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  • Writer's pictureDomenic and Charlie Fusco

Great Review - Murf the Surf: Jewels, Jesus, and Mayhem Across the USA. Reviewed by Dr. Ted Baehr


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MURF THE SURF: JEWELS, JESUS, AND MAYHEM IN THE USA is a documentary miniseries on MGM+ about a surfer celebrity in the 1960s who became a jewel thief and perhaps a murderer. MURF THE SURF is one of the most exciting documentaries in memory. Some of the episodes move so fast with so much jeopardy that you hardly notice the time passing. This is rare for a documentary.

The first episode, “The Heist”, is about The Crime of the 20th Century when Jack Murphy, aka Murf the Surf, and other Miami Beach boyfriends stole the extraordinary Star of India sapphire from the Museum of Natural History in 1964. With most of the international news and political news being very depressing, the story of these beach boys committing the biggest robbery of all time made them celebrities and constant news items. The first episode contains many references foreshadowing Murf’s conversion, including his statement that “you don’t find God, He finds you”, and an evangelistic clip from a televised Billy Graham crusade.

The program has a brief overview of his childhood, where his father was always hard on him, even when he excelled in almost everything, including a violin concert where his father told him he made one mistake. Of course, this background sets up his character development as someone who always wanted attention that he didn’t get at home. Murf grew up in Carlsbad, Calif., a beautiful town on the Pacific Ocean which at that time only had 1500 people. So, he was surfing at a young age. Although his father was mean-spirited, one day he walked into his house and his father was watching Billy Graham. His father said to him, “There’s the greatest man in America”; thus, planting an admiration for ministry.

Trying to get away from his father, he moved to Miami, Fla., and won several Surfing Championships and even was entered into the Surfing Hall of Fame. Miami at that time was a magnet for handsome beach boys, beautiful young girls, big celebrities, and the Mafia. When the money started to run out, he and his beach boyfriends became petty crooks, breaking into hotel rooms and houses. When things got a little hot, after stealing some expensive jewelry, they headed up to New York and stayed at a nice hotel overlooking the Museum of Natural History. They had a great party life in their penthouse suite and enjoyed New York, but eventually decided after touring the museum that they could rob it. Being athletes, they climbed over the fence, climbed up to the top floor, and got into the jewelry collection to steal the Star of India.

They immediately returned to Miami, but the police eventually caught up with them, and they were sent to prison after much legal maneuvering. The public looking at these handsome Beach Boys thought of them as Robin Hoods, but they went to prison. Murf told his girlfriend, Bonnie, she should find another guy; so, tragically, she killed herself. In Episode 2, called “Another Level of Madness”, Murf gets out of prison after 21 months, but his heart is a lot harder. He soon gets involved in a stolen securities scheme with two professional women and his beach boyfriends. Eventually, when the women threaten to squeal, Murf and a friend, and two women go out on a boat to ride up the bayous. The women are murdered in a gruesome way, their heads crushed, shot, knifed in the stomach, and tied down to drown by concrete blocks. The police are quickly after them. Eventually, his excellent attorney alleges insanity, so Murf isn’t sent to the electric chair. Instead, as a result of several convictions, he gets a double life sentence plus 20 years in the worst prison in Florida, and it looks like the end of Murf. Even the public turns against him. In Episode 3, entitled “God’s Business,” Murf, with his powerful personality, becomes a leader in the worst prison in Florida, becomes a drug dealer and engineers the only strike ever at a Florida prison, because the prison is overcrowded, the food is miserable, and life is Hell. Somehow Murf always dresses eloquently instead of the prison uniforms. While he’s committing crimes in prison, he’s appealing his sentence, claiming he didn’t do the murder, because he just drove the boat.

Soon, the state’s most powerful warden, Lewis Wainwright, is assigned to the prison. Lewis reads the riot act to Murf and commands Murf to listen to the preachers who have prison ministries, like Frank Constantino. Murf receives lots of letters. One tells him about Jonah, and he has a vision of crying out to God while drowning in his cell. Episode 4, called “The Truth Bends”, explores Murf’s conversion, where he authors a book in a very short period of time about his conversion which becomes a prison best seller. Eventually, in 1984, he comes again before the parole board. Many people speak of his changed life, including Warden Wainwright. He gets paroled and spends the next 26 years in prison ministry. The question the program poses becomes even more poignant in this episode: Was Murf just running another con, or was he really saved by Jesus Christ? Because he never addressed the killing of the two women in-depth, even coming up with another story later in life, so he does not seem truly repentant.

The MURF THE SURF documentary series is a must-watch on television and streaming. It will touch your mind, your heart, and your soul. The associate producer, Dom Fusco, was a friend of MG for many years and tried for years to produce a movie or television program about Murf. He took our filmmaking class, rewrote his script, and got a two-picture deal with Ron Howard. This documentary series is the first of the two-picture deal, and, if they make it into a movie, that will be the second. Because of the many discussions of violence, robbery, drugs, and so forth, caution is advised even though there’s no dramatized violence, and all of it is encased in a well-made documentary using pictures and film clips. MURF THE SURF will entertain you and perhaps even transform you.

Streaming begins Feb 5th on MGM+

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