The Devil's Brigade (1968) Poster

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Fair World War II Adventure Piece
SgtSlaughter18 November 2002

With the huge success of "The Dirty Dozen", a popular theme began to appear in war movies: instead of focusing on good, clean-cut heroes, the main characters became misfits thrown into situations which made them heroes, whether they wanted to be or not. The story of the Devil's Brigade is a true one about misfits turned into wartime heroes.

William Holden plays Lt. Col. Frederick, who derives a plan for combining Canadian and American troops into an assault force which will attack the Germans in Norway. Holden is forced to deal with two contingents of troops: a proud, professional Canadian unit under the command of career soldier Major Crown (Cliff Robertson) and an American unit comprised of misfits and criminals, led by crass Major Bricker (Vince Edwards). The men instinctively hate each other, and spend their months of training bickering with one another, until a huge bar fight forces them join forces against unappreciative lumberjacks. From there, the men are no longer fighting each other… they are deployed to Italy, rather than Norway, where they must capture a strategic hilltop from which Nazi artillery pounds the Allied advance.

Veteran director McLaglen, who seems to always be able to throw together a satisfying film but never really made a classic, falls short once again – this time, he's trying to make a docudrama, but constantly falls back on established stereotypes and familiar situations rather than fresh, new material, almost as if he's afraid to try something new. That aside, this is one very entertaining movie, and its' success rests largely on the capability of a huge cast of character actors.

Of the three leads, Robertson is most convincing. He manages to make Crown an admirable hero, with guts and determination. He cares about his men but pushes them to their limits because he knows that when they face the Wehrmacht, they will be better off for it. He is calm and collected under pressure, whether it is pressure from superior officers, attitudes of the men under his command or in the tense heat of battle. Likewise, Edwards breathes vibrant life into Bricker. Bricker is a witty officer with a short temper towards misbehavior in his unit, and little respect for the dregs he commands. We know he's unhappy with his assignment from the moment we meet him; only gradually does his attitude change. Holden is actually the least believable of the three leads. He never seems to be acting with much passion or concern for his character, and never comes across as a real, living human being. His role as commander is strictly one-dimensional, and this is probably the lowest-grade role I've seen him in to date. This is where flaws in the script begin to take their toll, because most viewers have seen Holden act so much better, but that's because he's had much better material to work with.

The supporting cast is filled with familiar faces, several of which deserve mention because they are so good. One standout is Claude Akins as Rocky Rockman, easily the most rebellious of the Americans. He's physically rough, profane, and won't hesitate to pick a fight with anyone, anywhere. But during the aforementioned bar fight, he finds himself allied with Peacock (Jack Watson), a Canadian he holds in highest contempt. Peacock is a staunch, stiff NCO who makes discipline and respect his #1 priorities, and naturally, he and Rockman don't get along… until they have to fight alongside each other to gain respect from some angry lumberjacks, and realize that maybe they can get along as comrades in arms, and maybe even friends. The course of this relationship builds realistically throughout the course of the entire film, making one scene during the final battle incredibly moving.

McLaglen makes the final major encounters with the Germans, the highlights of the film. The first major encounter involves the brigade's probe of a German village, in which they manage to capture an entire German battalion without taking a single casualty. This scene is funny and well-executed, but never comes across as a very convincing – it's simply meant to be a humorous excursion, and proves that the men of the Devil's Brigade can operate better than any other American Army unit. The on-location filming looks great in this sequence, though – it was shot in a real village, not on a set, and the exteriors look fresh in every shot. McLaglen uses a lot of pans and zoom-outs to show the progress of his characters, too, making for some nicely composed sequences.

The final mountaintop battle is brilliantly executed from start to finish. Beginning with a perilous sequence of the brigade rappelling up steep cliffs, the sequence builds to a bloody, hand-to-hand encounter with German infantry. Most of the battle is shot from the grunts' perspective, and the camera occasionally rises above the action to show us what progress the men have made – but essentially, this isn't an epic battle with a bunch of extras battling it out. McLaglen is interested in telling a human drama from the start, and doesn't abandon his characters in favor of scope. Instead, he tells the story of the fight as the men see it, and does a very good job. When compared to films of today, the final battle isn't very graphic, but does feature plenty of blood spurts and there is some use of a hand-held camera, making this a bit more realistic than some other war films of the time period.

