Picks and Pans Review: Murphy's Romance
- Peter Travers,
- Ralph Novak.
You look at the thoroughly charming and heartfelt performance that James Garner gives here and you think: what a waste. After three decades and 37 movies, this marvelous actor is still best known as TV's Maverick and Rockford, with only one picture (1964's The Americanization of Emily) that can be called truly memorable. Until now. At 57, Garner has found the role of a lifetime. He is Murphy Jones, a shrewd, sassy widower who runs a drugstore in a small conservative Arizona desert town. Murphy loves his backwater burg but doesn't quite fit in. When a divorcée, played by Sally Field, comes to town with her 12-year-old son (Corey Haim), Murphy helps her battle prejudice against women, enabling her to get a loan to convert her ranch into stables so that she can board horses. Cracker-barrel corn, you say? Maybe so. But veteran director Martin (Norma Rae) Ritt and screenwriters Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch have wisely put the emphasis on the beguiling romance that develops between Garner and Field. Neither rushes the relationship. He's still bruised from his wife's death; she's bristling from her former husband's irresponsibility. Besides, Garner is sensitive about his age and about a paunch that is no match for the muscled torso of Field's young ex, who shows up to win back his wife and son. Brian (The Young and the Restless) Kerwin is wonderful at showing the sexy and shiftless sides of this perennial Peter Pan. But when Field and Garner look at each other at a church bingo game, they generate more feeling than Streep and Redford manage with all Africa as a backdrop. Without the pressure of having to save the union or the farm (and win another Oscar), Field relaxes into a sunny and seductive performance. She and Garner play off each other beautifully. When Field drags him to see a Friday the 13th flick at the local theater, he walks out in disgust. "I haven't been to a movie since the Duke died," says Garner sheepishly. Neither have a lot of people. This unabashedly old-fashioned romance—untrendy, unadorned and plain irresistible—just might bring them back. (PG-13)