• Devil's Bridge, The



    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics
    Released on: August 1st, 2017.
    Director: Andrew V. McLaglen
    Cast: William Holden, Cliff Robertson, Vince Edwards, Carroll O'Connor, Dana Andrews
    Year: 1968
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    The Movie:

    Director Andrew V. McLaglen's THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE was never going to win any awards for originality. This war film about a group of misfits and professional soldiers forced to bond and unify so they can accomplish a highly dangerous mission together was made less than 2 years after THE DIRTY DOZEN. It's pretty clear the producers were looking to capitalize on that success. Does it work though?

    For the most part, yes.

    A film like this rises or falls on basically 2 things: it's cast and the action sequences. The script is secondary but needs to deliver enough good lines for a talented cast to chew on and properly exploit the unique talents of same.

    William Holden - now firmly heading into the dissolute but fascinating part of his career - headlines the cast as Lt. Col. Robert T. Frederick, a hardass military man with the disadvantage of having no combat experience. He's tasked, by no less than Lord Mountbatten himself (Patric Knowles), to assemble a joint Canadian/USA military force (in actuality the first special forces group in history) to attempt a dangerous assault in Norway. The catch? While the Canadians represent the best of the best that country has to offer, the American arm of the team is from the dregs of the USA's military jails and misfits. Holden's Frederick has to whip this poorly matched mess into shape. When the initial Norway mission is canceled, the pressure gets even tougher when the group is only allowed to continue if they take on an even more dangerous task - the assault on a supposedly impenetrable Italian mountain Nazi stronghold.

    You know this plot. In fact, you probably already bought the tee shirt. A bunch of misfits start out hating each other, bond (usually over something like a barroom brawl), train hard and then tackle a deadly mission. And many of them die. And the audience feels bad about it because we've gotten to like these gents. That's if things work according to plan artistically.

    So what makes THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE so much fun? Well, I have a lot of Canadian friends and there's a reason they love this movie so much over there. Some of the most amusing bits in this film revolve around the rather buttoned down Canucks losing their cool and kicking ass. Cliff Robertson, sporting a pretty convincing accent, is great as the leader of the Canadian contingent. Polite but firm and pretty smooth, he's a perfect contrast to Holden's gruff warrior. When the Canadians make their first appearance sporting kilts and bagpipes and marching in perfect unison, it's an excellent counterpoint to the Americans arriving on a troop train where they've been brawling like a bunch of animals.

    The cast is what makes the film. Claude Akins' boozy slob of a private named Rockman is a hoot, especially when he's mixing it up with Canadian tightass Jack Watson's Peacock. Vince Edwards - best known as television's Ben Casey - makes a strong impression as the cigar chomping hustler Major Bricker who's in charge of the American half of the group. It's also neat to see exploitation stalwarts like Andrew Prine (GRIZZLY, THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN) and Richard Jaeckel (DAY OF THE ANIMALS, MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH) in small but meaty roles. Holden was a year out from his groundbreaking portrayal of the ruthless Pike Bishop in THE WILD BUNCH and he's settled nicely into the harsher but extremely compelling onscreen persona that he would keep for the rest of his career. There's also the pleasure of seeing Carroll O'Connor as an extremely irascible general butting heads with Holden and the legendary Dana Andrews in a small role as a high ranking officer.

    The film loves stressing the "bromance" angle with characters hating each other and then becoming close friends and then pulling together for the final mission. This setup was kind of director McLagen's specialty - see THE WILD GEESE and the DIRTY DOZEN's sequel, THE DIRTY DOZEN: THE NEXT MISSION. And the film's two big action sequences - one a stealth assault on a town with the intention of capturing as many German soldiers as possible and the far less subtle attack on the mountain - are both handled extremely well.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Kino's 2.34:1 framed AVC encoded 1080p presentation is about par for the course for the label's catalog titles. And that's a good thing. Kino have never been fans of DNR or other digital tinkering. This is another naturalistic transfer with solid color representation and good fine image detail. Black levels are deep and the print has no serious damage. Kino doesn't seem to do much in the way of restoration, but they usually work from strong elements and this is no exception.

    Some comments online have claimed to hear hiss in the 2.0 DTS-HD MA audio track, but my Boston Acoustics speakers and Denon receiver weren't picking that up. I found this to be a perfectly competent if unremarkable audio track with no serious deficiencies. The film's excellent score by Alex North sounds strong and well balanced.

    The only real extra is an audio commentary with director Steve Mitchell and author Steven Jay Rubin. It is quite good. Rubin has written a book on combat films and Mitchell has directed a film about industry maverick Larry Cohen. Between the two of them, the level of expertise is impressive. We are walked through the classics of the war film genre with an eye towards where BRIGADE sits in the pantheon. The filming techniques of the day are covered as well. Rubin remembers seeing the film in the theatre with his dad as a child and has some nice anecdotes. All of the major players involved in the film are discussed with a particularly strong eye on the cast and their rather storied careers.

    Kino has also included a group of war themed trailers including the one for THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE.

    The Final Word:

    It's not THE DIRTY DOZEN bit it's still a mission worth undertaking. For fans of war films this is one of the better ones and a lot of fun. For Canadians, it might even be a little slice of heaven. Kino's presentation is strong and although light on extras, the disc's audio commentary is excellent and provides good value.

    Recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!