To Hell And Back (1955)
Playing one’s self is not unheard of in Made for TV biopics, however in theatrical releases such appearances have largely been limited to cameos, such as Eddie Cantor in The Story of Will Rogers and The Eddie Cantor Story. Not so Audie Murphy, who starred as himself in the film adaption of his autobiography 'To Hell and Back'.
Rejected by the Navy and the Marines for being too young and slight of figure, Murphy was eventually accepted by the Army, where he quickly established himself as a leader. His actions in the WWII campaigns of North Africa, Italy and France would see him become America’s most decorated soldier at 19 years of age.
Focusing on the camaraderie of Murphy’s unit rather than his individual exploits, this biopic is refreshingly matter-of-fact in its approach, rather than devolving into a rah-rah U-S-A flag waving exercise. Primary to its success is the self-effacing nature of Murphy’s performance, from the perpetually sea-sick recruit who never needs to shave through to the foot soldier who sees promotion as some form of punishment. Though the biopic does give some concessions to the heroic formula, it also hints at the psychological impact Murphy’s service would have on him in later years.
Prior to his early death, there was talk of a sequel to this biopic that would deal with Murphy’s struggle with PTSD and his campaigns for increased awareness of its impact. Surely the time has come for a biopic that covers his entire remarkable life.
…Audie threw himself into the making of the film with an attention to detail and a concern for authenticity that impressed everybody. Director Jesse Hibbs was struck by the difference between making a western with Audie and making this film. In westerns, Hibbs remembered, “he had little to say about the script or the action and did exactly as he was told. In his own story of World War II, I found him tenacious at every point.” Producer Aaron Rosenberg also found Audie totally absorbed in getting things right. One day on the set Rosenberg watched Audie advise a painter about how to color the sides of a crater to show that a fresh artillery blast had just taken place; he checked the uniforms and weapons of GIs and Germans,; and he worked side by side with the special-effects crew to create explosions exactly as he had known them in Italy and France.
Kid with a Gun, The Story of Audie Murphy by Don Graham
Nevertheless, Murphy felt the film sanitized the conditions of war, with the battles of Anzio and Colmar Pocket being depicted as taking place in bright sunshine. In reality, Anzio was drenched by rain and Colmar was fought in the snow.
No scene recreations in this biopic, as the film takes place before the launch of Murphy’s movie career.