Murphy's Romance is a 1985 American romantic-comedy film directed by Martin Ritt. The screenplay by Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch was based on the 1980 novella by Max Schott. The film stars Sally Field, James Garner, Brian Kerwin, and Corey Haim, and was produced by Laura Ziskin for Field's production company Fogwood Films.
The film's theme song, "Love for the Last Time," is performed by Carole King.
Emma Moriarty (Sally Field) is a 33-year-old, divorced mother who moves to a rural Arizona town to make a living by training and boarding horses. She becomes friends with the town's pharmacist, Murphy Jones (James Garner), a widower. A romance between them seems unlikely because of Murphy's age and because Emma allows her ex-husband, Bobby Jack Moriarty (Brian Kerwin), to move back in with her and their 12-year-old son Jake (Corey Haim).
Emma struggles to make ends meet, but is helped by Murphy, an idiosyncratic widower. While refusing to help her outright with charity or personal loan, Murphy buys a horse with her assistance and pays to board it with Emma, while encouraging others to do the same. He also provides emotional support for Emma and Jake.
A rivalry develops between Murphy and Bobby Jack. This competition continues until Bobby Jack's newest girlfriend appears with their newborn twin sons. At the end, Murphy and Emma choose to pursue a relationship.
- Sally Field as Emma Moriarty
- James Garner as Murphy Jones
- Brian Kerwin as Bobby Jack Moriarty
- Corey Haim as Jake Moriarty
- Dennis Burkley as Freeman Coverly
- Carole King as Tillie
- Georgann Johnson as Margaret
- Dortha Duckworth as Bessie
- Michael Prokopuk as Albert
- Billy Ray Sharkey as Larry Le Beau
- Michael Crabtree as Jim Forrest
- Anna Levine as Wanda
- Charles Lane as Amos Abbott
- Bruce French as Rex Boyd
- John C. Becher as Jesse Parker
- Henry Slate as Fred Hite
Sally Field and director Martin Ritt had to fight Columbia Pictures in order to cast Garner, who was viewed at that point as primarily a television actor despite having enjoyed a flourishing film career in the 1960s and having co-starred in the box-office hit Victor/Victoria in 1982.
Columbia did not want to make the picture at all because it had no "sex or violence" in it. However, Columbia agreed because of the success of Norma Rae (1979), with the same star (Field), director, and screenwriting team (Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch), and with Field's new production company Fogwood Films producing. Columbia then wanted Marlon Brando, or someone with "greater box-office allure," to play the part of Murphy, so Field and Ritt had to insist on Garner.
When Ritt gave the Max Schott story to Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch, the same married screenplay team that worked on Hud (1963) with Ritt and Paul Newman, they wanted Newman to be in Murphy's Romance. Field had worked \successfully with Newman in 1981's Absence of Malice, but Newman declined the project, and Garner was the only other actor that Ritt and Field had asked.
Part of the deal from the studio, which at that time was owned by The Coca-Cola Company, included an eight-line sequence of Field and Garner saying the word "Coke," and having Coke signs appear prominently in the film.
On the A&E television program Biography of Garner, "James Garner: Hollywood Maverick," Field reported that her on-screen kiss with Garner was the best cinematic kiss she had experienced.
Filming took place on location in Florence, Arizona, and the town's preserved Main Street appears throughout the movie.
The film was scheduled for general release during the weekend for 1985 Christmas Day, but Columbia moved it to the weekends of January 17 and January 31, 1986, to avoid competing with the holiday lineup of films. It did a limited, selected, release for the film on December 25, 1985, so that it would qualify for that year's Academy Awards.
The film was one of the final titles to be released on the now defunct CED Videodisc format in 1986.
Reviews were generally favorable. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film 3 stars (out of 4), stating "Much depends on exactly what Emma and Murphy say to each other, and how they say it, and what they don't say. The movie gets it all right." The film holds a 73% on the film Rotten Tomatoes, based on 26 reviews.
Divergence from the novella
The screenplay is very different from the Max Schott novella. In the Schott story, Murphy and Emma stay just platonic friends. Murphy marries someone else, and then tries to find Emma a suitable husband.
Awards and honors
Murphy's Romance received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role (James Garner) and for Best Cinematography (William A. Fraker).
In 2002, the film was nominated by the American Film Institute for AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions.