Vito Jacobellis

Urchin

Michael Doyle

Driver

Robert Hoy

Jennings

Volney Peavyhouse

Wounded soldier

Otto Reichow

German officer

Lloyd L. Wyatt

Tank commander Pierce

Hugh R. Burns

Mail clerk

Gerald E. Harris

Lieutenant

Hugh E. Davis

British soldier

Vladimir Kesman

German soldier

Leroy G. Sattler

Machine gun corporal

William Marks

Larry Winter

Paul Busch

Don Rockland

Film Details

Genre
War
Biography
Adaptation
Release Date
Oct 1955
Premiere Information
World premiere in San Antonio, TX: 17 Aug 1955; New York opening: 22 Sep 1955; Los Angeles opening: 11 Oct 1955
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Fort Lewis, Washington, United States; Yakima Firing Center, Washington, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the book To Hell and Back by Audie Murphy (New York, 1949).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 46m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.55 : 1

Articles

To Hell and Back - To Hell and Back


Actors and other performers often play themselves in cameo film roles, but only rarely does one get to star in a story about his or her own life. A small handful come to mind - Ann Jillian's 1988 TV movie about her battle with cancer, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali aka Cassius Clay in The Greatest (1977). It was only natural, however, that Audie Murphy should play himself on screen. The most decorated soldier in the history of the U.S. military, Murphy had also become an action star after being invited to Hollywood by James Cagney at the end of World War II. He already had 15 films under his belt by the time Universal Studios decided to put his 1949 autobiography on screen. The story follows the orphaned son of Texas share croppers as he joins the Army at 18 and becomes an unexpected hero in the war in Europe.

The movie almost didn't happen. Although he approved of the film project, Murphy was reluctant to portray himself (he preferred Tony Curtis), worrying that the public might think he was merely boosting his career by trading on his war hero status (as if that status hadn't helped get him the career in the first place). More important, however, Murphy's intent in telling his story was not to glorify only himself but all infantrymen who fought and died for their country under horrible circumstances. But under pressure from the studio and old friends, he put aside his fears of "self-eulogizing" and his concern that he was too close to the material to portray it well and agreed to it.

Murphy was concerned about every detail of the shoot. He advised set painters how to color the sides of a shell crater to correctly capture the look of a fresh artillery blast; he inspected the uniforms of both U.S. and German soldiers for accuracy; and he worked with special effects technicians to be sure the battles were as authentic to his true-life experience as possible.

Nevertheless, he was not satisfied with the final product. He dismissed it as a "Western in uniform" and confided to a close friend that the filmmakers had "missed by a mile." Among the issues he had with it was what he considered a cleaning up of the war conditions; where the battle of Anzio was fought in the mud and rain and Colmar Pocket was all snow and bitter cold, the film placed them in relatively sunny terrain (the movie was shot in Washington State). Cleaned up, too, was what one Universal executive had noted was a book filled with "bloody, graphic incidents" revealing "mostly hate, frustration, horror, futile courage and terror." The executive concluded his analysis by urging the addition of some warmth, humor and "a more encouraging conclusion." That conclusion was the one point Murphy most objected to. His autobiography stopped short of his being awarded the Medal of Honor and two dozen other French and U.S. military decorations. But the producers (quite rightly, it turned out) reasoned audiences would want to see that moment.

The picture proved to be a huge box office hit and Universal's highest-grossing release until Jaws (1975). Despite the star's dissatisfaction, critics praised his work in the film, placing it on a par with his performance in John Huston's film of Stephen Crane's Civil War drama The Red Badge of Courage (1951).

Perhaps what weighed more heavily on Murphy than any considerations of artistry or self-aggrandizement was his own turbulent personality. Filming such scenes as the death of his mother and those of his closest war comrades took an emotional toll, and at one point during a battle recreation he became disoriented and caught up in what he thought was the real war all over again. All of this contributed to his already dark, moody nature. Murphy suffered from what was then called "battle fatigue" and what we know today as "post-traumatic stress disorder." Later in life he worked to make the government and the public aware of the debilitating effects of this syndrome on soldiers.

