Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Arizona Raiders

Arizona Raiders stars Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in World War II.

Arizona Raiders, a post-Civil War story of two men who join the Arizona Rangers to hunt down those members of Quantrill's Raiders, who are still at large after breaking up into smaller groups to continue their murderous raids.

Arizona Raiders was filmed in Arizona in 1965. It stars Audie Murphy--one of the most decorated heroes in World War II--when Murphy was approximately 17 years into his acting career. In his earlier films, even To Hell and Back, the true story of his experiences in World War II, Murphy seems inexperienced as an actor, unsure of his abilities. In Arizona Raiders he shows a maturity that is impressive.

Maturity is one thing, emotion is quite another. Murphy's performance in this films, as in most of his films, lacks the emotional connection that allows viewers to suspend their disbelief. When Murphy's brother dies in his arms, he shows no emotion in his face, body, or voice. He immediately seeks revenge on his brother's killers, men who trusted that Murphy was part of their outlaw gang, but Murphy still shows no emotion.

I think one of the reasons I feel so compelled to watch Audie Murphy's performances, even when he does show little emotion, is because of his public admittance that he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In fact, he was one of the first public figures to fight against the prejudices attached to soldiers with PTSD. When I watch this film, I wonder if his lack of emotion in his acting performance is due to his PTSD--perhaps he was afraid that if he allowed himself to relate to the character's situation for the film, he might lose control.

One of the unique aspects of this film is the outstanding monologue at the beginning of the movie by the Ohio Gazette editor, played by Booth Colman. Colman's speech is passionate and convincing. His eyes flash with anger as he recounts Quantrill's ride of terror through Lawrence, Kansas. Colman's talent has served him well through the years with appearances on a wide variety of television shows, from Death Valley Days and Cheyenne, to Frasier.

This film also stars Ben Cooper as Murphy's best friend, Willie Martin. Cooper had a long television career, as well, with appearances in shows such as Rawhide and Gunsmoke. He was also in the cult film Johnny Guitar, appearing as Turkey Ralston. The Western, Johnny Guitar, starred Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge in a feud that likely inspired the cliched-phrase "cat fight." It is best remembered as a film where every actor, including Ben Cooper, overplayed his or her role to such extremes that film-goers are sometimes confused about whether they should laugh out loud or cling to the edge of their seats.

In Arizona Raiders, though, Cooper is cool, collected, and competes with Colman for the best performance in the film.

I recommend Arizona Raiders--entertainment with a bit of history, effectively capturing the tension and drama of post Civil-War America.