Critically drubbed as another "Dirty Dozen" clone during its initial release, director Andrew V. McLaglen's "The Devil's Brigade" is a true-life World War II epic about the First Special Service Force. This exciting, flavorful actioneer about combat in the Italian campaign is representative of the big-budgeted movies about World War II produced in the 1960s. This was McLaglen's first major film without either John Wayne or James Stewart as the star. William Holden stars along with Cliff Robertson, Vince Edwards, Dana Andrews and Claude Akins Clocking in at 131 minutes, "The Devil's Brigade" covers a lot of ground from the formation of the unit to the rivalry between the American and Canadian soldiers. Although women appear in the bar brawl and Holden has a scene with a general's secretary, women are pretty much relegated to the periphery of the action. McLaglen does a good job of keeping the lumbering action in motion and "Magnificent Seven" scribe William Roberts inserts an interesting line or two. Lenser William Clothier captures the combat in several rugged setting and provides this war story will a virile look, while Alex North contributes an inspirational score.
An American Colonel with no battlefield experience receives orders to train a unit of American misfits and snappy Canadian troops for a mission that he has derided as insane. This qualifies as a more eloquent as well as palatable version of "The Dirty Dozen." The singular drawn-back is the tragic ending that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.