"The Devil's Brigade" is a touching human drama, but easily fades into the sea of familiar unit pictures. There is nothing to really set this apart from that sea, but director McLaglen and the actors work well together, making the story riveting and enjoyable. There are ample doses of humor and satisfying amounts of humor, action and character drama to make this a recommendable war film.
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The Fighting Devils
bkoganbing10 September 2006
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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The cast makes the film.
Cactus-712 December 1999
You may sometimes get the feeling that Hollywood thinks that World War II was won entirely by commando units. But The Devil's Brigade is one of the better "Special Forces" films. William Holden is chosen to meld a group of American misfits with an elite group of Canadian Army troops. The results are sometimes predictable, but nevertheless, interesting and humorous.The well-chosen cast makes the film what it is, with Jeremy Slate turning in a understated but splendid performance as the hand-to-hand combat instructor. The Devil's Brigade is good entertainment.
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Reasonably factual, entertaining ode to a great unit
rvm-222 October 2000
The Devil's Brigade was indeed made up of Canadian elite and American cast-offs at the formation of the first US Special Forces unit, and this movie gives us the beginning of their amazing story. Most people are probably unaware that the Canadian army had such an influence on the initial training of this unit.

A lot of Americans probably won't like how their countrymen are portrayed at the outset compared to the Canadian "hand-picked, best-trained men in the best-trained army in the world" (in the word's of the unit's American commander, portrayed by Holden). But they should be proud of what they were raised up to become, and how they acquitted themselves in battle. It's particularly nice to see the Canadian army portrayed with the respect it richly deserves.

There's many amusing scenes in the movie, including my favorite, the mess-hall scene with the Canadian hand-to-hand combat instructor from the PPCLI and the oafish American soldier (who had been denigrating the Canadians up to that point).

A great WWII movie, worth watching whenever it's on. The Canadian History channel follows showings with an interview with one of the founding members of this unit, who vouches for the general portrayal of events (though he said he doesn't recall them marching into the Montana training camp on their arrival, as portrayed in the movie). The takeover of the German unit in the town was somewhat fictionalized, too, and is a composite of several events (but that's the movies for you).
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One of the best WWII films out there!
dmrair34029 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The Historical facts:

The following is from the book Canadians at War 1939-1945.

The First Special Service Force - or the force , as it was called - an elite unit of both Canadians and Americans was formed in 1942. It had some 700 Canadians and 1700 Americans of all ranks distributed throughout three regiments. It was a tough outfit, trained to drop by parachute and fight in mountains or on skis.

The force had its first taste of mountain fighting in Italy in December 1943, when it helped take a group of German-held hills barring the Allied advance on Rome. Two Battalions scaled the sheer face of a 3000 foot peak and drove the enemy form their caves and pillboxes around the summit. Within four days, all the neighboring ridges were also cleared. The Force had done superbly in its first action but it had suffered 400 casualties. Canadian losses totaled 27 killed and 64 wounded.

Later the same month, the Force was sent to fight alongside U.S. troops on the approaches to Cassino. And, in February 1944, the unit was committed to the Anzio beachhead, which the Allies had established in an attempt to outflank German forces south of Rome.

Churchill called the Force's Leader. U.S. Maj. Gen. Robert Frederick, "the greatest fighting general of all time." The Force itself won the nickname "The Devil's Brigade," a term apparently inspired by the blackened faces members wore on patrols and in battle. A German officer's diary recorded: "The black devils are around us every time we come into the line, and we never hear them come."

