The year is 1942. Lt. Col. Robert T. Frederick is called to answer to Lord Mountbatten for his rejection of a planned American-British commando raid into occupied Norway. Seeing his willingness to call out the plan's flaws as a sign of worth, the British decide that Frederick is precisely the man they need to lead the new 1st Special Service Force. A joint American-Canadian unit, Frederick is tasked with combining the rough and rowdy Americans with the prim and proper Canadians.
Released a year after the more-well-known film The Dirty Dozen, The Devil's Brigade is loosely based on the real exploits of the 1st Special Service Force.
This film provides examples of:
- Actually Pretty Funny: During the ruck march, the Canadians are ordered to cease making derogatory insults about the Americans. A Canadian soldiers asks if ordinary insults are acceptable. Frederick has to turn away from the men to laugh.
- Artistic License History: As noted by former member Bill Story, the Americans in the unit were not the ill-disciplined stockade grabs as depicted in the movie.
- Army of Thieves and Whores: Well the Americans at least, ranging from accused hustlers to layabouts to accused rapists.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Compared to the rest of the unit, Pvt. Ransom's offense of committing adultery is downright innocent.
- Bar Brawl: The 1st Special Service Force gets into the thick of it as one unit when a group of lumberjacks decides they don't like Canadians in their local bar.
- Break the Haughty: First the Canadians break the Americans by showing off their hand-to-hand combat skills after the Americans continue causing trouble. The second is when the unit proves itself to their commanders in Italy by capturing an entire German garrison, tanks and all.
- The Chains of Commanding: Frederick feels this heavily before ordering his men to assault Monte La Difensa.
- Captain Oblivious: The German garrison commander who goes through his entire morning routine without even realizing that he and his men are under assault.
- Chekhov's Skill: Pvt. Greco is a former circus acrobat, which comes in handy for getting through to places that the Nazis wouldn't expect their enemies to come from.
- Elites Are More Glamorous: Subverted: The Canadians match the image of a proper elite military force, but the American contribution makes it clear that being in an elite unit doesn't translate into an easy military career.
- It's Personal: Maj. Crown still nurses anger over the retreat from Dunkirk, and carries it with him to his death.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Maj. Gen. Hunter makes several solid points regarding the 1st: They're a green unit that is half made up of derelict soldiers on the American side, and led by a commander who hasn't yet seen any combat.
- Majorly Awesome: Canadian Maj. Crown, survivor of Dunkirk with the most combat experience of the unit's officers.
- Misfit Mobilization Moment: Ties in with the bar brawl. It marks the point where the Americans and Canadians finally realize they can both fight together as one.
- Naked People Are Funny: The Brigade manages to capture a squad of Germans during their morning shower, and marches them out in their towels.
- Not So Above It All: Frederick has several moments where it's clear he's just as much of a misfit as the rest of the Americans.
- Obligatory War-Crime Scene: Downplayed but present. During the initial action in Italy Sgt. O'Neill dresses as a German soldier, which under the rules of war would have gotten him shot by the enemy and court martialed by his country.
- Refuge in Audacity: Both the operations shown in the film. No one on the American side expected the unit to perform so well in their first mission, and later when they accurately predict that the German defenses on Monte La Difensa would be pointing away from the sheer cliffs expecting no one could make the climb.
- Rule of Cool: Surviving members of the unit note that while the film was just barely based on real life, they did admit it was an entertaining movie to watch.
- Sergeant Rock: Canadian Sgt. O'Neill subverts this. His first appearance is as a bespectacled, trash-talking wimp. He quickly hands Pvt. Rockman his own rear, commenting on the human body's weaknesses with every blow and deflection.