Published on June 30th, 2008 | by Chris0
Play Dirty (1968)
I'm really a fan of Michael Caine, I just think he's one of those actors that really is a true professional. Throw any role at him and he'll turn it into something unique. However I was a little disappointed with 1968's Play Dirty.
Continuing in the vein of "getting the criminals to do the dirty work" movies like The Dirty Dozen and the recently reviewed The Secret Invasion, Play Dirty takes a bit of a unique twist on it. This time, a British Colonel sends this band of misfits off to blow up a German fuel depot far behind enemy lines in North Africa, in an attempt to validate his techniques of employing the local talent. However the higher-ups have other plans, instead using this group as a 'scout' to flush out the enemy resistance in front of the real expedition. But really, a fuel depot in North Africa? We could have been a little more original. (Dirty Dozen meets Tobruk? Yeah.)
Led by the cutthroat Capt. Leech (Nigel Davenport), they employ the talents of oil company man turned fuel depot expert Capt. Douglas (Michael Caine) as the expert. Of course, Leech is none too happy about having some clerk along for the ride, and the only way to get him to play along is to pay him extra to ensure that Douglas gets back intact. The rest of the motley crew? Really they are mostly inconsequential, just along for the ride. Don't even get me started on the two, um, affectionate arabs. Either they are *really close* brothers, or there's something else going on there. Know what I mean, say no more, etc.
Well, they set out on their mission. And what gets billed as a "tense action packed" movie turns out to be anything but. There's lots of shots of them driving through the desert, fighting the elements and their vehicles. They do manage to get past a band of local Nazi sympathizers, and the first *real* battle of the film takes place between a German contingent and the "real" British force which is following closely behind, as this band watches. "Survival" is the name of the game here, as Leech so bluntly puts it.
Then there's more desert driving, sandstorms, flat tires. Yeah I suppose that's all well and good. Man vs. the elements and all that, but it makes for some rather dull sequences. Then they arrive at the fuel depot. Or at least what's left of it. Its been abandoned, and Douglas and Leech convince their band to go after the real depot some distance away. You can probably guess the rest.
I will say this, Play Dirty is chock full of that 1960's nihilism, cynicism, and general attitude which seemed to be prevalent in a lot of pictures of the day. The final ending especially will remind you of films like Hell in the Pacific or Fail Safe.
Back to Caine. Really his portrayal of the company man didn't click with me. I found it to be rather wooden and drab. Stoic? Sure, I suppose to give some sort of contrast to the "anything goes" nature of the Leech character, as Douglas seems to want to do things "by the book" most of the time. He does eventually come around, but not really in a convincing way, at least for me.
On another note, I actually found the soundtrack for Play Dirty to be a pleasant change from a lot of its contemporaries. There is a lot of the usual snare drum pomp-and-circumstance bits, but the overall package really makes the film bearable to watch. Throw in several moments where the characters have the various local radio stations (German, Italian, American) tuned in as they're driving around in the sand, and it really helps.
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There's no mistaking the 1968 mood of Play Dirty: this cynical war movie could only have been made during the disillusioned Vietnam era, despite its WWII subject. Michael Caine plays a British captain in North Africa, tapped to lead a suicidal mission across the desert to destroy a German fuel depot...
DVD InformationBinding: DVD
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audience Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Manufacturer: MGM (Video & DVD)
Original Release Date:
- Michael Caine
- Nigel Davenport
- Nigel Green
- Harry Andrews
- Patrick Jordan
Summary: I'm really a fan of Michael Caine, I just think he's one of those actors that really is a true professional. Throw any role at him and he'll turn it into something unique. However I was a little disappointed with 1968's Play Dirty.