Howling Mad Murdock

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Howling Mad Murdock
The A-Team character
HMMurdock.jpg
H. M. Murdock as he appears in the opening credits
First appearance "Mexican Slayride"
Created by Frank Lupo & Stephen J. Cannell
Portrayed by Dwight Schultz (TV series)
Sharlto Copley (2010 film)
Information
Nickname(s) Howling Mad
Gender Male
Title Captain
Awards[1] Bronze Star Medal
Air Medal
Joint Service Commendation Medal
Army Commendation Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Service Medal
Vietnam Campaign Medal

Captain Howling Mad "H. M." Murdock, played by Dwight Schultz, is a fictional character and one of the four protagonists of the 1980s action-adventure television series The A-Team.[2] The character of Murdock was almost written out of the series before it aired, as the producers found the character too "over the top". The popularity of the character among the test audience however convinced the producers to keep the part of Murdock.[3]

Murdock appeared on The A-Team from the series beginning in 1983 until its cancellation in 1987. South African actor Sharlto Copley played the character in the 2010 film, while Schultz appeared in a small cameo as his neurologist.

Character biography[edit]

The A-Team is a group of ex-United States Army Special Forces who were wrongly convicted of a crime during the Vietnam War. They fled to Los Angeles, where, as fugitives, the A-Team work as soldiers of fortune, using their military training to fight oppression or injustice. Murdock, along with Hannibal Smith, B. A. Baracus, and Templeton "Faceman" Peck make up the A-Team. Although Murdock was not convicted of any crime, as the other three were, he is still a full-fledged member of the team.

Considered the best chopper pilot of the Vietnam War, Murdock is officially declared insane (possibly caused by post-traumatic stress disorder) when the other three are imprisoned for robbing the Bank of Hanoi. Although he was alleged to be the A-Team's pilot during the robbery, he is instead committed to a psychiatric hospital. It is sometimes unclear if Murdock is truly insane or only exceptionally good at pretending he is (or a combination of the two). He is stated as having paranoid delusions and intermittent memory loss. It is suggested one has to be insane just to do the stunts he does in his helicopter.

Murdock is committed to a Veterans Administration (VA) Psychiatric Hospital, although he routinely escapes (generally with the help of Face) to accompany the A-Team on their missions. The symptoms of his "insanity" vary from episode to episode, but include self-identification with fictional characters, hallucinations, and belief in the "intelligence" of inanimate objects, among others. He is the most childish of the A-Team as shown that he often plays video games in his room and likes watching cartoons like Woody Woodpecker or Looney Tunes and sometimes will even repeat a Looney Tunes' character's catchphrase like Porky Pig's "th-th-th-that's all folks". He often "channels" a certain character for the duration of a mission (much to the chagrin of B.A.) or becomes fixated on a particular subject to the point of obsession. He also frequently refers to his invisible dog, "Billy".[4][5] B.A., uneasy with Murdock's unusual behavior, is easily annoyed by Murdock and regularly refers to him as a "crazy fool".

Murdock is almost always seen in a ball cap, a customized A-2 leather flight jacket with a picture of a tiger and the words "Da Nang 1970" on the back, a pair of khaki pants, and a pair of black Converse sneakers. He also often wears a t-shirt with a comical caption or a picture of cartoon characters like The Jetsons on it. Schultz said in a later interview that he was the one who devised the captions on the shirts, saying it was his "one constant contribution to the show." Although he was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, he is easily capable of flying anything with rotors or wings, including passenger planes, fighter jets, and even autogyros. It is mentioned in the pilot episode that Murdock flew with the elite United States Air Force Thunderbirds (by the mental institution's doctor to Col. Lynch just before he questions Murdock about the A-Team). In the episode "Bounty" (Season 3), it is revealed that Murdock served two tours in Vietnam, has three unit citations and a Silver Star, and was wounded twice. Interestingly, unlike B.A., the initials H.M. were never explained in terms of what Murdock's actual first and middle name were, and the nickname "Howlin' Mad" were simply attributed to them (although it is rumored that his name comes from World War II Marine Corps General Holland M. Smith, aka "Howlin' Mad", a nickname given by his troops). Not even his driver's license reveals what "H.M" stands for.[6]

It was revealed in the first season that Murdock and B.A. share the same blood type—AB negative, the rarest type. In the episode "Black Day at Bad Rock", B.A. receives a transfusion from Murdock, who was sprung from the hospital for just that, despite B.A.'s protests (fearing that Murdock's blood will make him "crazy"). This was again referenced in the second season finale "Curtain Call" when Murdock is shot and B.A. wants to donate his own blood to save him. This episode also has several touching moments between the two, as B.A. spends most of the episode caring for and comforting Murdock and showing that, for all their bickering, he and Murdock are actually very good friends.