The Force ended its fighting days in August 1944 in the largely unopposed invasion of southern France and was disbanded later that year. The Americans were formed into an infantry regiment; the Canadians went back to their own army, some of them to the 1st Parachute Batallion.
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I thought it was an emotional tribute to the First Special Service Force
rdfan25 March 1999
I've read and researched quite a bit on the actual First Special Service Force, which this movie is based on, and found that, although it (as with most movies) does differ on occasion from the actual history, on the whole it is a moving tribute which captures the spirit of the Force. The acting was first-rate, and although the cinematography left a little to be desired I can see why it recieved high ratings among IMDB members.
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An excellent movie based on a true story
medicalguy22 September 2005
This is one great film. I must say that when it comes to WW2, Canadians always seem to be left out. It was that way with The Longest Day, Saving Private Ryan , The Great Escape etc, so I must say that seeing Hollywood making a movie with Canadians is exciting in itself. This movie is based upon an actual joint Canadian - American unit, that was formed during WW2. The movie is fairly accurate as far as how things really went, during training and also in combat. This unit was one of the crack units of the war, and the end battle of the movie was a real WW2 battle. I found the acting to be alright for its time, except that once again Canadians are portrayed as speaking with an English accent! as for the battles and the depth of the film, I would say it did a good job of bringing together the characters. I would say that this would make a great remake. I would also hope that maybe Hollywood would make a few more movies about this great unit and the people who served.
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Exciting; Unusually Rich in Characters; a Grand Mission Film
silverscreen88825 June 2005
Critics do not respect this tough-minded and character-rich WWII mission film; it might be subtitled the dirty hundreds because it has so many trainees being readied for combat. The only persons who like this are those who enjoy a stirring action picture with many interesting participants and good actors. The script is by fine veteran William Roberts, direction by Andrew V. MLlaglen, a stellar job. Add music by Alex North of "Spartacus" fame and gritty, superior art direction by Alfred Sweeney and you have a fine start. The training takes place somewhere in the US, the mission in the Italian Alps to boot. Actors shining in the large cast include William Holden as the leader, Cliff Robertson as as a needlessly stiff Canadian, plus Michael Rennie. Dana Andrews, Vince Edwards, Claude Akins, Jeremy Slate, Richard Jaeckel, Andrew Prine, Jack Watson and dozens of other well-cast GIs. Add Gretchen Wyler, a spectacular fight with lumberjacks in a bar, judo training with a comedic intro, a twenty-mile hike and the mission itself where many exciting and tragic incidents happen to men the viewer has come to know- -war movies hardly get better than this. The film has a realistic feel about it at all times; Akins as Rocky, Slate as a bespectacled unarmed combat type, Rennie, Jack Watson and Holden are standouts. But Roberts' script, McgLaglen's taut direction and North's music make this a superior film whatever genre it is classified within.
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Saw this one on the history network
mm-391 January 2004
Not bad for an older movie. The 60's is full of WW2 movie, and the Devil's Brigade is better than most. Fast paced, interesting, and the strong ending gives this film 7 stars. I wonder how much of this film is actually based on the true story. The movie appears realistic.
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Go Canada
downtown-46 May 1999
I've seen this movie and I enjoyed it very much. One reason was because this American war movie actually had a Canadian background to it. For the first time ever in an American movie, the Canadians had a part in the plot. Finally some inclusion by our neighbour to the south in movies about the extreme efforts of Canadians during world war. The Canadians played just as big a part in the winning of the war as the Americans did, the only difference was that Americans had supreme man power. But there is no problem here, as the Allies worked together to achieve the ultimate goal of victory.

This "Devil's Brigade" was very much a true outfit. Originally they were used in the Aleutians to defend North America from Japanese invasion (1942), which in fact was never going to actually happen. This 1800 men force (a brigade) of Canadians and Americans were very well trained, and provided a very strong force that got the job done. Not only was a mission to land on the island of Kiska in the Aleutians done to rid the island of Japanese (the Japanese were already gone), but they went on special missions to destroy hydroelectric stations in Norway and northern Italy, to destroy oil fields in Romania, and as well as different missions in Italy, such as the making and breakout of the Anzio beachhead to the south of Rome.

So anyways, my point is first of all that this brigade did exist and were a strong military force, and second of all that it is nice to see Canadians in an American war movie, especially in 1968. Great movie, great history.
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A great movie which serves as a link to my grandfather.
Rob eno8 August 1999
My grandfather passed away when I was 14. He was a member of the First Special Service Force "The Devil's Brigade". While the movie is not 100% historically accurate, it gives me a link to my grandfather. When I watch the movie it gives me an appreciation of what he did to serve his country. I would recommend this movie to anyone with an interest in WWII.
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" How Low in Rank does someone have to be, before he's expendable? "
thinker169120 July 2009
There are not too many films which depicts the military of our Northern neighbor. Their contribution to World War II are manifest and undeniable. Why Hollywood forgets this is a very good question. The movie is taken from the files of the military concerning the First Special Forces also know as the Black Devils. They are also mentioned in another movie called 'Anzio.' This movie is called " The Devil's Brigade " and has so many notable stars it's a wonder they didn't illuminate the entire theater. William Holden plays Lt. Col. Robert T. Frederick (without a mustache), but does give credit to the fact the good Col. was totally without experienced when the brass hats put him command. The Force is unusual in that it consisted of Canada's elite soldiers and Major Crown a survivor of the battle of Dunkirk. (Cliff Robertson) The other half of the famed unit was given by the U.S. army who emptied all their military stockades and sent this group the dregs. Vince Edwards, Claude Akins, Jeremy Slate, Jack Watson, Richard Dawson, Tom Troupe, Luke Askew, Carroll O'Connor, Dana Andrews and of course Michael Rennie as Lt. Gen. Mark Clark rounds out the bill. The film contains both elements of a war movie. It has the questionable decision of combining these two elements, the very best and the very worse and the incredible military results which became the motto of these men. They do the impossible. The acting is exceptional and the end result is the creation of a military Classic. Well done! Recommend to all. ****
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OK 60's WWII Film with Good Final Battle Scene
FADrury15 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This film takes the true story of the First Special Service Force and links it up with a fair number of Hollywood clichés. The overall story is pretty standard. You follow the unit from it's inception in Montana to it's first major action. The characters are pretty stock as well. The "Dirty Dozen" take on the American volunteers is completely off-base. All the volunteers for this outfit (Canadian & American) went through a very vigorous screening process. Of course, since was originally envisioned as a "suicide unit," to put it mildly there were plenty of unique individuals running around in this outfit. For example, the American officer who kept snakes under his bed to get over his fear of them is true. It's unfortunate that they didn't mine some historical info to give you a better feel for these guys.