Other than a couple of interesting performances as Burt Lancaster's hotheaded younger brother in The Unforgiven (1960) and in the somewhat sanitized adaptation of Graham Greene's The Quiet American (1958), Murphy's career never again quite hit the high of To Hell and Back. He was offered the role of the villain in Dirty Harry (1971), but he was killed in a private plane crash before the picture went into production. Audie Murphy was buried with the highest military honors in Arlington National Cemetery, but true to his self-effacing nature, he requested that his tombstone remain plain and inconspicuous, unlike those of other Medal of Honor winners, which are decorated in gold leaf.

Director: Jesse Hibbs
Producer: Aaron Rosenberg
Screenplay: Gil Doud, based on the autobiography by Audie Murphy
Cinematography: Maury Gertsman
Editing: Edward Curtiss
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen, Robert Clatworthy
Original Music: Henry Mancini
Cast: Audie Murphy (Himself), Marshall Thompson (Johnson), Susan Kohner (Maria), Jack Kelly (Kerrigan), David Janssen (Lt. Lee).
C-107m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Rob Nixon
To Hell And Back  - To Hell And Back

To Hell and Back - To Hell and Back

Actors and other performers often play themselves in cameo film roles, but only rarely does one get to star in a story about his or her own life. A small handful come to mind - Ann Jillian's 1988 TV movie about her battle with cancer, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali aka Cassius Clay in The Greatest (1977). It was only natural, however, that Audie Murphy should play himself on screen. The most decorated soldier in the history of the U.S. military, Murphy had also become an action star after being invited to Hollywood by James Cagney at the end of World War II. He already had 15 films under his belt by the time Universal Studios decided to put his 1949 autobiography on screen. The story follows the orphaned son of Texas share croppers as he joins the Army at 18 and becomes an unexpected hero in the war in Europe. The movie almost didn't happen. Although he approved of the film project, Murphy was reluctant to portray himself (he preferred Tony Curtis), worrying that the public might think he was merely boosting his career by trading on his war hero status (as if that status hadn't helped get him the career in the first place). More important, however, Murphy's intent in telling his story was not to glorify only himself but all infantrymen who fought and died for their country under horrible circumstances. But under pressure from the studio and old friends, he put aside his fears of "self-eulogizing" and his concern that he was too close to the material to portray it well and agreed to it. Murphy was concerned about every detail of the shoot. He advised set painters how to color the sides of a shell crater to correctly capture the look of a fresh artillery blast; he inspected the uniforms of both U.S. and German soldiers for accuracy; and he worked with special effects technicians to be sure the battles were as authentic to his true-life experience as possible. Nevertheless, he was not satisfied with the final product. He dismissed it as a "Western in uniform" and confided to a close friend that the filmmakers had "missed by a mile." Among the issues he had with it was what he considered a cleaning up of the war conditions; where the battle of Anzio was fought in the mud and rain and Colmar Pocket was all snow and bitter cold, the film placed them in relatively sunny terrain (the movie was shot in Washington State). Cleaned up, too, was what one Universal executive had noted was a book filled with "bloody, graphic incidents" revealing "mostly hate, frustration, horror, futile courage and terror." The executive concluded his analysis by urging the addition of some warmth, humor and "a more encouraging conclusion." That conclusion was the one point Murphy most objected to. His autobiography stopped short of his being awarded the Medal of Honor and two dozen other French and U.S. military decorations. But the producers (quite rightly, it turned out) reasoned audiences would want to see that moment. The picture proved to be a huge box office hit and Universal's highest-grossing release until Jaws (1975). Despite the star's dissatisfaction, critics praised his work in the film, placing it on a par with his performance in John Huston's film of Stephen Crane's Civil War drama The Red Badge of Courage (1951). Perhaps what weighed more heavily on Murphy than any considerations of artistry or self-aggrandizement was his own turbulent personality. Filming such scenes as the death of his mother and those of his closest war comrades took an emotional toll, and at one point during a battle recreation he became disoriented and caught up in what he thought was the real war all over again. All of this contributed to his already dark, moody nature. Murphy suffered from what was then called "battle fatigue" and what we know today as "post-traumatic stress disorder." Later in life he worked to make the government and the public aware of the debilitating effects of this syndrome on soldiers. Other than a couple of interesting performances as Burt Lancaster's hotheaded younger brother in The Unforgiven (1960) and in the somewhat sanitized adaptation of Graham Greene's The Quiet American (1958), Murphy's career never again quite hit the high of To Hell and Back. He was offered the role of the villain in Dirty Harry (1971), but he was killed in a private plane crash before the picture went into production. Audie Murphy was buried with the highest military honors in Arlington National Cemetery, but true to his self-effacing nature, he requested that his tombstone remain plain and inconspicuous, unlike those of other Medal of Honor winners, which are decorated in gold leaf. Director: Jesse Hibbs Producer: Aaron Rosenberg Screenplay: Gil Doud, based on the autobiography by Audie Murphy Cinematography: Maury Gertsman Editing: Edward Curtiss Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen, Robert Clatworthy Original Music: Henry Mancini Cast: Audie Murphy (Himself), Marshall Thompson (Johnson), Susan Kohner (Maria), Jack Kelly (Kerrigan), David Janssen (Lt. Lee). C-107m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. by Rob Nixon

