To Hell and Back (Blu-ray)
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (26th October 2019).
The Film

"To Hell and Back" (1955)

Audie Murphy (played by Audie Murphy) was born in rural Texas and lived his childhood as a farmboy in a large but broken family. His father abandoned the family years ago, and his mother died when Audie was a teenager, leaving the younger children in the family having to be taken into foster care by the state. In addition to the family troubles, the attack of Pearl Harbor sends the United States into war, and Audie decides to fight for his country as well as using his earnings to help his younger siblings and receive an education. Though he is at first turned down by multiple branches, he is finally able to lend his services to the Army, where he is immediately picked on for his young age and small size. Unlikely as it may seem, this is the true story of a young soldier who became the most decorated soldier in the war, including receiving a Medal of Honor when he was 19 years old, and later a major movie star that starred in his own film about the dangers he faced in war.

Audie Murphy released his memoir of World War II entitled "To Hell and Back" in 1949, just after his launch in Hollywood a year earlier. With the book and films such as "The Kid from Texas" (1950) and "The Cimarron Kid" (1952), he was making a name for himself as a fresh faced and pure actor especially capable in westerns. With the book being well received, it was inevitable that Hollywood would want to made a biopic, and Universal was hot to cast Murphy to play himself in the production. Though he originally refused, producer Aaron Rosenberg and director Jesse Hibbs successfully convinced Murphy to play the roles during the ages from 16 to 19, even though Murphy was already 30 years old at the time. This would make it the first time a Hollywood actor would play himself in the lead of a biopic.

The film begins with young Audie (played by Gordon Gebert) on the farm taking care of his siblings, which quickly cuts to a few years later with the real Audie Murphy as a 16 year old. The loss of his mother, the separation from his family, and his decision to join the military following the bombing of Pearl Harbor are cut together in a typical Hollywood fashion of the period and quite effectively. The following three quarters of the production is basically overseas, showcasing Murphy's time overseas. Whether it is in a brawlout in a restaurant, gunbattles on the fields, or shootouts in ruins, the action is quite fierce and packed, with guns, grenades, and explosions filling out the audio and images. The production made use of Hollywood sets and numerous outdoor locations including farmlands, the desert, and the mountains to double as locations of North Africa, Italy, and Germany. While in many war films, the camaraderie is important in giving each an identity, one of the lesser points of "To Hell and Back" is that the secondary characters and other soldiers are not much to give support to the main. Then again, the story here isn't about making fictional connections and drama between the characters to move the story forward, but about the brave work that Murphy did during the period.

In that case, the movie succeeds very well. Some soldiers survive, others don't. There is a sequence in which Murphy meets an Italian local, Maria (played by Susan Kohner which shows the war from the perspective of the civilians caught in the crossfire. While it seemed the sequence would turn towards a love story, it is more about the colliding perspectives and altogether an interesting break from the onslaught of battles. There are a lot of great moments and sequences in "To Hell and Back", but there are some flaws as well, including Murphy looking older than he was (obviously) and the lack of connecting supporting characters. Murphy's relationship with his younger siblings are all but forgotten about as there are no sequences of the children in foster care or letter writing moments, nor is there a coda of them reuniting. The battles take center stage and it seems all far behind where the man came from and what made him decide to fight. Regardless of the flaws, the film was a major hit for Universal and for Murphy, becoming not only his most successful film, but becoming Universal's highest grossing film until "Jaws" exactly twenty years later. Not only was it a hit in America, but also abroad with the fascination of the true story aspect and the actor playing himself, as well as being a very entertaining piece of work.

Though the film didn't win any awards, it certainly made Murphy a bigger star, but his work was still limited. He continued being typecast for western films and in television, but he was also a picky one as well, refusing quite a few major roles. "A Time for Dying" was his final film role in 1969 as he decided to retire from the business. During his career he made over forty films, but unfortunately his life was cut short in a plane crash at the age of 46.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The high definition transfer comes from a slightly older master, but thankfully it is quite a good one. Minor spots and debris are still able to be found in the image, but overall the picture is very clean with a healthy but slightly flickering grain structure. Colors are quite good and depth is very good, with the weakest points being crossfades and stock footage sequences that should be expected. The film could use a fresh new restoration, but this being its high definition debut is not disappointing at all.

The film's runtime is 106:16.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo
The original stereo audio track is presented lossless and right from the start it is a very strong one. The music, the battle sequences, and other effects use the stereo separation very well, with dialogue being centered in mono. Explosions are loud and crisp while music is patriotically and emotionally very well balanced, without overtaking the dialogue sequences. There are no particular errors in the audio transfer to speak of, with no hisses or pops to be heard.

There are no subtitles for the film.

Extras

Unfortunately no extras have been included. The DVDs that are available were either bare or with only a trailer, so this may be of no surprise. Hopefully one day the film could get a special edition, but for now, this will have to suffice.

Packaging

The artwork is reversible, with the only difference being the Australia PG rating logo removed from the front. The package also states "region B only" but is in fact region ALL. Also, the runtime listed is 102 minutes, but the runtime is the uncut 106 minute version.

Overall

"To Hell and Back" is one of the more important WWII films made and the gimmick of Audie Murphy playing himself is not just for sales, but one that he gives a great performance in. Flaws and all, it's still highly entertaining to watch more than half a century later. The Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray has no extras, but has a very good transfer. Being the only HD version of the film available on disc, fans should go ahead and pick this one up.

The Film: B Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: F- Overall: B-

 


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