The real focus of the movie is the assault on Mt. La Difensa in Italy. While the movie is pretty standard up to this point, they make an effort to convey here the difficulty of the assignment. This segment is handled pretty well and is worth the viewing.

Overall, if you're a war film buff, you'd probably enjoy this film. The veterans of the "Black Devil Brigade" weren't really happy with it, but at least it brought that unit to life on the screen. Your best bet is to check out the movie, then look for some of the books to tell you what really happened.
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I enjoyed this movie
maverick_man8930 June 2005
I don't care about what other people think. Those who gave a bad review of this movie are just too shallow to understand the MEANING of this film. It may not have all the flashy gun-play of newer films...Its the 1960's! Kay?

I liked how the Canadians were showing the yanks up all the time, but MY ABSOLUTE favorite scene is the bar scene when the Canucks and Yankees finally became brothers. I almost cried at how touching the union was.

This is among my favorite war movies because it shows how much Canada and the US can kick some serious ass! Talk about the ultimate killing machine. I tip my hat to the Devils.
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mtavern30 November 1998
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Good Flick
figaro91122 April 2006
Liked this movie for the most part. Not overly hammy, and some good action sequences. Had an authentic feel to it. One quibble, was the laughable scaling of La Difensa during the final assault. You have 500+ men scaling a near vertical wall of 1000+ feet, barehanded, with nothing but muscle and rope ( having of course not had any mountain training by the CO's admission ), no safety devices, and ostensibly not a single fall. Simply amazing. Other than that, no complaints. OK, I have to work hard to fill the 10 line minimum for IMDb. So let's see, loved the scenery at the boot camp. Couldn't help but notice that most of the guys in the flick are dead now, but they were plenty lively in the film.
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A winner
Ron-18121 August 2000
A good cast supplied with an interesting and action filled story make this one of the better efforts of the World War II films. William Holden does a fine portrayal of a brigade Colonel and his efforts to get his cast off misfits into the big war. Fine photography and interesting characters make this film a winner. A must see for everyone's viewing list.
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War Is Hell, This Is Entertainment
Bill Slocum24 April 2006
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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Solid counterpart to "The Dirty Dozen"
Wuchak4 November 2013
"The Devil's Brigade" was released in 1968, 11 months after the hugely successful "The Dirty Dozen". Both films have similar plots and were based on real-life WWII units -- "The Dirty Dozen" was loosely based on the Filthy Thirteen and "The Devil's Brigade" more tightly based on the 1st Special Service Force, AKA The Black Devils.

Their plots are similar in that they each involve a group of military delinquents being trained for a big mission and then the execution of that mission. They differ in that the 1st Special Service Force was comprised of both American and Canadian soldiers, rather than just Americans.

Although "The Devil's Brigade" is based more on fact it's still a very Hollywood-ized depiction of events. For instance, actual members of the unit objected to the way the film limits the groups warm relations with the locals of Helena, Montana, (the city nearest their training base) to a major brouhaha in a saloon.

The first half of the film takes place mostly at the dilapidated base near Helena, but was shot at a base in Lehi, Utah, which is a decent substitute since it's only 350 miles due south of Helena.

