• Play Dirty

    Released By: Twilight Time
    Released On: October 17, 2017.
    Director: Andre De Toth
    Cast: Michael Caine, Nigel Davenport, Nigel Green, Harry Andrews, Patrick Jordan, Daniel Pilon
    Year: 1969
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    It's World War II, and an officer of the armed forces is given the task of taking hardened criminals and convicts into battle on what can only be described as a suicide mission. No, this is not 1967's The Dirty Dozen. 1969's Play Dirty definitely shares some traits with the Lee Marvin masterpiece, and at times, to great effect. Other times? Well, let's just say that this one could probably use a bit of fat trimmed off of the top. But, I digress.

    Set in the African Desert, this war film introduces us to the unconventional British Army Colonel Masters (Nigel Green), who is convinced that the way to beat Rommel's army is to study the history of desert warfare on the continent. More of a beatnik and free-thinker than the top brass-type that his superiors would rather have running things, Masters takes reconnaissance into his own hands by outfitting the local Mujabra tribe with Brownie cameras. Reasoning correctly that these desert dwellers won't draw the same attention by the Nazis that the Allied forces will, Masters is rewarded with pictures of a fuel depot behind enemy lines; DEEP behind enemy lines; the last storage of Rommel's "petrol", and the only thing keeping the Desert Fox's army in business.

    Masters presents his case to his superiors; with the right team of men, following Hannibal's historic path, the fuel depot can be destroyed and the war on the Dark Continent ended. His superiors, put off by Masters' track record of getting soldiers killed and wearing mufti (civilian attire) instead of uniform, decide that the plan is a good one, but would much rather entrust it to more professionally proven soldiers. And so, while fulfilling Master's wish to have a British Petroleum-associated officer named Captain Douglas (Michael Caine) placed in charge of the team, they also decide that this group of misfits will be the decoy attack force, drawing fire from the Germans while the real soldiers take care of business.

    And what a group of misfits they are. Equal in rank to Douglas is Captain Cyril Leech (Nigel Davenport) a former sailor of sorts who sank his boat and drowned most of his men to get a payout from insurance. Sadok, responsible for bombing a cafe and shooting a police officer, has been removed from prison to become the team's demolitions man. Kostos Manov, a known smuggler, becomes the groups armorer, a murderer by the name of Boudesh is placed in charge of communications, a narcotics trafficker responsible for transportation and supplies, and two homosexual potheads acting as guides. With such a team, what could go wrong?

    Things go wrong fairly quickly, in fact, right out of the gate, when Douglas and Leech butt heads on which direction they should be traveling. While Leech proves to be the more experienced voice of wisdom in this situation, and in the next one involving the massacre of some fairly unsavoury locals, Douglas almost gets a leg up when he overcomes an obstacle in the form of a serious looking cliff face with MacGyver-like engineering. The troubles don't stop there as the Dirty Eight make their way towards the fuel depot, fighting local tribes, Germans, angry nurses, barbed wire, the vicious sandstorms, and of course, each other; while the secondary team appointed by the senior officers waltz professionally towards that same destination with nary a thought of harming each other, most likely to succeed.

    Play Dirty avoids the gung-ho, yay war, die bad guy mentality that dominates so many films in the genre, and portrays combat as what it is; filthy, nasty, and uncompromising. Caine and Davenport are perfectly suited for their lead roles, presenting a warped camaraderie in two men that must work together, but don't trust or even like each other; in the case of Davenport's Leech, a man willing to kill another solely for the sake of convenience. The desert backdrop fits the theme of the picture as well, with sand and grit embedded in everything, and persistent gusts of wind that border on the aurally offensive. De Toth shows off his directing skills as well, with a number of well-staged sequences and closeups that keep the mood tense and brooding, while the "Rogues Gallery" along for the ride bring their own level of menace to the acting table. Here is the major fault of Play Dirty; those supporting characters are never really given a chance to shine, which they certainly have the option to in an almost two-hour film. Instead, these characters languish in the background after their colourful introductions, occasionally popping up to take part, but never for very long or to any great significance.

    This omission could be forgiven, were it not for the fact that Play Dirty, outside of a strong start and a blindingly nasty conclusion, entails a group of men bumbling around in the desert. Sure, there's a bit of action, some tense moments, and the ever-present confrontation between Douglas and Leech, but really, not much else is going on. A sandstorm sequence takes what seems like an eternity to be done with. A scene involving moving trucks over a mountainous range of rock drags on equally so. Armed confrontations provide a little noise and flash, but for the most part, have no bearing on the story. Bad things happen to characters, but we're not emotionally invested in them enough to really care that much. To be more successful in its delivery, Play Dirty needed to have more involvement from the supporting actors, or to focus on the two leads and trim the fat by 1/6 of the running time. What is presented here is a decent film; but had the potential to have much more of an impact.


    Twilight Time brings Play Dirty to Blu-ray in an AVC-encoded 2.35:1 transfer that for the most part, is very impressive. Skin tones are natural looking, the detail in the desert scenery is inspiring, and a number of scenes pop in a way that one would expect in this age of high definition. Close-ups are particularly well-rendered, and aside from some mild strobing here and there and a bit of damage and hairs, this is a transfer that shows off the grittiness of the film appropriately.

    The DTS-HD Master Audio English 1.0 track is also above par, packing a lot of punch and dynamic range for a monaural track. Dialogue is consistently easy to listen to and balanced well, while gunshots and other effects carry the appropriate wallop required. I did notice one little dropout, but aside from that, this track lacks any distortion or other flaws.

    English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, as well as an Isolated Music and Effects Track are also included.

    A Trailer for the film can be found in the Bonus section, and the ever-present Twilight Time Catalogue and liner note essay by Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo are also part of the package.

    The Final Word:

    While the film overstays its welcome by twenty minutes, Play Dirty is a fine example of a gritty, ugly war movie with a stellar cast. Twilight Time's release presents a fine way to see the film, retaining the warts without sacrificing transfer quality

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