Due to his nature, many of the details of Murdock's life are unknown, or possibly embellished. According to Amy in the pilot episode, Murdock's mother died when he was five (although they "still keep in touch"). If he is to be believed, he was raised (or at least influenced) by his grandmother (who is supposedly named "H. Emma Murdock") and his grandfather. In one episode in the third season, B.A. says that Murdock went insane after his plane crashed. The exact state of his insanity is never made clear, though he occasionally implies that his insanity is his ticket to his "room and board". Despite his purported mental status, Murdock is a thoroughly competent member of the team when needed to be. Indeed, because he is not actually wanted by the military, Murdock is often the only team member to evade capture by a given episode's antagonists (or the military police), and he has single-handedly rescued the other team members several times. On the other hand, his visibility and location as a mental patient make Murdock an easy target, and he is kidnapped twice from the hospital. The first time, in the episode "Bounty", Murdock was taken by bounty hunters who wanted to capture the rest of the team. In the episode "Wheel of Fortune" Murdock was drugged and taken by thieves who wanted to use his expertise as a pilot to hit an armored car with a Russian helicopter.

Murdock has extensive knowledge of various subjects and keeps up on current events, showing a genius-level aptitude. He speaks several languages including Spanish, German, Vietnamese, Japanese, Russian (not too well though) and Mandarin Chinese. In the second season episode "The Maltese Cow", Murdock says, "What can I say? One day I had a gonzo headache and before it went away I could read and speak Chinese. And it was a bad afternoon, too, lemme tell you." He also seems capable of a photographic memory. He is also a talented actor and often accompanies Face on his scams. He is capable of impersonating the voices of famous individuals and mimicking many different foreign accents. It is also revealed in the Season 4 episode "Wheel of Fortune", that Murdock has worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on at least two occasions, once in 1969 and once in 1972. Details of Murdock's missions with the CIA are not revealed.

Murdock, as a Captain, has the second highest military rank in the team. In the team, nevertheless, Face looks to be the second-in-command (probably due to Face being a Green beret with Murdock being just a helicopter pilot), but in the 4th episode of the second season ("Bad Time on the Border") where Hannibal Smith is taken prisoner, it is Murdock who makes the plan for the rescue and the rest of the team follow him as leader. In the episode "The Road to Hope", the rest of the team is captured by a cell of domestic terrorists and Murdock organizes a group of homeless veterans to rescue them.

One particular insight into Murdock's unique world view comes during the season five episode "Trial By Fire". Murdock is asked to take the stand at the A-Team's murder trial and give testimony about his helicopter flight following the Hanoi bank mission. The testimony takes the form of a surreal flashback from Murdock's perspective in which Murdock himself (wearing a grey wig and Biggles-style flight jacket) and his female co-pilot come under attack from The Spanish Armada, a sea serpent, and a tribe of Native Americans mounted on horseback, while Murdock spouts melodramatic dialogue. His mental acumen, however had generally improved by the fifth season to the point that he agonized whether to tell team member Face that their current client A.J. Bancroft was in fact Face's real father, and that Bancroft's daughter was his half-sister.

Murdock was permanently discharged from the mental institution in the fifth season, supposedly having regained his sanity, which is consistent with the fact he possibly pretended to be insane as a cover. Following this event, instead of a different mental fixation every episode, Murdock took a different menial job each week, including stints working as a dog walker and a waiter.