Generally speaking, "The Devil's Brigade" is not as good as "The Dirty Dozen", but that's only because the latter film is so great, plus it came first. Yet it has some aspects that are just as good in their own way and sometimes better. For instance, the final mission in "The Dirty Dozen" involves the unit's raid on an opulent German château, which -- while good -- is hardly a typical WWII combat scenario; the final mission shown in "The Devil's Brigade", by contrast, involves the brigade's taking of a German stronghold atop a rocky mountain in Northern Italy, an excellent battle sequence.

Although it's next to impossible to beat Lee Marvin as the commander of the unit in "The Dirty Dozen", William Holden is very strong in the counterpart role in "The Devil's Brigade". However, he was too long-in-the-tooth for the part as the real commander of The Black Devils was much younger, but that's not a big deal.

Despite the above criticisms of the saloon brawl, it is a highlight, as is the scene in the mess hall where a hand-to-hand combat trainer is introduced. It's an extremely well-staged sequence.

Claude Akins is great as the ape-like Pvt. Rockman, but his hysterics at the death of his Canadian comrade in battle is overly melodramatic. As if he wasn't prepared for the likely death of a fellow soldier in battle.

FINAL SAY: If you're in the mood for a late 60s war flick in the mode of "The Dirty Dozen", "The Devil's Brigade" is a quality option.

The film runs 130 minutes and was shot in Utah & Italy.

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Quite good and actually based on a real fighting unit.
MartinHafer3 November 2013
I was surprised to learn that "The Devil's Brigade" is actually based on a true story and it's not some "Dirty Dozen" knockoff. During WWII, there really was a special forces unit made up of American and Canadian soldiers and this film is a slightly fictionalized version of their formation and successes.

The film begins with the Colonel (William Holden) being given command of a new special forces unit. When he arrives at the camp, it's derelict--a mess. Well, when the soldiers arrive, they are no better--a group of misfits dumped on his from various American units. In contrast, the Canadian soldiers who soon arrive are among the elite--and they couldn't seem any more different. Can Holden somehow make these very disparate groups of men a working and effective combat team? To help him are the Majors (Cliff Robertson and Vince Edwards), but their task seems impossible.

While there are some comparisons to "The Dirty Dozen", "The Devil's Brigade" is far less exciting and enjoyable--probably because truth is often less entertaining than fantasy--and "The Dirty Dozen" is pure fantasy. Regardless, the film is well made and enjoyable and a nice testament to the men who risked their lives with the unit.
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Teufels Brigade.
Spikeopath28 December 2013
The Devil's Brigade is directed by Andrew V. McLaglen and adapted to screenplay by William Roberts from the book of the same name written by Robert H. Adleman and George Walton. It stars William Holden, Cliff Robertson, Vince Edwards, Harry Carey, Claude Akins, Andrew Prine, Richard Jaeckel, Jack Watson and Jeremy Slate. A Panavision/De Luxe Color production, music is by Alex North and cinematography by William H. Clothier.

Based on real people and incidents, film follows the formation of the 1st Special Service Force (AKA: The Devil's Brigade), their training and subsequent mission to seize control of Monte la Difensa, a Nazi stronghold during the Italian Campaign in World War II.

Somewhere along the path of war movie history there was a wind of change that saw the all heroic soldier of sincerity replaced by the anti-hero thug! Where misfits, criminals and army bums were thrust into missions that gave them the chance of redemption or a semblance of honour via death. This format reached a pinnacle, arguably, with Robert Aldrich's Magnificent Macho Movie, The Dirty Dozen (1967). A year later came The Devil's Brigade, a film strikingly similar to The Dirty Dozen, yet unlike Aldrich's movie is based on facts, it should also be noted that the novel The Devil's Brigade was written in 1966.

McLaglen's movie follows the tried and tested formula, men from all walks of life thrust together and expected to gel as one fighting force. Cue hostilities and suspicions, here in the guise of a crack Canadian army unit joining forces with a platoon of American wasters. The training is as tough as it gets, the men continuing to try and out macho each other, and then that magical moment occurs when they come together as one and realise they actually can get on after all. This comes about in TDB courtesy of a gloriously over the top part of the film where the Yanks and Canadians brawl with local lumberjacks and the military police. Something which greatly makes their leader, Lt. Col Robert Frederick (Holden), very proud. He of course is straight from the "unconventional" line of military leaders.