Quotes

Trivia

Audie Murphy originally declined the opportunity to portray himself in the movie, not wanting people to think that he was attempting to cash in on his role as a war hero.

A total of 50,000 rounds of ammunition, 300 pounds of TNT, 600 pounds of blasting powder and 10 cases of 40 percent dynamite were required for the filming of the battle scenes.

Audie Murphy's war buddy Onclo Airheart was slated to play himself, but he declined due to the fact that the movie was to be shot during planting season.

Notes

In the film's foreword, retired General Walter Bedell Smith appears onscreen and states that war teaches formerly peaceful men new rules of conduct, through which they learn to behave like military men. Some soldiers, Smith says, such as Audie Leon Murphy, who became the most decorated soldier in American history, rise above and beyond the call of duty. The closing credits begin with the following written statement: "We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the Department of Defense, the Department of the Army, and especially the officers and men of Fort Lewis, Washington."
       As depicted in the film, Murphy (1924-1971) cared for his poverty-stricken family until the death of his mother in 1941. After being rejected by the Marines, Air Force and Navy for physical deficiencies, Murphy joined the Army. Quickly rising through the ranks of the enlisted soldiers, he consistently performed with immense courage and superior leadership skills. In 1945, he was shot in the hip, a wound that earned him an honorable discharge. By then he had been credited with killing over 240 enemy soldiers and awarded The Congressional Medal of Honor and every other medal for valor offered by the United States, some of them more than once, as well as five from France and Belgium.
       Murphy's post-war life, not covered in the film, included a move to Hollywood, several years of struggling to become an actor, and finally, a 1950 contract with Universal where he made 26 films. Perhaps his most critically acclaimed performance was in John Huston's The Red Badge of Courage (see bleow). Murphy also wrote poetry and songs, and, himself a sufferer, was among the first advocates for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He died on May 28, 1971, when the private airplane in which he was riding crashed.
       In 1949, Murphy published To Hell and Back, the best-selling autobiography upon which the film was based. According to a June 1953 Hollywood Reporter "Rambling Reporter" item, Spec McClure was the book's ghost writer. Although actor Julian Upton is listed before Gordon Gebert in the opening credits, in the closing credits he is listed last. A July 1955 Life article reported that Murphy served as technical advisor on the film, influencing not only the screenplay but also the settings, props and costumes. Another technical advisor, Colonel Michael Paulick, had served as Murphy's battalion commander during the war.
       Critics universally remarked that Murphy played himself with unassuming humility. The film was shot on location at Fort Lewis and the Yakima Firing Center in Washington. To Hell and Back marked the feature film debut of Susan Kohner and the American debut of Maria Costi. Murphy's young son Terry played little brother "Preston Murphy" in the picture.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States on Video May 5, 1988

Released in United States Summer July 1955

CinemaScope

Released in United States on Video May 5, 1988

Released in United States Summer July 1955