To Hell and Back (1955): Audie Murphy Stars as Himself in Biopic of WWII Experience

Jesse Hibbs directed To Hell and Back, a Technicolor WWII film, featuring Audie Murphy as himself, a proudly fearless soldier in the U.S. Army.

To Hell and Back

Film poster

The popular movie was based on the 1949 autobiography of the same name, ghostwritten by Murphy’s friend, David “Spec” McClure, who served in the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps during WWII.

As a boy, Audie Murphy (Gordon Gebert) grows up in a poor sharecropper family in Texas. His father deserts them, leaving his mother (Mary Field) to feed and raise 9 children.

As the eldest son, Murphy works from an early age for neighbor Houston, a local farmer, to help support his siblings. Murphy and Mr. Houston are interrupted while working and listen to the radio announcement about the attack on Pearl Harbor.

When his mother dies in 1941, Audie becomes the head of the family. His brothers and sisters are sent to an elder sister, Corrine, and Murphy is convinced by Houston to enlist in the military.

Murphy is rejected by the Marines, the Navy and the Army paratroopers due to his short size and youthful look. Finally, the Army accepts him as  ordinary infantryman.

After basic training and infantry training, Murphy is shipped to the 3rd Infantry Division in North Africa, as a replacement. Because of his youthful appearance, he endures jokes about “infants” being sent into combat.

His squad mates include: Johnson, who claims to be a womanizer; Brandon, who ran out on his wife and daughter; Kerrigan who jokes at unusual times; Kovak a Polish immigrant wishing to become American citizen; Swope (“Chief”), a Native American who smokes cigars, and Valentino who has relatives in Naples.

After the 3rd Infantry Division lands in Sicily, Murphy and his men come under attack by German machine guns. but they assault and kill the enemy. After fighting in Sicily, Murphy is promoted to corporal.

During a diversionary attack on German forces, the new platoon leader, Lt. Manning, is wounded and Sgt. Klasky, his platoon sergeant, dies.

Murphy takes command, leading his platoon in Naples, and later taking part in Operation Shingle. After landing on the beach, Murphy and his men fight around an abandoned farmhouse. This battle results in Lt. Manning, Kovak and Johnson being killed.

After the Allied breakout of Operation Shingle, Murphy receives a battlefield commission to the rank of second lieutenant.

The action for which Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor is depicted at the end of the film. In January 1945, near Holtzwihr, France, Murphy’s company is forced to retreat during German attack. However, Murphy remains behind, at the forest, to direct artillery fire on the advancing enemy infantry and armor.

As the Germans close on his position, Murphy jumps onto an abandoned M4 Sherman tank, and uses its .50-caliber machine gun to hold the enemy at bay, even though the vehicle is on fire and about to explode.

Wounded, Murphy single-handedly turns back the German attack, thereby saving his company. After hospitalization, he returns to duty.

The film concludes with Murphy’s Medal of Honor ceremony shortly after the war ends, and Murphy recalling the brave Kovak, Johnson and Brandon, who were killed in action.

The movie was a big commercia hit at the box-office.

Audie Murphy as Himself
Marshall Thompson as Private/Corporal Johnson
Charles Drake as Private Brandon
Jack Kelly as Private/Staff Sergeant Kerrigan
Gregg Palmer as Lieutenant Manning
Paul Picerni as Private/Corporal Valentino
David Janssen as Lieutenant Lee
Richard Castle as Private Kovak
Bruce Cowling as Captain Marks
Paul Langton as Colonel Howe
Art Aragon as Private Sanchez
Felix Noriego as Private Swope
Denver Pyle as Private Thompson
Brett Halsey as Private Saunders
Susan Kohner as Maria
Anabel Shaw as Helen
Mary Field as Mrs. Murphy
Gordon Gebert as Audie as a boy


Directed by Jesse Hibbs
Written by Gil Doud, based on To Hell and Back, 1949 book by Audie Murphy
Produced by Aaron Rosenberg
Narrated by General Walter Bedell Smith
Cinematography Maury Gertsman
Edited by Edward Curtiss
Music by Irving Gertz, William Lava, Henry Mancini, Lou Maury

Distributed by Universal Pictures

Release date: August 17, 1955 (San Antonio)

Running time: 106 minutes
Box office: $5,799,852 (US rentals)