Selling War – The Pressbook for “The Devil’s Brigade” (1968)

This was an extremely unusual Pressbook for the 1960s. For a start with one minor exception there was only one advertisement. In the 1960s it was traditional for studios to provide upwards of five or six separate ads so that exhibitors could display the one most appropriate for their audience – that could mean, for example, that a tough western focused on the leading lady because an exhibitor wanted to appeal to female customers for a film that would fairly straightforwardly appeal to the male clientele simply because of its genre. Joseph E. Levine had broken this rule for Nevada Smith (1965), but he was an experienced producer not someone making his first movie.

But producer David L. Wolper went with the one image repeated over and over in different sizes – the varying sizes mattered because to make up an advertisement in a newspaper an exhibitor simply cut out the relevant advert from the Pressbook and took it down to their local newspaper. However, it was an an unusual advert in one sense in that it was a composite, an attempt to sell the two separate parts of the film, a first section that related to training and the cultural differences between the American and Canadian troops, and the second concerning the war where battle illustration was the priority.

Smaller advert taken from a section of the main advert.

Again, when studios invested in several advertisements, the marketing team came up with a fair number of taglines. Here, that idea goes out the window.  The sole advert contained only three taglines – “What they did to each other was nothing compared to what they did to the enemy” / “Spit! The brass-knuckled Americans” / “Polish! The brass-buttoned Canadians.”

And that was it, ten adverts of differing sizes, all with the same three taglines. Some other adverts minus the taglines but incorporating the action illustrations from the main image were available in smaller sizes.

The one exception kept some of the action material but topped it with details of the characters above their photos i.e. “The major. He keeps rattlesnakes for pets.” / “The loser. Last time he led was Dunkirk” / “The Commander. Creator of the Brigade – a madman or a genius!” For whatever reason, the actors’ names were omitted, so it was possibly pot luck whether audiences recognised, Vince Edwards, Cliff Robertson and William Holden, respectively. There were nine characters featured in this collage, so it was possibly an attempt to humanise the picture which was otherwise sold on conflict.

As the Pressbook pointed out, Wolper was an innovator. But thus far that had been restricted to television where he was “called by many TV’s most skilful producer of documentaries” with over 250 credits to his name including The Legend of Marilyn Monroe (1965), Hollywood: The Golden Years (1961), The Making of a President: 1964 (1966), The Incredible World of James Bond (1965) and his debut The Race for Space (1959). His biggest claim to fame had actually been a financial one, going direct to sponsors for funding raher than relying on broadcast companies. 

Since adverts hogged the Pressbook, other marketing material was scant. That Vince Edwards had begun his career as a lifeguard, that William Holden had business interests in four continents and that screenwriter William Roberts had been responsible for The Magnificent Seven (1960) was hardly likely to stimulate into action editors of the entertainment sections looking for nuggets to promote the film. While there was a tiny bit of information about locations and the origins of The Devil’s Brigade outfit, Wolper saw fit to note that the unit was the fore-runner of The Green Berets all the time as the film had the men, erroneously, wearing red berets.

In terms of exploitation ideas for exhibitors the sole advice was to contact former members of the brigade for publicity purposes. Otherwise there was a Bantam paperback movie tie-in, an album of the Alex North soundtrack and single of the film’s march played by a group called The Devil’s Brigade.

Wolper may have gone an innovation too far with his restricted approach to marketing but he did become a movie and television producer of some distinction, behind such films as L.A. Confidential (1997), The Bridge at Remagen (1968), Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (1971) and television shows like Roots (1977), The Thorn Birds (1983) and North and South (1985).

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

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