At the onset of World War II, American Lt. Col. Robert Frederick (William Holden) is put in charge of a unit called the 1st Special Service Force, composed of elite Canadian commandos and undisciplined American soldiers. With Maj. Alan Crown (Cliff Robertson) leading the Canadians and Maj. Cliff Bricker (Vince Edwards) the acting head of the American contingent, there is initial tension -- but the team comes together when given a daunting mission that few would dare to attempt.
The Devil’s Brigade is directed by Andrew V. McLaglen and adapted to screenplay by William Roberts from the book of the same name written by Robert H. Adleman and George Walton. It stars William Holden, Cliff Robertson, Vince Edwards, Harry Carey, Claude Akins, Andrew Prine, Richard Jaeckel, Jack Watson and Jeremy Slate. A Panavision/De Luxe Color production, music is by Alex North and cinematography by William H. Clothier.
Based on real people and incidents, film follows the formation of the 1st Special Service Force (AKA: The Devil’s Brigade), their training and subsequent mission to seize control of Monte la Difensa, a Nazi stronghold during the Italian Campaign in World War II.
Somewhere along the path of war movie history there was a wind of change that saw the all heroic soldier of sincerity replaced by the anti-hero thug! Where misfits, criminals and army bums were thrust into missions that gave them the chance of redemption or a semblance of honour via death. This format reached a pinnacle, arguably, with Robert Aldrich’s Magnificent Macho Movie, The Dirty Dozen (1967). A year later came The Devil’s Brigade, a film strikingly similar to The Dirty Dozen, yet unlike Aldrich’s movie is based on facts, it should also be noted that the novel The Devil’s Brigade was written in 1966.
McLaglen’s movie follows the tried and tested formula, men from all walks of life thrust together and expected to gel as one fighting force. Cue hostilities and suspicions, here in the guise of a crack Canadian army unit joining forces with a platoon of American wasters. The training is as tough as it gets, the men continuing to try and out macho each other, and then that magical moment occurs when they come together as one and realise they actually can get on after all. This comes about in TDB courtesy of a gloriously over the top part of the film where the Yanks and Canadians brawl with local lumberjacks and the military police. Something which greatly makes their leader, Lt. Col Robert Frederick (Holden), very proud. He of course is straight from the “unconventional” line of military leaders.
So it goes, fists fly as much as the jokes, the insults are barbed and the macho posturing never wavers. Frederick butts heads with the suits, his charges forced to prove themselves as an elite fighting force, and then it’s to the big bang mission, where it’s a time for heroes and we know that not everyone will survive the pyrotechnics. Cast performances are just fine, inevitably with such an ensemble piece many of the characters are not fully fleshed, but the main players impact well on the drama. North’s music is delightfully boisterous, the blend of national themes most catchy, Clothier’s photography around the Utah and Lazio locales lurches nicely from the screen, while McLaglen, so often derided for some of his directing assignments, does a bang up good job for the two action sequences that finalise the movie.
It doesn’t break new ground, but for this line of formula war movies it comfortably keeps the fires burning. 7.5/10
Wolper Pictures by Andrew V. McLaglen, William Roberts, Robert H. Adleman, George Walton.
Stars: William Holden, Cliff Robertson, Vince Edwards.
Genres: Action, Drama, War
Keywords: italy commando canadian army
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