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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When The Devil's Brigade first came out it got panned by a lot of critics in that it was too similar to The Dirty Dozen. Never mind that it was based on some real figures, the consensus was that The Devil's Brigade was a poor imitation of The Dirty Dozen. Personally I think it was a better film.
I'm sure that the characters and incidents were given a lot of poetic license, but that was to make it entertaining. And entertaining it is. But it's also inspiring, especially in the last battle sequence, taking that hill by going up the hard way.
When Bill Holden was cast as real life Lieutenant Colonel Robert Frederick, Mrs. Frederick was interviewed and said while she admired Mr. Holden's talent, she thought her husband was more the Gregory Peck type. Nevertheless Holden does a fine job as a man who shoots down Lord Louis Mountbatten's idea of a combined American/Canadian special force and then gets command of it. He's also a staff officer who had not seen combat and he was trying to prove something to himself.
As good as Holden is, the best performance in this film has to be that of Cliff Robertson as Canadian Major Alan Crown. Robertson's an Ulster Irishman in the film and his acting and accent are impeccable. He's got something to prove as well, he and many of his Canadians left Europe at Dunkirk. Robertson himself was off his Oscar winning performance in Charly and The Devil's Brigade was a good follow up for him.
The Canadians selected for this unit are the pick of the lot, while the Americans emptied their stockades of all the refuse. Holden encourages competition among them and a really terrific sequence involving a bar brawl with some obnoxious lumberjacks welds a camaraderie among former feudees.
Standing out in the cast are Claude Akins as a particularly rambunctious American recruit and Jack Watson as the Canadian sergeant. They bond particularly close, some might even infer some homosexuality here, but Watson's death scene and Akins's reactions are particularly poignant.
The Devil's Brigade also came out during the Viet-nam War and war films were not well received at that time, at least until Patton came out. Seen now though, The Devil's Brigade is a fine tribute to the Canadians and Americans who made up the First Special Service Force.
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