The Dirty Brigade
Lt. Col. Robert T. Frederick (William Holden - Casino Royale) is less than impressed with a plan to bring together soldiers from Canada and America for what he sees as a suicide mission to Norway. But when he is chosen to oversee the project he does so with efficiency as he tries to whip the men into shape. It's not going to be an easy task when he his given a misfit bunch of rebel Americans many of which have done time and then a well drilled Canadian platoon lead by Major Alan Crown (Cliff Robertson - 633 Squadron). Unsurprisingly the two groups don't get on especially during training till eventually a brawl with some lumberjacks sees them unite into a fighting force. With training completed the men head to Italy for their first mission.
1967 saw Robert Aldrich giving us "The Dirty Dozen" which starred Richard Jaeckel as one of the men training a rabble bunch of criminal soldiers for a dangerous mission. The following year we had Andrew V. McLaglen giving us "The Devil's Brigade" which this time saw Richard Jaeckel as a convict soldier who has a habit of escaping from lock up brought in as part of a combined special force for a dangerous mission. I pointed out Richard Jaeckel but in truth the similarities between "The Dirty Dozen" and "The Devil's Brigade" extend much further with both following the same path with a similar eclectic bunch of misfits and characters except with "The Devil's Brigade" not only featuring American and Canadian soldier but also based on a true story.
As such "The Devil's Brigade" has the same parts which "The Dirty Dozen" has; the initial plan to train a misfit bunch of American's with well drilled Canadians, the tension between the soldiers as well as the officers, the uniting of the men when they get into a fight which leads to improved training and then finally the mission where some of course die but prove themselves honourable men. There is nothing wrong with this and I can assure you that if "The Devil's Brigade" had been made before "The Dirty Dozen" the comparisons would be heading in the other direction. But it does sadly mean that "The Devil's Brigade" is an entertaining walk through some obvious scenes such as the men winding each other up, brawling, training and so on.
Now part of the reason why it is entertaining is because of director Andrew V. McLaglen's formula which meant we had humour from banter between larger than life characters to the expected brawls. It was what McLaglen did in various other movies and whilst it made this as well as those other movies predictable it did serve up what the audiences wanted to the point that you actually sit there waiting for a bar room brawl to break out.
The other reason why "The Devil's Brigade" entertains is down to the cast which not only features solid performances from the lead trio of William Holden, Cliff Robertson and Vince Edwards but also had good supporting performances. The likes of Claude Akins, Richard Jaeckel, Andrew Prine and Jack Watson all play their stereotypical and comical characters well. In fairness none of them have a really well defined or original character but they embrace the fun of the movie which is what is called for.
What this all boils down to is that "The Devil's Brigade" is a good movie especially if you are a fan of movies like "The Dirty Dozen". It's only problem comes from the fact it came out the year after "The Dirty Dozen" and so for ever feels like a knock off despite being based on a true story.