About Dudley Murphy


For many of Murphy's films, no surviving prints are known to exist. Others are accessible only at film archives. Titles available on DVD or VHS are noted, and in some cases links are provided.

Soul of the Cypress (director, producer, scenarist; 1920). Musically inspired short film featuring Murphy's first wife, Chase Herendeen Murphy, as a wood nymph cavorting over the seaside cliffs of Point Lobos; set to Debussy's “Afternoon of a Faun.”
Available in “Unseen Cinema,” a 7-DVD anthology of early American avant-garde cinema, 1894-1941. (On disc 7, “Viva la dance.”)

Aphrodite (director, producer, scenarist; 1920). Musically inspired short film featuring Katharine Hawley (later Murphy's second wife) as the Greek goddess rising from the sea off Laguna. From surviving publicity stills (included in the book), it appears that Murphy and Hawley intuited the concept behind the wet t-shirt contest and beat it by a mile.

Anywhere out of the world (director, producer, scenarist; 1920). Musically inspired short film featuring Chase Herendeen Murphy, based on the Baudelaire poem of the same title.

The Way of Love, aka The Romance of the White Chrysanthemum (director, producer, scenarist; 1920). Musically inspired short film about a young Japanese woman and her lover. Very little is known about this film, which premiered in New York in 1922.

Danse Macabre, aka Dance of Death, Death and the Maiden (director, producer; 1922). Adaptation of an Adolph Bolm ballet starring Bolm and Ruth Page. Named by the New York Times as one of the notable films of 1922. The title animation is irresistibly eerie. Available in “Unseen Cinema,” a 7-DVD anthology of early American avant-garde cinema, 1894-1941. (On disc 7, “Viva la dance.”)

High Speed Lee (director; 1923). Feature-length romantic comedy adapted from J. P. Marquand story, “Only a Few of Us Left,” starring Reed Howes and Rosalind Fuller. Produced by the Atlantic Film Company.

The Syren (director, producer, scenarist; 1923). Musically inspired short film loosely based on classical mythology, starring Katharine Hawley and set to the song “O Sole Mio.”

Ballet mécanique (co-director; 1924). Experimental short film made in collaboration with Fernand Léger with contributions by Man Ray and Ezra Pound. Music composed by George Antheil. With Kiki of Montparnasse, Katharine Hawley Murphy, and Dudley Murphy. “Unseen Cinema” includes a beautifully restored version that replicates the hand-coloring of the earliest known print. It also features a version of the score (by Paul D. Lehrman) that does full justice to the Antheil original.
Available in “Unseen Cinema,” a 7-DVD anthology of early American avant-garde cinema, 1894-1941. (On Disc 3, “Light Rhythms.”)

Mare Nostrum (uncredited assistant director to Rex Ingram; 1926). A sweeping adaptation of the novel by Vicente Blasco-Ibañez, much of it shot on location in various spots along the Mediterranean . The plot is dark—just about everyone dies in the end—but Ingram's sense of cinematic grandeur and unerring eye for composition are evident throughout. Though Murphy's contributions don't necessarily register on screen, the film is eminently worth seeing, especially in the restored version by Kevin Brownlow. Produced by MGM.
Facets Multimedia has carried this title in VHS; according to the website, they're currently out of stock.

The Love of Sunya (consultant on crystal sequence; 1927). Directed by Albert Parker. Produced by Swanson Producing Corp., released by United Artists. Gloria Swanson in her first independent production: the avant-garde techniques of Ballet mécanique in the service of Hollywood mumbo-jumbo.

Alex the Great (director, scriptwriter; 1928). Feature comedy starring Richard “Skeets” Gallagher. Produced by FBO. Murphy's Hollywood debut. The less said about this one, the better.

Skyscraper (original story; 1928). Romantic drama starring William Boyd and Alan Hale. Produced by the Cinema Corporation of America, released by Pathé. A winning comedy-drama, with slang-filled intertitles and footage of 1920s skyscrapers under construction.

Stocks and Blondes (director, scriptwriter; 1928). Wall Street romance starring Albert Conti, Richard “Skeets” Gallagher, and Gertrude Astor. Produced by FBO. Murphy's second Hollywood directorial outing, approximately as dismal as the first.

The Traveler (director; 1929). Short sound-film comedy based on a sketch by playwright Marc Connelly, starring Connelly. Produced by RKO Pictures. A hit for Murphy, as was The Burglar.

The Burglar (director; 1929). Second short sound-film comedy based on sketch by Connelly, starring Connelly. Produced by RKO Pictures.

Jazz Heaven (co-writer, original story; 1929). An amiable romantic comedy feature starring John Mack Brown and Sally O'Neil. Produced by RKO Pictures.

St. Louis Blues (director, scriptwriter; 1929). Short musical drama starring Bessie Smith and Jimmy Mordecai. Produced by RKO Pictures. The only screen appearance by the blues great, with solid support from Mordecai as the dapper cad who does her wrong. The camera work and editing are straightforward but surprisingly sophisticated for such an early sound film. Available on The Best of Jazz and Blues ( Hollywood Rhythm Volume 1) from Kino.