So it goes, fists fly as much as the jokes, the insults are barbed and the macho posturing never wavers. Frederick butts heads with the suits, his charges forced to prove themselves as an elite fighting force, and then it's to the big bang mission, where it's a time for heroes and we know that not everyone will survive the pyrotechnics. Cast performances are just fine, inevitably with such an ensemble piece many of the characters are not fully fleshed, but the main players impact well on the drama. North's music is delightfully boisterous, the blend of national themes most catchy, Clothier's photography around the Utah and Lazio locales lurches nicely from the screen, while McLaglen, so often derided for some of his directing assignments, does a bang up good job for the two action sequences that finalise the movie.

It doesn't break new ground, but for this line of formula war movies it comfortably keeps the fires burning. 7.5/10
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Hard to swallow but entertaining
yenlo9 March 2000
While this picture is certainly entertaining it's a little hard to swallow in many aspects. While the Canadian troops are easy to believe when it comes to turning them into elite commandos it's not so easy with the Americans. They are comprised of a bunch of screw-ups and then magically become special warfare troops! I did get a kick out of the learn to ski scene. With ski equipment as primitive as it was at the time the Americans would have had to spend the entire remainder of the war practising to reach the level of skiing the Canadians were at when we see them on the slopes. Besides they are never on skis later on. Still an entertaining war film.
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True World War II Story Worth Your Time
vitaleralphlouis3 November 2007
This is the true story of how a group of American misfits were mixed with a first rate Canadian outfit, and how the leadership of Col. Frederick molded them into one of World War II's most effective fighting forces. Col. Frederick (William Holden) is one of the most inspirational officers ever portrayed in film, and can serve as a great role model for anyone looking to mature. The film contains more positive American values than any I've seen lately. This is an excellent big-movie treatment to a story well worth the telling --- now on DVD.

In 1968 I might have scored this movie slightly lower, but not anymore. Back in 1945 and well into the 1970's, Hollywood was loaded with real life war hero's -- both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Most pictures reflected positive values and could inspire the young as to how to live their lives.

In contrast, in 2007 we have a pathetic bunch of airheads and drug-heads with no knowledge (or contempt for) mainstream American values, now generating at least 9 movies intended to give aid and comfort to America's enemies in wartime --- and trash the memories of those who died in the September 11th terrorist attack.

Compare William Holden's inspirational role in Devil's Brigade to on-again-off-again drug abuser Charlie Sheen (his name stolen from Bishop Fulton J Sheen) dazed and confused on TV -- ranting about toy airplanes crashing the World Trade Center. Yeegads!
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Mechanical and by the numbers action film based on true incident...
Neil Doyle31 August 2003
While THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE seems to borrow heavily from plot elements of THE DIRTY DOZEN, in actuality it's based on a true World War II incident involving a brigade of Canadians and some American misfits on a mission in the Italian alps.

Unfortunately, it takes an hour and fifteen minutes before the men are even sent on their first mission. Instead, we see the boisterous rivalry between the macho misfits and the proud Canadians--some of it very well staged and amusing with an especially good performance by Jeremy Slate as a fight instructor. But by the time we get to the actual mission, the picture has gone on for much too long a time without developing any of the main characters. This is where THE DIRTY DOZEN is superior--all of the characters come to life in rich moments of humor and drama. Here we have a bland bunch of stereotypes led by William Holden, looking a bit worn and weary by this time. Nor do any of the other major players have significant roles--although Cliff Robertson does nicely as Holden's chief co-star. Dana Andrews and James Craig are completely wasted in the background. Only Vince Edwards as a cigar-smoking colonel has almost as much screen time as Holden.

Lack of development among the character actors and a screenplay that takes too long to deliver a punch, makes this a lusterless action film, the kind that has been done before with much better results.

One has to think back to the tense and taut melodramatics of Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan on a mission against the Nazis in DESPERATE JOURNEY to get a hint of what this film should have been as far as pacing and tense situations go.

Alex North's score is almost non-existent at major dramatic moments, another shortcoming of THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE.
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Should have titled this "The Dumbass Brigade"
helpless_dancer13 January 2000
What a load of phony baloney trash. No "crack" unit of commandos would want to ever be allowed to act as these jackasses do. Silly macho dialogue, stupid macho brawls, goofy macho action scenes all combined to make for a boring, idiotic, insipid, mundane, moronic, unrealistic aid for insomniacs. It sure wasn't a good war movie; it wasn't even a good movie. Pitiful attempt at re-doing "The Dirty Dozen".
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