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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Devil's Brigade (Blu-ray)
The Devil's Brigade (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // August 1, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $25.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted September 21, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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The Movie:

Andrew V. McLaglen's 1968 picture The Devil's Brigade has more than a little in common with The Dirty Dozen, a film that struck box office gold just a year earlier. There are a few differences, of course, but the basic premise for each film is pretty similar: a rag tag group of soldiers with nothing left to lose are tasked with finishing off a seemingly impossible mission.

This time around, the man in charge is an American named Lieutenant Colonel Robert T. Frederick (William Holden), a grizzled career army man who has yet to really see much actual combat. Admiral Lord Mountbatten (Patric Knowles) assigns him the unenviable task of assembling a joint task force comprised of both American and Canadian soldiers to lay siege to a Nazi operation in Norway. The Canadians assembled for this mission are the best of the best: well trained, experienced and deadly. The Americans, however, are the exact opposite and Frederick is only able to choose from a group of criminals and losers. Regardless, he puts his team together as requested and commences training them and preparing them for the job.

And then the mission is cancelled. You'd think this would be a good thing for the men, but no, quite the opposite. They're reassigned to an even more dangerous task, to make their way into Italy and bust wide open a Nazi base hidden deep in that country's mountains…

Again, the story is a familiar one. The script is decent and the characters given enough personality to keep them interesting, but there's no sense in denying it: this is basically a clone of the earlier film just with some Canadian characters mixed in to help differentiate it a bit. Having said that, if this is a knock-off of The Dirty Dozen it is at least a damn good one. The action scenes that populate the second half of the film are tense, nicely shot and feel realistic enough that they never take us out of the movie. There's a solid score here and some genuinely great location photography to help keep us involved in the picture.

Really though, with a picture like this it's the cast that make it. Holden is excellent in the lead, aging at this point in his career but still though, you wouldn't want to mess with him. He's not in full on Wild Bunch mode here, but he's a man's man and he means business. The supporting players are all pretty much excellent across the board. Complementing Holden in the picture are a host of recognizable actors from all walks of life: Ben Casey, Cliff Robertson, a young Andrew Prine, a scene stealing Claude Akins and even Richard Dawson show up here, alongside Vince Edwards, Jeremy Slate, Jack Watson, Richard Jaeckel, Jean-Paul Vignon, Luke Askew, Carroll O'Connor, Dana Andrews, Hal Needham and quite a few others. They all play their parts well, carving out interesting characters from the military stereotypes that they basically are, and, of course, bonding with one another as the start of their increasingly dangerous mission looms ever closer.

Again, we're not reinventing the wheel here. But when you've got a movie that moves quick, delivers the tension and action you want and is populated by such a genuinely excellent cast it doesn't matter so much.

The Blu-ray:

Video:
The Devil's Brigade debuts on Blu-ray from Kino in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed in its original aspect ratio of 2.35.1 widescreen. This isn't a reference quality HD transfer by any stretch but it's more than decent and the detail is there more often than not. Sometimes the grain is heavier and thicker in certain scenes than others but color reproduction is pretty strong here. This probably comes down to the source material available. Print damage is present throughout but it's not severe nor particularly distracting, just small white specks rather than big scratches or emulsion marks. Black levels are good and there aren't any compression artifacts to note, nor are there any obvious instances of noise reduction or edge enhancement.

Sound:

The only audio option for the feature is a DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, in English. There are no alternate language options provided although removable English subtitles are offered. The dialogue sounds fine and although the gunshots don't pack as much punch as they probably should, the score absolutely benefits from the lossless audio format. Those caterwauling vocals sound really good here and help to draw you into the film quite a bit.

Extras:

The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary by King Cohen director Steve Mitchell and author Steven Jay Rubin, the man who wrote Combat Films: American Realism, 1945-2010. These guys know their stuff as they take apart the particulars of the film, discussing the locations, the history behind the film, what the cast and crew brought to the film and much more.

Outside of that we get an animated still gallery, a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other action/war movies available from Kino's Studio Classics line, menus and chapter selection.

Final Thoughts:

The Devil's Brigade might not be the most original war film ever made, but it's no less entertaining despite its formulaic plot. The cast help to really make this one stand out, but some great action set pieces don't hurt. Kino's Blu-ray looks and sounds really solid and the audio commentary provides plenty of background information on the making of the film. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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