Black and Tan (director, scriptwriter; 1929). Short musical drama starring Duke Ellington and Fredi Washington. Produced by RKO Pictures. Murphy applies the avant-garde techniques of Ballet mécanique to this story of a musician and the dancer girlfriend who dies to advance his career. With horn player Arthur Whetsol.
Available on The Best of Jazz and Blues ( Hollywood Rhythm Volume 1 ) from Kino.

He Was Her Man (director, scriptwriter; 1930). Short musical drama based on the popular song, “Frankie and Johnny,” starring Gilda Gray. Produced by Paramount Pictures. This film apparently never saw the light of day, for reasons having to do with an amorous socialite and a strand of pearls. Read about it in Chapter 6, “Not Murder but Mayhem: Hollywood Again.”

Dracula (additional dialogue; 1931). The classic horror feature starring Bela Lugosi, directed by Tod Browning. Produced by Universal Pictures Corp. Widely available on DVD.

Confessions of a Co-Ed (co-director; 1931). Campus melodrama co-directed with David Burton, starring Sylvia Sidney, Norman Foster, Phillips Holmes, and Claudia Dell. Produced by Paramount Publix Corp. “It is no wonder that the author . . . should prefer to remain anonymous, for it is a most trivial and implausible story,” wrote Mordaunt Hall in the New York Times. Thanks to Murphy, though, Bing Crosby makes one of his earliest screen appearances.

Twenty-Four Hours (associate director; 1931). Drama directed by Marion Gehring, starring Clive Brook, Kay Francis, and Miriam Hopkins. Produced by Paramount Publix Corp. This film was a modest hit, but for Murphy, its greatest importance was personal—it brought Miriam Hopkins into his life.

A Lesson in Golf (director; 1932). Sports short produced by MGM as part of its “Sport Champion Reel” series.

The Sport Parade (director; 1932). Drama starring Joel McCrea, William Gargan, Marian Marsh, and Robert Benchley. Produced by RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. The young McCrea as the apex of a romantic triangle with a homoerotic undertow.

The Emperor Jones (director; 1933). Screen adaptation of the Eugene O'Neill play, starring Paul Robeson. Produced by John Krimsky and Gifford Cochran, Inc., released by United Artists. The 2002 Library of Congress restoration comes as close to Murphy's original vision as we're likely to get. See it for his use of music and artful handling of transitions from one sequence to the next. And of course for Robeson's performance. Widely available on DVD; be sure to get the version that says “Newly Restored by the Library of Congress.” The LC version is included in the four-DVD set, Paul Robeson, Portrait of the Artist, released by the Criterion Collection.

The Night Is Young (director; 1935). Operetta-style musical set in Vienna, starring Ramon Novarro and Evelyn Laye. Produced by MGM. Frothy, frilly fun. Murphy hated it.

Don't Gamble With Love (director; 1936). Romantic drama about a professional gambler and his family, starring Ann Sothern and Bruce Cabot. Produced by Columbia Pictures Corp. The New York Times called it “a mildly amusing little program number” glorifying such simple virtues as “parenthood and not running gambling hells.”

One-third of a nation (director, co-producer; 1939). Romantic drama about slum life, adapted from a WPA play of the same name, starring Leif Erikson, Sylvia Sidney, and Sidney Lumet. Produced by Paramount Pictures, Inc. A fascinating cultural artifact of the late Depression, of the WPA-meets-Hollywood variety. The only on-screen appearance by director Lumet as the kid, with a cameo by his father, a noted actor in New York's Yiddish theater.

Main Street Lawyer (director; 1939). Legal drama starring Edward Ellis and Anita Louise. Produced by Republic Pictures Corp. Murphy won kudos for his directing, but on this film, he was far better than his material.

Soundies (all 1941):

I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire (director). With Johnny Downs, Bonnie Kildare; music by Lud Gluskin.

Lazybones (director). With Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Dandridge, Floyd O' Brian, Peter Ray; music by Bob Crosby and His Orchestra.

Merry-Go-Roundup (director). With Gale Storm, The Dorn Brothers and Mary, The Palladium Handicap Girls; music by Bob Crosby and His Bobcats.

Yes, Indeed! (co-director with Josef Berne). With Dorothy Dandridge, The Spirits of Rhythm.


Additional Soundies attributed to Murphy (credits unavailable):

Abercrombie Had a Zombie. With Lee Murray, Liz Tilton; music by Bob Crosby and His Orchestra.

Alabamy Bound. With Jackie Greene, The Five Spirits of Rhythm.

Easy Street. With Dorothy Dandridge.

Jazzy Joe. With The Dorn Brothers and Mary; music by Bob Crosby and His Orchestra.

Jim, aka Carrying the Torch for Jim. With Judy Carroll.

Mountain Dew. With Mabel Todd, The Pickards.

Feature Films Made in Mexico:

Yolanda, aka Brindis de Amor (Toast to Love), (director, 1942). Romantic drama starring Irina Baranova, David Silva, and Miguel Arenas. Produced by Promesa Films. Released in the U. S. in 1951 as Toast to Love.

Alma de Bronce (Soul of Bronze) aka La campana de mi pueblo, (director, 1944). Adaptation of “The Bell of Tarchova,” a short story by Budd Schulberg, starring Pedro Armendáriz, Gloria Marín, and Andrés Soler. Produced by Artistas Asociados.