Play Dirty

This 1968 desert caper, the last film directed by veteran Andre de Toth, ranks among his best work. An inexperienced World War II captain (Michael Caine) leads a sub-Dirty Dozen crew on a mission behind German lines in North Africa; from the beginning the squad’s superior officers are ready to betray them, and they return the favor. Tautly shot and edited, Play Dirty carries to a poetic extreme the betrayal theme that haunts de Toth’s strongest films. The endless rock and sand traversed by the crew become a metaphoric treadmill, and small moments of mastery yield only more waste. Though de Toth’s camera moves with his characters, zooming in and out of the landscape almost continuously, the film’s sense of space never really changes much. From a close pan following a jeep, the camera pulls back to reveal a huge cliff, and the initial sense of space opening up is quickly subsumed by the film’s larger continuum: an ever-present surface of land and sky that seems to consort with the human treachery ensnaring the men. To be shown in a new, and excellent, 35-millimeter print. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, October 26, 1:30, and Thursday, October 30, 8:00, 312-443-3737.

–Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.