In 1942, an elite group of over six hundred Canadian soldiers were trained to create a lethal battalion that would, along with their American counterparts, parachute behind German lines and... See full summary »
Kelly J. Altenhofen,
During World War II, a special fighting unit is formed that combines a crack Canadian Army unit and a conglomeration of U.S. Army misfits who had previously served time in military jails. After an initial period of conflict between the two groups, their enmity turns to respect and friendship, and the unit is sent Italy to attempt a dangerous mission that has heretofore been considered impossible to carry out.Written by
Doug Sederberg <email@example.com>
As the Canadian contingent marches in to the Fort is is apparent that many of the kilted Soldiers are not wearing Sporrans, the leather "purse" worn with the kilt.
Only about one out of every 6 or 7 is wearing one. They should all be wearing them. See more »
By 1968, the public was becoming less enchanted with World War II movies as news footage from Vietnam spilled into their living rooms, and films like this one paid a price. Reading a contemporaneous review in the New York Times, it's hard not to feel the sneering contempt at Andrew V. McLaglen's engaging if light take on a group of American and Canadian commandos. But which has dated more, the film or its critics?
It's hard to judge "The Devil's Brigade" fairly when you grew up watching it as I did on television, courtesy of Channel 7's "4:30 Movie" in New York City. If you watch a war movie that thrills you as a kid, you try your best to overlook its flaws as an adult. Fortunately, "The Devil's Brigade" is still a good film when you realize it is meant to be a piece of entertainment and not a true depiction of war a la "Saving Pvt. Ryan."
Yes, there are weaknesses, including the Wehrmacht's employment of Patton tanks and blind and deaf sentries. The only Canadian that sounds like Richard Dawson does here is Michael Myers when he's playing "Shrek." As the unit commander, Lt. Col. Frederick, William Holden seems disengaged from the rest of the film, dyspeptic and hung over, which he may well have been. Maybe his mind was on that new Peckinpaugh script in his trailer
But what you get here is better than you might expect, delivered by McLaglen with a near-expert blend of mounting tension and comic finesse. We are introduced to a lot of individual soldiers in "The Devil's Brigade," Canadians and Americans, and the film gives ample space to their interesting and divergent story arcs.
Good performances abound. Cliff Robertson as Major Crown is the straight arrow Canadian commander who escaped Dunkirk and longs for a second crack at the Germans. If anyone but McLaglen was directing, Crown would be a thankless role, but McLaglen was in tune with the straight and narrow and gives Robertson the room and tone to play the part well, which Robertson does.
Other Canadian characters shine, too, like the gruff but lovable Cpl. Peacock (Jack Watson) and Jeremy Slate as a self-defense instructor whose impromptu demonstration at the expense of Claude Akins is a comic highlight. On the American side, Akins does a nice job keeping a degree of audience sympathy even as he belittles "the Canucks," as he calls them, setting himself up for Slate's humility lesson, while Andrew Prine pulls you in as a troubled and sensitive soldier who wants the chance to prove himself but finds the business of killing hard.
The first hour of the film is the best part, as the brigade is trained to Frederick's exacting standards while its American and Canadian components learn to deal with each other. It all comes together in a raucous bar fight which is a McLaglen specialty and the film's highlight, a rousing celebration of Canadian-American togetherness at the expense of a few bigmouthed lumberjacks who pick the wrong time to kid Dawson about his kilt.
"I know nobody invited the Canadians," Akins sneers. "But what burns me up is just who the hell invited you?"
Alas, when we get to the war itself, we are initially treated to a silly combat sequence involving the capture of an Italian village by a patrol. It all comes too easy, and McLaglen's attempt to marry the comedy of the first half with some gritty battle reality is miscalculated. Are we supposed to believe an elite battalion of Germans can be captured by a dozen Devils without anyone firing a shot?
There are lots of shots fired at the film's concluding battle, at once rousing and heart-wrenching, especially as McLaglen and scripter William Roberts make use of all the characters we had invested ourselves in by putting them in harm's way and not letting them all out. After the bar fight, it is the film's best section, especially with William H. Clothier's sterling cinematography making ample use of a blue-mountain vista.
Maybe I am too prejudiced in favor of movies that thrilled me when I was young. Maybe "The Devil's Brigade" isn't as good as "Lawrence Of Arabia." But it's a solid adventure film that makes me happy I had the good luck to see it when I was a little more naive.
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