Murph the Surf (1975)
aka Live a Little, Steal a Lot
This is one of those seventies flicks that feel as though they were a made for TV project that morphed into a theatrical release. Kind of like Don Siegel’s remake of The Killer’s back in ’64. Considering it’s directed by Marvin Chomsky, who outside of a handful of titles, directed plenty of classic TV shows that have garnered cult followings including Star Trek and Hawaii Five O as well as numerous movies of the week. One of which mirrors this tale, Brinks: The Great Robbery. Then there’s the work he did with Robert Conrad on The Wild Wild West. I mention this due to the fact that it’s Conrad who get’s the lead role here though he isn’t playing Murph. That role is taken up by his on screen partner portrayed by the always excitable Don Stroud. Another actor, like Conrad who landed plenty of roles in television.
Based on a true story from 1964, the film tells the story of the two men who plotted and stole the Star of India among many other jewels from a museum in New York. The story is told in flashback, piece by piece as they make there way into the museum. Conrad is the veteran of the two and all around playboy. He romances wealthy women and makes off with their jewels in the Bahamas. Into the story comes the husky Stroud with a smile on his face as Murph. At least when Murph is actually surfing, it appears as if Stroud is indeed doing some of the location shots unlike beach boy Frankie Avalon used to do in front of the back screen while crooning a song or pining for lovely Annette who was caught looking at John Ashely.
Stroud gets caught up in the excitement and the thrill of the theft. He quickly becomes Conrad’s younger partner when he sees the income that Conrad has been acquiring through his personal fence played by Luther Adler. It’s Adler who offers them the job and a big payday for stealing the Star of India.
It isn’t money or jewels that will set the duo on a downward spiral but women. Conrad takes his pleasures as they come but hooks up with a young trophy girl friend Robyn Millan while Stroud finds a relationship with Donna Mills. Donna is another name with a long background in TV supporting my earlier thoughts on this production. When Stroud begins to abuse the trust of Mills, Conrad isn’t overly joyed and a rift begins to develop between the two cat burglars.
Once the theft of the famed jewel takes place, the Feds move in and target the well known Conrad and company as the perpetrators of the heist. One of our acting Feds is the soon to be well known Burt Young of Rocky fame. The script will serve up another role that’s perfect for an old timer of note from the studio years of Hollywood, Paul Stewart. He’s been cast here as Conrad and Stroud’s lawyer who is fully aware of their guilt but begins the bargaining process with the courts to get the charges either tossed or strike a plea bargain when a conviction looks imminent. All this despite the jewels not being recovered.
Care to see the most expensive game of marbles ever played?
Never having seen Conrad’s major TV successes like Wild West or Black Sheep, I’m not really sure how or why I’ve always known who he was while I was growing up. I can’t recall seeing him in very many shows or films. Strangely enough, I think I remember he had an ongoing public dispute with Tony Danza resulting in some made for publicity boxing match. Without looking anything up, I have no idea who won. Conrad and Stroud would reteam for another movie in 1977 titled Sudden Death. Both Murph and Death were made available as a double feature release on DVD though Stroud doesn’t get any love on the cover art.
Another name that struck me while watching the credits as I’m known to do was seeing Chuck Courtney listed as producer. Push come to shove I couldn’t pick him out of a line up but I do know he starred as Billy the Kid in the less than stellar William Beaudine flick, Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula with the one and only John Carradine donning the cape.
So Murph the Surf isn’t all that bad, it just seems stuck between being a fully developed theatrical film versus a made for TV project with some curse words inserted for good effect. It’s also an opportunity to learn about a famed heist that I had no idea even took place. At the fadeout, the film will give us a few words on the fallout of the heist and the current where abouts of the participants involved at the time of this production.
I’ve included the link to Wikipedia here for more on the life of Don Stroud’s real life character Murph the Surf. Sounds like a whole new movie should be produced on this individual’s life that seems to represent one hell of a roller coaster ride.