Play Dirty (1969) Blu-ray Review: The Dusty Octet

No doubt inspired by the success of 1967’s trendsetter The Dirty Dozen ‒ the film that all-but brought us the suicide mission subgenre of war movies ‒ André de Toth’s Play Dirty is, unsurprisingly enough, a similarly themed picture. Released in the midst of the Vietnam War, this (purely) British production from James Bond producer Harry Saltzman ‒ inspired by real life events experienced by British Army units stationed in North Africa during World War II ‒ takes a decidedly fatalistic tone. And while presenting an outside commentary towards the then-current war abroad was their prerogative, it certainly didn’t help the financiers of Play Dirty become filthy rich.

Here, the great Michael Caine portrays the long-haired Captain Douglas, who receives a less-than-glorious assignment to lead a group of men into the sand-riddled North African terrain to destroy some hidden Nazi fuel dumps. Alas, Douglas himself really isn’t in command of the mission; his unwitting involvement in the mission having been designated by the incompetent Col. Masters (Nigel Green) due to previous work with an oil company. Rather, Masters’ chosen leader of the outfit Captain Leech (Nigel Davenport), who is currently in the middle of a prison sentence for a failed insurance fraud scheme.

Needless to say, the two Captains outright hate each other, leading to a great deal of heated bickering. But the rogue Leech nevertheless does his best to keep the somewhat green Douglas alive throughout their various encounters with bad guys and bad luck alike: after all, Col. Masters is paying him to keep the man his loathes so much alive. Because that’s just the sort of thing they do when they Play Dirty. Harry Andrews, Patrick Jordan, Daniel Pilon, and Bernard Archard also star. Vivian Pickles is the only female cast member (a German nurse whom they boys want to Play Dirty with), and Michael’s late younger brother Stanley Caine is also featured.

Despite its many fine performances and superb (if very bitter) conclusion, Play Dirty left a barely noticeable impact on audiences and critics alike when it debuted in 1969 (of course a film called Play Dirty was released in ’69!). Likewise, it remains a less-than-memorable entry to the war genre today, and most historians prefer to discuss the many changes to cast and crew (originally, Richard Harris was set to star and René Clément was to direct, while Davenport and Green were assigned different roles). Thankfully, the curious war movie buff will be able to enjoy (?) Play Dirty for all that it is (and isn’t) thanks to this new Blu-ray release from Twilight Time.

Presented in a stellar High-Definition transfer courtesy the MGM library, Play Dirty‘s MPEG-4 AVC 1080p encode leaves little room for error or distraction throughout the bulk of the 2.35:1 Panavision title. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack also rises to the occasion here, and optional English (SDH) subtitles are available. There is no audio commentary here (which is something of a pity, given its history seems more interesting than the film itself), but the bonus materials for this Limited Edition Twilight Time release ‒ which consist of Michel Legrand’s isolated score in DTS-HD 2.0, the original (domestic) theatrical trailer, and liner notes by Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo ‒ are quite satisfactory for what it is.

Like all Limited Edition releases from Twilight Time, Play Dirty is reserved to only 3,000 copies, available while supplies last.

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Luigi Bastardo

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