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  Play Dirty Blood And Sand
Year: 1969
Director: André De Toth
Stars: Michael Caine, Nigel Davenport, Nigel Green, Harry Andrews, Patrick Jordan, Daniel Pilon, Bernard Archard, Aly Ben Ayed, Enrique Ávila, Mohsen Ben Abdallah, Mohamed Kouka, Takis Emmanuel, Scott Miller, Michael Stevens, Vivian Pickles, Jeremy Child
Genre: WarBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The latest mission organised by Colonel Masters (Nigel Green) to sabotage the Nazi forces in North Africa has not gone well, leaving everyone involved except the wily Captain Leech (Nigel Davenport) dead, although as instructed he has brought back the young lieutenant - or rather his corpse, transported across country in a jeep. But in the face of the failure of his missions, Masters is convinced that his methods of basing them on the war mongering of the Ancient Greeks is the right one, and soon has pinpointed a fuel dump he wishes to blow up...

This leads to the recruiting of Michael Caine as Captain Douglas, a by the book sort who you just know will clash with the more maverick Leech, but that wasn't what bothered Caine when he got to star here, as he had signed on for a René Clement movie, a name that may be neglected today, but carried some artistic weight back then. The Frenchman left after an argument with the producer, and André De Toth was brought in to salvage the project, another big name and one perhaps more used to the depiction of two-fisted violence in his movies than Clement, which you would have thought more appropriate to a war film.

But Caine was equally unhappy that the script had undergone an inferior rewrite, which also rankled with the critics and some of the public, for one of those scribes was Melvyn Bragg whose name was a byword for middlebrow with them, and therefore enough reason to dismiss any production to which he was attached. Couple that to an arduous shoot in the deserts of Spain, and it seemed nobody had much good to say about Play Dirty, what with its title and premise bringing up echoes of The Dirty Dozen which had been a megahit a couple of years before, and leading many to compare the two and find this coming up wanting. But those naysayers could equally have compared this to a genuine British desert war classic in Ice Cold in Alex.

It would still have emerged the lesser of the two, but if you had no idea of the problems those who made it had, and the general reaction for that matter, what you had was not such a bad war adventure at all, with neat air of fashionable cynicism to accompany the regulation blowing things up good - real good. Caine and Davenport worked well together, creating a wary association between their characters that worked out very well for what could have been rather pat, and perhaps it was anyway, but contrasting the officer who thinks the conflict should be embarked upon with integrity alongside the officer who will do anything, no matter how underhand, to survive was a solid basis for such a movie.

There might not have been much else original about it, but it had a bracing air which translated into the hard edge De Toth offered the material, as he so often did. Leech is well aware that Masters' concepts are poorly thought out in the modern warfare of World War II, so puts his own spin on them to ensure he gets out alive and with personal gain if he's lucky. This time, Masters offers him two thousand pounds (in old money, natch) if he can make sure Douglas gets out of this alive, so even though we suspect Leech would have no qualms about killing those on his own side if it meant he endured it adds a little frisson to the unfolding drama. After assembling a patrol of criminals (you can see why The Dirty Dozen came up) they head out into the desert to blow up this fuel, but once the radio gets damaged what they don't know is the plans have changed, which puts their lives in yet more danger - from both sides. If Play Dirty wasn't up there with the staples of the genre which turned favourites, then it would do until one of those came along, trendy downbeat ending and all. Music by Michel Legrand.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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