Play Dirty

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Play Dirty
Original movie poster for Play Dirty.jpg
Directed by Andre DeToth
Produced by Harry Saltzman[1]
Screenplay by Melvyn Bragg
Lotte Colin
Story by George Marton
Starring Michael Caine
Nigel Davenport
Nigel Green
Music by Michel Legrand
Cinematography Edward Scaife
Edited by Jack Slade
Alan Osbiston (uncredited)
Lowndes Productions Limited
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
1 January 1969 (UK)
Running time
117 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Play Dirty is a 1969 British war film starring Michael Caine,[2] Nigel Davenport, Nigel Green and Harry Andrews. It was director Andre DeToth's last film, based on a screenplay by Melvyn Bragg and Lotte Colin.[3] 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.


During the North African Campaign in World War II, Captain Douglas (Caine) is a British Petroleum employee seconded to the Royal Engineers to oversee incoming fuel supplies for the British 8th Army. Colonel Masters (Green) commands a special raiding unit composed of convicted criminals, and after a string of failures he is told by his commander, Brigadier Blore (Andrews), that he must have a regular officer to lead a dangerous last chance mission to destroy an Afrika Korps fuel depot, lest his unit be disbanded. Despite Douglas' objections, he is chosen for his knowledge of oil pipelines and infrastructure. Douglas is then introduced to Cyril Leech (Davenport), a convicted criminal rescued from prison to lead Masters' operations in the field.

The next day, Douglas and Leech are provided with armed jeeps and lead six other men out into the desert disguised as an Italian Army patrol. They endure a long and arduous trek across the desert: encountering enemy tribesmen, sandstorms, and a booby-trapped oasis, among other dangers. While Leech and his men are often insubordinate towards Douglas' command, they eventually reach their objective, only to discover that the depot is fake. They then head to a German-occupied port city hoping to steal a boat and escape; Douglas sees the fuel depot there and convinces Leech that destroying it would aid their plan. Meanwhile, Masters is confronted by Blore with aerial photographs of the (supposed) depot intact — confirming the mission's failure. Having lost contact with the men for some time, Masters is ordered to leak intel on the team to the Germans; the British Army is now on the offensive, and they wish to keep any enemy fuel depots intact for capture.

Under the cover of night, the men don German uniforms and sneak into the port depot to plant their explosives, but one of them sets off a trip flare and they are quickly surrounded; an officer on a loudspeaker calls each of them out by name, revealing Masters' betrayal. The men scatter as the depot is detonated; Leech and Douglas manage to slip away while the rest are caught and killed. After taking shelter, Leech admits to Douglas that he is being kept alive only because Masters is paying him £2000 for his safe return.

The 8th Army arrives the next morning; Douglas and Leech (still donning their German uniforms) decide to surrender to the British. Unfortunately, a trigger-happy British soldier opens fire — killing them before they have a chance to speak.




Originally titled Written in the Sand,[4] 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.[5]


The film, which was originally planned by Saltzman to be filmed in Israel[6] was shot on location near Tabernas, Almería, Spain,[7] is notable for several long and involved action sequences that play without principal dialogue.


A novelization was published by Pan Books. The author used the pen name Zeno.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Matt Green (9 February 2015). Michael Caine - Biography Series. pp. 17–. ISBN 978-1-312-90478-1. 
  2. ^ Anne Billson, "Is Michael Caine Britain's most important film star?", The Telegraph, 12 November 2014.
  3. ^ "Play Dirty". review by By Fred Camper, Chicago Reader, 23 October 1997.
  4. ^ Some sources mistakenly identify the original title as Written on the Sand.
  5. ^ "Play Dirty". Filmfacts. 12: 90. 
  6. ^ Slide, Anthony de Toth on de Toth Faber & Faber, 17 Mar 2011
  7. ^ Robert Cettl (4 July 2015). King of the Turkeys: Michael Caine in America. Wider Screenings TM. pp. 7–. ISBN 978-0-9873785-1-4.