To Hell and Back Reviews
There's a unique novelty in general to this film's featuring its protagonist as a biopic in the starring role, and as a war film, it has a few other twists, but when it falls to formula, it falls pretty hard, with very mid-20th century Hollywood tropes to its plotting, characterization and, for that matter, fluff which tends to get a little too fluffy for its own good. Cheesy superficialities plague much of this film, whether it be the comic relief that is frequently flat, or at least dated, or the dramatics which succumb to glaringly unsubtle histrionics, which take ostensibly accurate story elements and corrupt their believability through scripted contrivances, the sting of which goes exacerbated by sentimental directorial atmospherics which range from simply unsubtle to pretty cornball. It's as if the film is trying too hard to sell its dramatic kick, and the harder it tries, as irony would have it, the harder it is to get a grip on the weight of a dramatic narrative concept that feels a tad thin, what with all of the fluff that is consistent in cheese, yet not even consistent in tone. What further limits a sense of urgency to this drama is a certain tonal inconsistency, which doesn't simply leave shifts between color and intensity to jar, but even mixes up context by coloring up conceptually serious aspects, not often, mind you, yet still enough to further limp tensions out. Retardation to momentum is further well-secured by unevenness to pacing, because, at 106 minutes, this film's seemingly tight runtime is achieved through a combination of thinning and bloating, placing little attention to exposition, and plenty of attention to repetitious, almost episodic filler, which wear down momentum until aimlessness sets in, slowly, but surely wearing down dramatic bite. This film could have been very compelling, but in the long run, there's a certain superficiality that really shouldn't be here, and inconsistencies which further dilute kick, until the final product falls as formulaic, cheesy, uneven and all around underwhelming. The film might even be forgettable, but while it occupies your time, it doesn't entirely waste it, for it's even aesthetically commendable.
Maury Gertsman's cinematography really isn't particularly impressive, but it's just rich enough in its coloration to catch your eye, particularly when it distinguishes the color of already distinguished production designs that go immersively well-orchestrated by Robert Clatworthy and Alexander Golitzen. Again, there's not much to the visual flavor of this film, but style is adequate enough to help liven certain elements up, even though it doesn't much serve selling the depth of this story concept. This story needs all that it can get in order to compensate for an interpretation so superficial that it makes the formulaic story concept itself seems superficial, which shouldn't be the case, seeing as how Audie Murphy's story is a harrowing one that many soldiers can relative to, and everyone else can respect as sweeping and tense. Of course, that's just the subject matter, whereas the execution, even within Murphy's script, co-written by Gil Doud, has its flat spells, broken up by highlights within, say, the script, which at least crafts its share of colorful set pieces to be sold as pretty entertaining. Well, as sure as sunshine, if Jesse Hibbs succeeds at nothing else, it's sustaining a certain entertainment value through directorial pacing that is tighter than structural pacing, highlighted by some tensely well-staged action sequences that also mark heights in dramatic resonance, which is lacking, but there at times in which it's most needed to establish some sense of conflict and human weight. There is a certain intimacy to Hibbs' efforts, though not as much as there is to the efforts of a cast full of dated performances, some of which are dated to the point of mediocrity, while other hold up well enough to be rich with charisma, if not a little dramatic weight, with Audie Murphy himself, as himself, all but carrying the film with his particularly grounded charisma, and charming chemistry with his peers. Honestly, each individual strength in this film is rarely, if ever particularly outstanding, but collectively, the pros outweigh the cons enough to make a reasonably compelling film that entertains and occasionally tenses up, even though it could have bitten so much more firmly.
Formulaic, cheesy with its fluff and histrionics, - to the point of superficializing a sense of narrative weight, and inconsistent with its tone, pacing and overall structure, this film falls as a pretty forgettable war drama, flavored up by the decent visual style, worthy subject matter, lively direction and endearing performances which secure Jesse Hibbs' "To Hell and Back" as an almost thoroughly entertaining and sometimes effective, if ultimately underwhelming account of Audie Murphy's struggles as a farm boy-turned-military man.
2.5/5 - Fair
Audie Murphy plays himself, and contributes the most to the clunkiness of the non-action scenes. It might have been better if an actor had played him. Supporting cast are solid, though unspectacular.
If that sounds to you like the film with in a film from Inglorious Basterds, but American, you'd be correct. Nation's Pride was based on this film.
As far as war films go it's not too shabby. I wouldn't rush out to see it, but worth a watch if you like the genre.