Another Western, you say? But why this one? Even the director, Budd Boetticher, admitted it wasn’t very good. Audie Murphy wasn’t right for the part of the Cimarron Kid. “He’s sensitive, he’s got taste, and guts.” Presumably those qualities weren’t wanted for Bill Doolin, the character Murphy plays. Doolin comes across as a reluctant outlaw, a crack shot who takes no pleasure in using his weapon and seems pained to be leading a life of crime.
I’ve got a rule of my own that might do you good to remember: there will be no killing unless it’s forced upon us.
Other members of his gang have cool, tough guy nicknames like Bitter Creek and Dynamite Dick. Granted, Murphy’s short stature (he was 5’5”) made him well-suited for “kid” roles—he played Billy in The Kid From Texas a year earlier—but here he’s too well-dressed to be plausible as the defacto leader of a gang of ruthless bank robbers. Really, he just wants to hang out with his girl.
Murphy had an image to keep up. Three years earlier, he’d published a best-selling memoir about his wartime experiences, To Hell and Back (1949). A World War II hero, and a Texas boy who really could ride a horse and shoot, he was surprisingly humble in his book. People liked that about him: Audie got the job done.
Of course, there was more to it. Murphy didn’t become the most decorated combat soldier in US military history without tremendous suffering. He was involved in some of the worst battles of the European theater, including Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, and Southern France, where he saw his closest friends die. Half-crazed, he single-handedly wiped out an entire German squad in the Ardennes; wounded, he also managed to commandeer a burning tank, using its .50 caliber machine gun to drive the enemy away.
He would be plagued by nightmares for the rest of his life and was, as Boetticher recognized, “a complicated young man.” But audiences saw only the earnest kid. At the end of this picture, he agrees to go to jail. His girl promises she’ll be waiting for him when he gets out. Not your typical Western ending, but it fit with the image of the damaged, war weary young veteran.
Gregory McNames quotes his New York Times obituary. “When Murphy was asked how soldiers such as he managed to overcome the horrors he had seen, he replied, ‘I don’t think they ever do.’ ” That message doesn’t come across in The Cimarron Kid as strongly as in Shane, but you can’t help feeling sorry for Murphy in this picture.