Romantic relationships[edit]

  • Doctor Kelly Stevens (as played by Wendy Fulton, Dwight's actual wife) ("Bounty", season 3 episode 22) - A veterinarian that Murdock falls in love with while on the run from a group of bounty hunters who mean to use him as bait against the A-Team. Over the course of the episode they flirt, and Murdock shows his interest numerous times, an interest that she returns. She is not seen again, but she is notable for the fact that she is the only woman to visit Murdock at the V.A. hospital.
  • Jody Klineman, aka Jody Joy, played by Lydia Cornell. ("Wheel of Fortune", season 4 episode 13) picks up Murdock hitchhiking after he escapes from a group of men intent on robbing a Las Vegas casino. She recognizes him from the Wheel of Fortune and becomes excited that she has met someone "famous". She helps Murdock hide and run from the robbers only to be caught and held hostage along with Murdock. She flirts with him throughout the episode, finally kissing him once B.A. and Face arrive to rescue them. Murdock takes her on the trip to Hawaii that he won on Wheel of Fortune.
  • Erica. (Mentioned in "Family Reunion", season 5 episode 8. Seen in "The Grey Team", season 5 episode 12)- A young lady who moves into the same apartment building as him. They met at the mail boxes and instantly hit it off. In "The Grey Team" she's seen working with him at the beginning of the episode at a little diner called "The Puppy Platter".

2010 film[edit]

Sharlto Copley as H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock in the 2010 The A-Team film.

The A-Team film keeps many of Murdock's traits and characteristics intact, including his amazing piloting abilities, surprising knowledge of many topics, acting ability and fluency in other languages (in this case, Swahili) and accents (such as English, Scottish, Australian and South-African).

Unlike in the TV series, he is not a member of the A-Team from the beginning; he joins the other three during a mission when they need a pilot at the last minute while fleeing a renegade general, a patient in a mental hospital, but is released into Hannibal's custody. Like his TV counterpart, the film Murdock also leaves open the possibility that he's eccentric and simply pretending to be insane. However, he does mention he "feels sane" after a blow to the head before the end of the movie. Murdock's fixation on pop culture characters is also kept intact, specifically in one scene where he re-enacts Mel Gibson's portrayal of William Wallace in the movie Braveheart.

In the early part of the film, Murdock himself is shown to be the reason B.A. is afraid to fly, as Murdock's stunt-flying the first time they flew together almost caused him to fall out of their helicopter. He implies that he has an Army Ranger tattoo like B.A., Hannibal, and Face, but his uniform in the courtmartial scene doesn't have the RANGER flash that the uniforms of the other three do, showing only SPECIAL FORCES and AIRBORNE.

In a post-credits scene, Murdock is shown receiving electro-shock therapy, while two doctors look on. One of them (Schultz) comments on Murdock's mindstate, saying, "This guy Murdock is nuts." Adding onto his odd habits is "gunpower barbecuing", where he uses smokeless gunpowder taken from shotgun shells to cook steaks; he also offers to add "secret sauce", which is anti-freeze.

Awards and decorations[edit]

The list below contains Murdock's awards and decorations as seen in season 1 episode "A Nice Place To Visit". Although a Bronze Star is shown, in the episode "Bounty" it is mentioned that Murdock was awarded the Silver Star. In this episode it is also mentioned that Murdock was wounded twice.

Unit citations[edit]

Army Presidential Unit Citation Vietnam Presidential Unit Citation

Badges and ribbons[edit]

ArmyAvnBadge.png
Army Aviator Badge
Bronze Star Medal
Air Medal Joint Service Commendation Medal Army Commendation Medal
National Defense Service Medal Vietnam Service Medal Vietnam Campaign Medal

Parody[edit]

  • In an episode of Robot Chicken, a bar owner's insurance could only cover the B Team, and Murdock is played by a clearly insane and suicidal actor tied in a straitjacket. In the end of the episode he is shown to have hanged himself.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Murdock's medals are shown in the season 1 episode "A Nice Place To Visit".
  2. ^ "Dwight Schultz: Typecast As Versatile". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  3. ^ Bring Back... The A-Team (2006), Justin Lee Collins and Dwight Schultz
  4. ^ "Mexican Slayride", Pilot episode
  5. ^ The A-Team: War Stories
  6. ^ "Without Reservations", season five, episode thirteen (final episode)