Friday, March 24, 2017

Murph the Surf (1975)

          Better known by its rerelease title Live a Little, Steal a Lot, this somewhat entertaining crime picture tells the real-life story of two surfers who made their living as jewel thieves in Miami, Florida, until getting caught following a brazen robbery they committed at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Competently directed by Marvin J. Chomsky and featuring strong location photography, the picture suffers from a muddled and shallow script. Jumps back and forth in time during the first hour of the story are confusing and unhelpful, while attempts to delve into characters during the remaining 40 minutes never quite bear fruit. Typical of the movie’s narrative problems is the ambivalence about which character occupies the center of the story. Although roguish and tempestuous Jack “Murph the Surf” Murphy (Don Stroud) is the title character and the engine driving most of what happens, the real protagonist, if only by dint of having the most screen time, is his best friend and partner, Allan Kuhn (Robert Conrad). Yet neither character is put across with sufficient insight or nuance to grab the viewer’s imagination. Although they’re both amusing and handsome and mischievous, it’s hard to care when they start quarrelling with each other, and even harder to care whether they get caught.
          The first hour intercuts moments from the big New York job with vignettes of the days and weeks leading up to the crime. Jack and Allan live carefree lives in Miami, committing crimes and surfing and wooing pretty girls, all while managing to avoid capture by police. Some of this material is exciting, such as a boat chase through canals, and some of it is mundane. Complicating the criminals’ idyllic lifestyle is the arrival of lovely Ginny Eaton (Donna Mills), who becomes Jack’s girlfriend but catches Allan’s fancy. She’s a stewardess who eventually helps the boys smuggle loot out of New York City, and Allan’s desire to be with Ginny drives a wedge in his friendship with Jack.
          Beyond mediocre storytelling, the main problem plaguing this picture stems from the leading performances. Conrad does his usual routine of preening and scowling, while Stroud occasionally sacrifices his appealing naturalism on the altar of bug-eyed overacting. One man does too little and the other does too much. Mills is merely adequate, and there’s not enough time devoted to Burt Young’s cranky performance as an investigator. Murph the Surf basically works as a compendium of beefcake shots, daring escapades, and macho standoffs, with playful moments including the bit where the robbers play marbles with priceless gems. Nonetheless, the movie fades from memory almost immediately. Conrad and Stroud reteamed, albeit with much less shared screen time, for the nasty action thriller Sudden Death (1977).

Murph the Surf: FUNKY

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