Murphy’s Romance (1985)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5

USA, 1985. , , . Screenplay by , , based on the novella by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Reuniting with her Norma Rae director and screenwriters, turns in another magnificent performance as a woman struggling to find her place, though this time the surroundings aren’t quite as dramatic. A breezy pace is applied to this beautiful comedy, in which Emma (Field) and her son Jake () drive across the southwest from Modesto to a small town in Arizona where she has rented a ranch that she hopes to turn into a thriving business. An expert at training horses, she offers boarding and lessons but has trouble getting things going, particularly as the local bank won’t offer a loan to her without a husband to co-sign on it. Along comes Murphy Jones (), owner of the local retro-throwback pharmacy and soda shop, with whom she strikes up an instant, easy chemistry that leads to his helping get the word of her work around town.

It’s not exactly sparks that fly between these two, the romance of the title creeps its way slowly into their interactions as they develop a genuine fondness for each other, mainly through the many dinners that she invites him to on the nights that she spots him leaving her stables where he has boarded his horse. Whatever they have going gets complicated by the sudden reappearance of Emma’s ex-husband Bobby (), a man she describes as much less useful on his feet than in bed, who tries to rekindle their relationship despite the fact that the ink on their divorce papers has hardly dried.

These three enter a romantic rivalry that plays out in subtly humorous scenes that match the pace of this sleepy but enchanted town, at local dances or sunlit barbeques, as Murphy’s good nature and confident wisdom never lets things get beyond a few barbed words exchanged between the two men vying for the hand of this vibrant but stressed-out woman.

Martin Ritt, who made a series of films that accurately captured the struggles of common American folk trying to get by in a capitalist system only meant to favour the few, manages to include his economic concerns in this story without unbalancing its good-natured, deeply pleasing tone; Emma enjoys the attention of the men and has genuine concern for the happiness of her growing son, but can’t help but mention every dollar she spends and what everything costs, happy with the place she has chosen to move to but always aware that she’s constantly on the brink of losing everything and having to start over again somewhere else.

Field’s work with the horses, a great deal of which is captured on film, is impressive, but not nearly as impressive as her proving, after two Oscar-winning roles in ripely dramatic roles, that she can be just as captivating in a lighthearted project, perpetually in command despite the script never drawing her into any unpleasant crises. Garner, who earned the only Oscar nomination of his career for his performance, couldn’t be more affable, the town setting is that much more convincing because of his easy charm.

Academy Award Nominations: Best Actor (James Garner); Best Cinematography

Golden Globe Award Nominations: Best Actor-Musical/Comedy (James Garner); Best Actress-Musical/Comedy (Sally Field)

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