❉ The latest in our occasional series of reviews of Twilight Time Movies classic Blu-ray and DVD titles.
Play Dirty is a brute-force ass-kicker, and one of the surliest and most nihilistic scumbags-on-a-mission narratives that I’ve seen. Forcefully directed by Andre De Toth (House of Wax, Crime Wave, Monkey on My Back) and starring a fantastic Michael Caine, the film had gotten started under the title Written in the Sand, with Richard Harris originally set to star for director Rene Clement (Rider on the Rain, The Deadly Trap, The Day and the Hour), who left the production due to battles with legendary producer Henry Saltzman (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Goldfinger, Chimes at Midnight, Billion Dollar Brain). De Toth was already on-board as executive producer, so he slipped into the director’s chair after making some casting changes. The film was released in 1969, at the tail end of a decade that saw many films of this nature getting released in cinemas worldwide, hence it’s relatively low-profile among the more celebrated classics and box-office hits.
Caine is the confident leading man here, and he’s joined by a terrific ensemble, including Nigel Davenport, Harry Andrews, Nigel Green, Patrick Jordan, Daniel Pilon, and Bernard Archand. The film’s screenplay, credited to Melvyn Bragg (Jesus Christ Superstar) and Lotte Colin, served as De Toth’s final film, with the story taking inspiration from the various adventures of hardened military units, including Popski’s Private Army, Long Range Desert Group, and the SAS in North Africa during World War II. The suicide-mission scenario is set in North Africa, and there’s a nod to The Dirty Dozen in that all of the men who figure into the plot are extreme specialists in their particular areas of concentration, but all also happen to be son’s-of-bitches. They’re tasked with traveling 400 miles behind enemy lines in order to attack one of Rommel’s fuel depots. Caine plays a British petroleum engineer who is drafted for service, along with an interesting group of team-members, all of whom have attitudes, and a few secrets (one being extremely progressive considering the era and genre). And of course, there’s a twist, which most will see coming, but it doesn’t matter, because when the action kicks into high-gear, not much can stop Play Dirty from, well, playing dirty!
There’s also a great score from the superb and eclectic composer MichelLegrand (The Thomas Crown Affair, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Le Mans, Summer of ’42), and extremely sharp cinematography by renowned camera operator turned director of photography Edward Scaife (The Dirty Dozen, The Kremlin Letter, 633 Squadron), who made terrific use of on-location filming in Spain (the production had considered Israel at one point). And look out for the film’s gut-punch ending, which makes total thematic sense, and feels completely authentic considering all that has come to pass. There’s a robustness to this production that cannot be ignored, and when compared to modern epics that rely on ungainly CGI theatrics to pump up the action and background noise, watching a movie that was made on this level during this particular time period is extremely refreshing. Call me old-fashioned, but nothing beats “the real thing.”
It’s also interesting to note that the versatile and underrated De Toth served as a second unit director on both Lawrence of Arabia and Superman, without actually receiving any on-screen credit. As usual, the crafty cinematic restoration artists at Twilight Time have done a splendid job with their work. Presented in 1080p High Definition and in the film’s true 2.35:1 aspect ration, the colors are rich with old-school celluloid splendor, with zero traces of artificial digital cleansing. Scaife’s bold cinematography allows for sequences both intimate and epic, and the print is crisp and clean without ever feeling too modern. The well-defined audio is presented in 1.0 DTS-HD MA English, with special features including an isolated music & effects track, as well as the film’s original theatrical trailer. As usual, the release is region free, and limited to 3,000 units.
❉ Twilight Time Movies release classic catalogue Blu-ray and DVD titles available for a limited time, exclusively in limited runs of 3000 copies. For more information, visit https://www.twilighttimemovies.com
❉ Nick Clement is a freelance writer, having contributed to Variety Magazine, Hollywood- Elsewhere, Awards Daily, Back to the Movies, and Taste of Cinema. He’s currently writing a book about the works of filmmaker Tony Scott.
❉ He is also a regular contributor for MovieViral.com, a site dedicated to providing the best news and analysis on viral marketing and ARG campaigns for films and other forms of entertainment.