|Directed by||Andre De Toth|
|Produced by||Harry Saltzman|
|Screenplay by||Melvyn Bragg
|Story by||George Marton|
|Music by||Michel Legrand|
|Edited by||Jack Slade
Alan Osbiston (uncredited)
Lowndes Productions Limited
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|1 January 1969 (UK)|
Play Dirty is a 1969 British war film starring Michael Caine, Nigel Green and Harry Andrews. It was directed by Andre De Toth based on a screenplay by Melvyn Bragg and Lotte Colin. The film's story is inspired by the exploits of units such as the Long Range Desert Group, Popski's Private Army and the SAS in North Africa during World War II.
In North Africa in World War II, Captain Douglas (Caine) is a BP employee seconded to the Royal Engineers to oversee handling incoming fuel supplies for the British 8th Army. A Popski's Private Army-style colonel (Green) is told he must have a regular officer to lead one of his units on a dangerous mission to destroy an Afrika Korps fuel depot.
Douglas, who is an expert in fuel pipes and installations, is chosen despite protesting that he is only a port contractor with an honorary commission. Douglas's C.O. dismisses his pleas noting that he is wearing a British Army officer's uniform and therefore can't disobey the order. So Douglas departs on what seems like a fantasy adventure when he is taken to a Senussi cafe, which is a front for Masters HQ, there Douglas bumps into Cyril Leech. Leech, a convicted criminal rescued from prison by Masters to lead his unit's sabotage missions, directs Douglas to Masters office.
Next day, after being briefed and outfitted in Italian uniforms, Douglas, with the unwilling Leech, leads the unit out into the desert disguised as an Italian Army patrol. The unit is made up from convicted criminals that have been released to Masters' command, these include Greek narcotics smuggler Kafkarides, Tunisian terrorist Sadok, rapist Boudesh, Turkish smuggler Kostas Manou and two homosexual Senussi tribesmen Hassan and Assine.
Things start to turn sour for Douglas, already Leech is unresponsive and is undermining Douglas's orders. It is only through their journey and their run ins with treacherous Arabs, German soldiers and a booby trap laden oasis that the criminals finally accept Douglas. Even though the men will only follow Douglas if Leech goes too, they finally realise their mission was all for nothing when they are betrayed by Blore and Masters, and only Douglas and Leech are left alive. Leech then reveals to Douglas he is still only alive because Masters is paying Leech £2000 to bring Douglas back alive.
With their mission a failure and the town and the destroyed fuel dump now captured by Montgomery's 8th Army, Douglas and Leech (now disguised as Germans) decide to surrender to the British. Unfortunately, a trigger-happy British soldier opens fire and shoots them both dead before they have a chance to speak. The film's infamous ending in which Douglas and Leech were accidentally killed by friendly fire is indicative of the movie's cynical, anti-war theme.
- Michael Caine as Captain Douglas – Royal Engineers
- Nigel Davenport as Captain Cyril Leech – serving 15 years in prison for sinking his tramp steamer for the insurance
- Nigel Green as Colonel Masters
Based loosely on Vladimir 'Popski' Peniakoff
- Harry Andrews as Brigadier Blore
At the time when the film is based, Lt. Col. Shan Hackett was C.O. Special Forces HQ
- Patrick Jordan as Major Alan Watkins – Guards Commando Unit
- Daniel Pilon as Captain Attwood – Blore's adjutant
- Bernard Archard as Colonel Homerton
- Aly Ben Ayed as Sadok
- Enrique Avila as Kafkarides – imprisoned for smuggling arms and explosives into Egypt
- Takis Emmanuel as Kostas Manou
- Scott Miller as Boudesh
- Mohsen Ben Abdallah as Hassan
- Mohamed Kouka as Assine
- Vivian Pickles as a German Nurse
Originally titled Written in the Sand, the film initially starred Richard Harris - who quit four days into production because of script changes that reduced the size of his role, and a lack of enthusiasm for his co-star Michael Caine. After Nigel Davenport replaced Harris, and Nigel Green replaced Davenport, the film's original director René Clément resigned and executive producer André de Toth took over directing the film.
- Some sources mistakenly identify the original title as Written on the Sand.
- "Play Dirty". Filmfacts 12: 90.