The Dirty Dozen (1967) starring Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes, Telly Savannas, Donald Sutherland, Jim Brown
Synopsis of The Dirty Dozen
World War II. An impossible mission … The fate of the Allied invasion hanging in the balance … 12 men with nothing left to lose. Now the fate of the free world depends on a group of convicted murderers, thieves and thugs–The Dirty Dozen. Twelve American military prisoners are offered parole–if they complete a suicide mission behind enemy lines just before D-Day. After weeks of grueling training, they are dressed in German uniforms, dropped deep behind enemy lines and left on their own to complete their mission and try to get out alive. Based on the novel by E.M. Nathanson.
In short, The Dirty Dozen is the story of a suicide mission. Twelve American soldiers, facing court martial and either life in prison or the death penalty, are given a choice. Instead of definitely dying, the can “volunteer” for this mission, deep behind enemy lines in Nazi Germany. After all, there’s a chance that at least some of them will survive …
Training the dozen into a cohesive unit
The Dirty Dozen is broken into three parts. In the first, Major Reisman has to pick the twelve soldiers. Some of their are nearly insane, others near imbecilic, all antisocial and unwilling to follow orders. There’s a turning point when Victor Franko insists that “we” ain’t gonna shave with cold water! Earning them the nickname of the dirty dozen. But also, for the first time, getting them to think of themselves as a group, not a collection of individuals.
In the first section, the dirty dozen has humiliated Colonel Breed. And he’s pushing General Worden to dissolve the team, and send the inmates back to their sentences. After Major Reisman has provided prostitutes for the men as a graduation party! Reisman rightly says it’s his fault, not the men’s. And challenges his dirty dozen against Breed’s men. And Major Armbruster points out a way to do exactly that, at the upcoming war games. It’s one of the highlights of the movie, frankly.
The actual mission
Finally, the dirty dozen are parachuted behind the enemy lines in Nazi Germany. Many of the Third Reich’s military leaders are all gathered together in one spot. And the dozen’s mission …. Kill them. Cut off the snake’s head. Proving that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, Maggott ruins the plan, and they’re forced to improvise. A riveting moment.
- Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou) … Major Reisman. The Army officer, who has the unenviable task of turning the twelve malcontents into an effective fighting force.
- Ernest Borgnine (McHale’s Navy, Marty) … General Worden. The general behind the mission.
- Charles Bronson (The Great Escape) … Joseph Wladislaw. The medic, who shot someone on the battlefield who was fleeing with all the medical supplies. “You made one mistake … you let somebody see you do it.”
- Jim Brown (The Running Man) … Robert Jefferson.
- John Cassavetes … Victor Franko. A malcontent, who should never have been in the Army. Someone who bucks at authority — but someone whom the audience comes to care for.
- Richard Jaeckel (The Green Slime) … Sergeant Bowren. The poor sergeant, who gives the Major his honest assessment of the freshly-chosen dozen — at the first opportunity, they’ll shoot you in the back. Sir.” And so, he’s “volunteered” to help with their training.
- George Kennedy (Charade, Strait-Jacket) … Major Max Armbruster. Worden’s assistant, who acts as his liaison with Reisman. During the war games, he gets his arm broken for his trouble.
- Trini López (Marriage on the Rocks) … Pedro Jiminez
- Ralph Meeker (The Food of the Gods) … Captain Stuart Kinder
- Robert Ryan (Clash by Night) … Colonel Everett Dasher Breed. The very by-the-book officer, who feels humiliated by Reisman. And nearly ends the project.
- Telly Savalas (Kojack, Horror Express) … Archer Maggott. Literally, a psychotic who hates woman.
- Donald Sutherland (Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors) … Vernon Pinkley. Possibly mentally retarded. But he shines when he impersonates a general! “Never heard of it.”
- Clint Walker (Scream of the Wolf) … Samson Posey. A Native American, with a short fuse. Otherwise a nice fellow, he goes ballistic when somebody pushes him.
- Robert Webber … General Denton
- Tom Busby … Milo Vladek
- Ben Carruthers … Glenn Gilpin
- Stuart Cooper … Roscoe Lever
- Robert Phillips … Corporal Morgan
- Colin Maitland … Seth Sawyer
- Al Mancini … Tassos Bravos
- George Roubicek … Pvt. Arthur James Gardner
- Thick Wilson … General Worden’s Aide
- Dora Reisser … German Officer’s Girl. Poor lady terrorized by Maggott.
Editorial review of The Dirty Dozen courtesy of Amazon.com
A group of conscripted convicts, most already destined for death row, are drafted to go on a near-suicide mission with the understanding that if the Nazis don’t kill them, the U.S. Army won’t, either. In the hands of hardboiled director Robert Aldrich and a tough-as-leather cast headed by Lee Marvin (as a troublesome U.S. Army major), that’s all the plot that’s needed to make one rip-roaring World War II action flick. Marvin’s mission is two-fold: first turn his dozen prisoners into a fighting unit and then turn them loose on a French chateau occupied by partying German officers. His crime-minded charges include John Cassavetes as a chronic malcontent, Telly Savalas as a ready-to-blow psycho, Donald Sutherland as a lame-brained lummox, and Charles Bronson and then-just-retired NFL superstar Jim Brown as a couple of clutch performers.
The first half of the film allows the colorful cast of character actors to have their fun as they get their tails whipped into shape and develop shaky bonds with their commander. The second part is all action, as the culprit commandos wreck havoc and then run for their lives. Despite the fact that few of the “heroes” survive the bloodbath, the message here isn’t that war is hell. Rather, it seems to be: war can be a hell of a good time… if you’ve got nothing to lose. –Steven Stolder