USA / Universal International / 106 minutes / 1955
Writer: Gil Doud from Audie Murphy’s autobiography / Music: Joseph Gershenson / Cinematography: Maury Gertsman / Producer: Aaron Rosenberg / Director: Jesse Hibbs
Cast: Audie Murphy, Marshall Thomspon, Charles Drake, Gregg Palmer, Jack Kelly, Mary Field, Susan Kohner
What do Audie Murphy, Howard Stern and Sophia Loren have in common? The answer is that they are three of a very select group who ended up portraying themselves in a dramatic account of their lives. To Hell and Back is based on Audie Murphy’s autobiography of his experiences in WWII, which he survived as America’s most highly decorated soldier, his haul of 27 military awards including the Medal of Honor, for exploits including almost single-handedly halting an enemy tank advance and destroying a German machine gun nest.
Jesse Hibbs film is faithful to the book, following Murphy’s rise up the ranks from PFC to company commander as he fought from Africa through to Germany. Hibbs surrounds him with an excellent cast of Hollywood character actors to play the men Murphy fought with and also throws in a little innocent romance with Italian girl Maria (Susan Kohner) in Naples.
Murphy started his Hollywood career after the war in a series of westerns, his slight boyish presence serving him well as the youngster-gone-bad but he made his name in John Huston’s Red Badge of Courage and, after this film, went on to star in No Name on the Bullet and The Unforgiven . His later years were turbulent and he was killed in a plane crash in 1971, ironically just as his career seemed to be on the rise with the offer of the role of the killer in Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry.