skip navigation
36-Hour Memorial Day Weekend War Movie Marathon
Remind Me
,The Devil's Brigade

The Devil's Brigade

Stuntmen are an essential element in the production of any action film but sometimes the featured stars like to physically challenge themselves as well, performing their own stunts or placing themselves in harm's way. Occasionally, the results can place their co-workers in danger as well which was most certainly the case with William Holden during the making of The Devil's Brigade (1968). In this World War II thriller, Holden leads a commando unit composed of Americans and Canadians through the Italian Alps on a suicide mission against the Nazis. At the time, critics pegged The Devil's Brigade as a rip off of The Dirty Dozen (1967) but here's the ironic part: The Devil's Brigade is actually based on a real incident while The Dirty Dozen was a testosterone-fueled fantasy.

Although William Holden started out playing variations on the all-American boy-next-door, it was his impressive array of world-weary cynics (Stalag 17, Sunset Boulevard) and skeptics (Executive Suite, 1954) that won him critical acclaim and Oscar nominations. Unfortunately, toward the end of his career, his reputation began to suffer due to his heavy drinking and unpredictable behavior. The Devil's Brigade was made at a point in the actor's career when he was starting to lose control. In the biography, Golden Boy: The Untold Story of William Holden, Bob Thomas describes what was really going on behind-the-scenes of this war drama directed by Andrew V. McLaglen: "The Devil's Brigade was filming in San Lucia, a small Italian mountain town that had been devastated in World War II and had remained as it was as a reminder of German destructiveness. McLaglen used the town for a scene in which the Americans and Canadians slogged up a river that flowed through the heart of the town.

"Holden and the other actors were required to wade through the fast-flowing frigid water holding their weapons above their heads. A line of curious townspeople peered down at the movie company from a bridge. Suddenly Holden looked up at them and shouted, "What the f#ck are you staring at?" He opened fire with his machine gun. The Italians screamed and ran for cover. The sound of the blank shots echoed through the granite ravine, electrifying the other actors and the film crew. All stared in astonishment at Holden, whose rage was now directed at himself. Bill's embarrassment was devastating. He began downing a bottle of vodka before reporting to location in the morning. David Wolper arrived on the set one day to find Holden missing. "I'll go back to the hotel and find him," said the producer. As he was driving back to the hotel, he noticed Holden's Bentley parked outside a bar. Wolper found his star totally drunk.

"Wolper telephoned a United Artists executive in Paris. "What can I do?" Wolper asked desperately. "I've got a week and a half to shoot, and Holden is too drunk to work." "Don't worry. I've dealt with this before," the executive assured. He dispatched a Paris doctor to administer injections and arranged for a warm and sympathetic Italian beauty to come to the location from Rome to assist in the recovery. The prescription worked, and Bill was able to finish the Italian location and go on to London for the completion of The Devil's Brigade."

Although Holden continued to struggle with alcoholism right up to his accidental death in 1981 (He fell in his apartment and struck his head on a sharp table edge, bleeding to death), he will always be remembered for a great body of work which includes a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Stalag 17, Academy Award nominations for his work in Sunset Boulevard and Network (1976), and landmark films like Golden Boy (1939), Born Yesterday (1950), Picnic (1955), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and The Wild Bunch (1969).

In addition to Holden, The Devil's Brigade also features strong supporting performances by Cliff Robertson, Richard Jaeckel and Carroll O'Connor and the impressive stunts were coordinated by Hal Needham, a former US Army paratrooper during the Korean War who worked as a stunt man and bit actor before graduating to second-unit action director in the sixties. He made his directorial debut in 1977 with Smokey and the Bandit (1977).

Producer: David L. Wolper
Director: Andrew V. McLaglen
Screenplay: William Roberts, George Walton, based on the novel by Robert H. Adleman
Art Direction: Alfred Sweeney
Cinematography: William H. Clothier
Editing: William T. Cartwright
Music: Alex North
Stunts: Hal Needham
Cast: William Holden (Lt. Col. Robert T. Frederick), Cliff Robertson (Major Alan Crown), Vince Edwards (Major Cliff Bricker), Andrew Prine (Private Theodore Ransom), Jeremy Slate (Sgt. Major Patrick O'Neill), Claude Akins (Pvt. Rockwell Rockman), Richard Jaeckel (Private Omar Greco), Michael Rennie (Lt. Gen. Mark Clark), Carroll O'Connor (Major General Hunter), Dana Andrews (General Walter Naylor), Patric Knowles (Lord Louis Mountbatten), Richard Dawson (Private Hugh McDonald), Luke Askew (Pvt. Hubert Hixon).
C-132m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Jeff Stafford



Also Playing on TCM

Also playing
Leonard Bernstein Centennial - 7/20-7/22
3 Movies, 12 TV Specials

TCM celebrates the 100th anniversary of a musical legend with three nights of programming devoted to some of Leonard Bernstein's...more

TCM Shopping
  • Kelly's Heroes
  • Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Donald... more info
  • $7.46
  • Regularly $14.98
  • Add to cart
  • The Best Years of Our Lives
  • This Academy Award winning masterpiece... more info
  • $11.21
  • Regularly $14.98
  • Add to cart
  • Air Force
  • The Flying Fortress Mary-Ann and it's crew... more info
  • $16.46
  • Regularly $21.99
  • Add to cart
  • Command Decision
  • America's Flying Fortresses are marvels of... more info
  • $17.56
  • Regularly $21.99
  • Add to cart