Another intensively gritty widescreen collection of misfits fighting in the European front, The Devil’s Brigade is The Dirty Dozen without the direct insubordination and Kelly’s Heroes without the self-aware buffoonery.
Tinged with true-story sentiment, The Devil’s Brigade takes on the usual bisected story structure, focusing on the rigorous, team-building training at the hands of the savvy, stern squadron commander (William Holden here, Lee Marvin there).
A confluence of undisciplined, slack Americans and tight, diligent Canadian forces, the group – through raucous bar fights and friendly desert races – becomes a singular, cohesive unit, which leaves the commander particularly distressed when the brigade his ordered disbanded before being put into action.
This allows us some of that Dirty Dozen dissention amongst superior officers (and a few cameos from Dana Andrews and Michael Rennie), before the squad can set their sails for southern Italy, where this highly trained, highly unique set of individuals can make their mark.
-The action at first is jovial, snide and really quite fun as the brigade sneaks across enemy lines to break the necks of those silly Nazi’s, but that’s before a brutal, more vulnerable and affecting action climax, which is inevitably earned and sold by Holden’s tanned, wearying stature. [B]
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