"Play Dirty" (1969)
Following in the footsteps of "The Dirty Dozen," "Play Dirty" is a real gem. The film overcame a troubled production (supposed co-star Richard Harris never turned up for work, and original director Rene Clement, of Oscar-winner "Forbidden Games," was fired early into shooting) to become a complex and subversive take on the genre, stylishly made and very well acted. Based loosely on events in the North African front during the war, the film focuses on Michael Caine's Capt. Douglas, an oil company worker with an honorary military commission who, despite his lack of combat experience, is ordered by the harried Col. Masters (Nigel Green) to lead a team 400 miles behind enemy lines to blow up a fuel depot. And that unit is a pretty rum bunch: his number two is convicted insurance fraudster Capt. Leech ("Howard's Way" star Nigel Davenport, who was originally cast in a smaller role before taking over the part when Harris didn't show), and the rest include a Greek drug smuggler, a Tunisian rapist, and two gay Senussi tribesmen. Unlike many of its contemporaries, this film doesn't glorify war in the least, with a sense settling in early that Douglas and Leech's mission is pretty much a futile one, caused more by bickering among higher-ups than any sense of justice. And the men pretty much know they're screwed, and feel no loyalty to their commanders or each other. As a result, the film feels closer to "Kelly's Heroes" or even the much later "Three Kings" than most men-on-a-mission movies, not least when it reaches its incredibly bleak conclusion. But it's also thoroughly enjoyable at the same time, with a wry, sarcastic humor and some crackling extended wordless action sequences (André de Toth, best known for directing the 3D horror "House Of Wax" despite having only one eye, was second-unit-director on "Lawrence of Arabia," and knows how to shoot the hell out of the desert). It's a lost classic, worth tracking down.