Tuesday, 11 June 2013

FILMS

The Dirty Dozen (1967) and 
The Devil's Brigade (1968)

This week, The Devil’s Brigade plays catch-up with Robert Aldrich’s masterpiece for Overlooked Films, Audio and Video over at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

Lt. Col. Robert T. Frederick (William Holden) to Major Cliff Bricker (Vince Edwards) in The Devil’s Brigade: “Major, when you address me, take that cigar out of your mouth.”


Comparisons between The Dirty Dozen (1967) and The Devil's Brigade (1968) are inevitable. Both the WWII films have much in common, in the main, the theme and a multi star cast, and both are based on books.

The Dirty Dozen tells the story of a secret plan to infiltrate a chateau in France and wipe out a cluster of high-ranking German officers.

The Devil's Brigade revolves around a secret plot to end German occupation of a strategic mountain in Italy.

A victory in both military campaigns will give the Allied Forces a huge advantage in the war.

While The Dirty Dozen is made up of twelve battle-hardened convicts who storm the Nazi party at the chateau, The Devil’s Brigade comprises a ragtag bunch of misfits who take over the mountain.

Both the secret missions are led by formidable and respected commanding officers played by two popular actors, Lt. Col. Robert T. Frederick (William Holden) in The Devil’s Brigade and Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin) in The Dirty Dozen. Both men must overcome all kinds of odds, including rank indiscipline and rowdy behaviour, to turn the men under their command into precision-guided fighting outfits.

However, in the course of training, both the Lieutenant-Colonel and the Major are soldiers first and officers second, as they treat their men as humans rather than as machines. There is also many a hilarious moment during the training process or at least until the men embark on their dangerous mission.

Where The Devil’s Brigade lacks is in the glamour quotient and dramatic pace of The Dirty Dozen.

The Dirty Dozen, directed by Robert Aldrich, is overwhelmed by a long line of famous actors that include the likes of John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, and Donald Sutherland whose animated characters bring the film more alive than it already is. It’s the kind of film that would do well at the box office on the sheer strength of its cast. And I believe it did.

The Devil’s Brigade fails to match up in the celebrity stakes though William Holden holds up his end well with some fine performances by Major Cliff Bricker (Vince Edwards), assistant to the CO, Major Alan Crown (Cliff Robertson) of the Canadian contingent, and Privates Omar Greco (Richard Jaeckel), Theodore Ransom (Andrew Prine), Rocky Rockman (Claude Akins), and Hugh MacDonald (Richard Dawson).

The only common actor in both the movies is Richard Jaeckel who is point man to Lee Marvin’s character in The Dirty Dozen. He impresses in both the films.

Interestingly, The Devil’s Brigade provides a piece of history. The US army misfits team up with an elite Canadian military unit and train—and entertain—together for a mission that is originally planned in Norway but is later diverted to Italy.

According to internet sources, the story is based on a book of the same name by American novelist and historian Robert H. Adleman and Col. George Walton, a member of the brigade. It is a fictionalised account of the First Special Service Force, the joint Canada-US World War II commando group under Col. Robert T. Frederick.

The film was shot with the 3rd United States Army Special Forces Group at Camp Williams, 20 miles south of Salt Lake City, and battle locations on Mount Jordan, both in Utah, and on location in Italy. Apparently, producer David L. Wolper found it cheaper to film in an Italian village rather than build an Italian set in America. The US Department of Defence is also believed to have provided 300 members of the Utah National Guard to play soldiers in the battle scenes.

Andrew V. McLaglen, who directed The Devil’s Brigade, appears to have a liking for multi star cast films as evident in at least two other war films The Wild Geese (1978) and The Sea Wolves (1980), the latter shot in my backyard in Goa where I spent my childhood, and two westerns, The Way West (1967) and Bondolero! (1968). I have yet to see the last mentioned.

The Devil’s Brigade is a fairly entertaining film in spite of its striking resemblance to The Dirty Dozen in more ways than one.


In case you missed — War movies worthy of World War II (December 13, 2011).

13 comments:

  1. I have not seen Devil's Brigade. Have to watch it though. I have enjoyed quite a few of that era's WWII movies.

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    1. Charles, I enjoy watching the early multi star cast war and western movies and I'm glad that there are quite a few I haven't seen yet. THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE is an enjoyable fare.

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  2. Prashant, did you find any similarities between these movies and the Hindi movie Karma where three people on death row are picked up and made into a fighting unit?

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    1. Neer, I think, Bollywood has copied this formula on several occasions, the earliest in my memory being SHOLAY which probably owes its origins to films like THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. I remember seeing KARMA. I think it had Bollywood stalwarts like Dilip Kumar and Nutan, and Anupam Kher in a villainous role. I didn't find any similarities between these war films and KARMA though the theme can be said to have something in common.

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  3. I loved THE DIRTY DOZEN when I first saw it in the Sixties. By today's hyper standards, it's slow. But the performances still hold up.

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    1. George, THE DIRTY DOZEN still holds up well for me, as does other war films of its kind like THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and WHERE EAGLES DARE.

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  4. My book group was wondering last night what the best book to read about India might be. Any suggestions. It could be a novel or non-fiction. We read both.

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    1. Patti, I suggest the following books.

      In non-fiction, "India: A History" by noted historian John Keay, "Freedom at Midnight" by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins, and "The Discovery of India," the magnum opus, by Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India's first prime minister.

      And, in fiction, "Midnight's Children" by Salman Rushdie, "A Passage to India" by E.M. Forster, and "Such A Long Journey" by Rohinton Mistry, the India born Canadian author.

      I'd also recommend the historical fiction of Amitav Ghosh and William Dalrymple. All their books are good.

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  5. Prashant, I loved THE DIRTY DOZEN when I first saw it in theaters. I was a big fan of Lee Marvin, especially during the infrequent times when he played a good guy.

    I also liked Telly Savalas. He had a great cop series on TV way back in the day. The first of the great 'realistic' NY cop series, I think.

    I don't think I ever saw THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE though I might have. I can't be expected to remember EVERYTHING. Ha!

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    1. Yvette, THE DIRTY DOZEN is certainly an entertaining film and Lee Marvin dominates with his rather quiet but formidable presence on screen. The Telly Savalas TV series you're referring to is KOJAK which, unfortunately, never made it to Indian television. I'm glad you mentioned it as now I can try and watch it on the internet. I don't think THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE became a well-known film coming as it did only a year after THE DIRTY DOZEN whose popularity has never really waned. People here still talk about it as if it had been released recently. My teenage son enjoyed it.

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  6. I love THE DIRTY DOZEN, and this makes me want to watch it again. To my knowledge, I have never seen THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE, but the story sounds good. Another entertaining post.

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    1. Thank you, Tracy. I have yet to come across someone who didn't. I have seen it many times, mostly for individual performances of both the young and old actors rather than for the plot. THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE is definitely worth seeing.

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