In 1985 I watched the movie Murphy's Romance for the first time. I enjoyed it, thought it was a cute, entertaining benign love story with a happy ending, albeit a little predictable. The theme of success followed by a hard fought struggle continues in this film from Sally Field's previous 1979 movie, Norma Rae. In Murphy's Romance the main character, Emma Moriarity captures the audience's sympathy as she tries to make a new life for herself and her 12-year-old son after divorcing her deadbeat husband. Arriving in Eunice, Arizona with little money in her purse and a few belongings from her home in Modesto, California, Emma toils day and night to transform a rundown ranch house and barn into her dream ranch where she aspires to board and train horses. She is denied a bank loan, recieves no business despite her efforts to advertise, and can barely put food on the table. Finally, she meets an older widower who befriends her and gives her help by boarding his horse with her and bringing customers to her. A rivalry ensues between Emma's ex-husband and the widower. Eventually Emma and the widower win one another's hearts.
A few evenings ago, I viewed this film for the second time through a different lens. No longer a young happily married woman, but now a mature widow, this film spoke to me very differently. The protagonist, played by James Garner is the older childless widower. I remember James Garner being from Norman, Oklahoma, not far from my late husband's parents' childhood homes--places I fondly remember visiting many years ago. Garner's smooth Oklahoma accent has always been comforting to me and I took delight in listening to him again. His character, Murphy Jones, is a well respected lifelong resident of the town of Eunice. He owns the town drugstore, plays in a band, is a member of the Elks Lodge, and is an anomaly of sorts because of his liberal politics. He is also well sought after by the older single women and widows not only because of his status, but because of his manliness, charisma, dapper appeal, and tragic history. These women remember the tragedy of his wife's sudden unexpected death and the deep, dark grief that consumed Murphy for a few years. As the film unfolds so does Murphy's character as a principled, no bullshit, opinionated yet polite, wise, honest gentleman who treats women with respect and puts deadbeats like Emma's ex-husband in their places.
In Murphy I see myself, the widow. I drew a lot of similarities between Murphy's experience as a widower and my own. I was happily married, never had children, have liberal political beliefs, and am relatively well-known where I work as a teacher. Like Murphy, I busy myself with several hobbies and interests, I have several friends of the opposite sex, I am "mature," and I experienced those same dark days that Murphy described during the surprise birthday party scene. Like Murphy, I also know what I want in the opposite sex and what I don't want. He said that happy marriages are rare. He was right.
The man Murphy also reminded me a lot of my late husband. Generous, helpful, always on the side of the less fortunate, never one to put up with bullshit, rugged yet sensitive, wise and measured in thought and action, true to his word, well-mannered and respectful, a model of integrity, and a well-respected leader, Steve was a lot like Murphy. Even though I am a much different person now than I was over three years ago when I was thrust into widowhood, Murphy's Romance reminded me of the qualities in a man that remain so important to me. They are the qualities of a real man, a gentleman, a man's man.