The Dirty Dozen (1967)
The Dirty Dozen (1967)

Genre: Action and War Running Time: 2 hrs. 30 min.

Release Date: June 15th, 1967 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Robert Aldrich Actors: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Richard Jaeckel, Trini Lopez, Ralph Meeker, Robert Ryan, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Clint Walker

 


 

T

he year is 1944. Major Reisman (Lee Marvin) watches solemnly as a private is about to be executed (by hanging) at the Marston-Tyne Military Prison. The young man apologizes profusely for what he claims was an accidental murder, but it’s to no avail. The rope is tied around his neck and the floor opens up beneath him. “How did you personally feel about it?”

In London, Reisman visits Major Max Armbruster (George Kennedy), a longtime friend, who takes him to the perpetually disapproving General Worden (Ernest Borgnine). Reisman is briefed on Project Amnesty, a seemingly scatterbrained scheme to deliver twelve convicted, condemned soldiers secretly onto the European mainland to destroy a specified German target. They must endure intensive, behind-the-lines training; then they must parachute onto the grounds of a chateau in a suicide mission that has a scarily minimal chance of succeeding – let alone of seeing the squad leave alive once complete. If that wasn’t bad enough, the parachute school leader is Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan) – a man whom Reisman has never liked. And, expectedly, the major is put in charge of the whole operation.

Of course, firstly, the major has to meet the twelve inmates, many of whom await a death sentence or life in prison. As a result, they have scant motivation to follow orders or to cooperate in any military assignment. Nevertheless, the hardened bunch soon form a ragtag outfit that just might accomplish their one-in-a-million task. “I can’t think of a better way to fight a war.”

Before “The Wild Bunch” but after “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Dirty Dozen” takes a recognizable formula – gathering together a group of underdogs (here, an assemblage of brutes with questionable morals) for a formidable yet worthy cause – and transplants it into WWII (which is, admittedly, not even unique in the war genre). However, with an all-star cast of drastically different personas, the stage is set for uncommon camaraderie and plenty of high-stakes action. Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Trini Lopez, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, and Clint Walker are but a few of the insubordinate troublemakers, forced to work together despite harboring hatred for each other and contempt for Reisman’s authority. But by the end of their training, their odds of a successful infiltration of the German outpost appear significantly greater.

Just like in “The Magnificent Seven,” distinguishing character development scenes allow most of the dozen to stand out, especially when a psychiatrist attempts to analyze the unit of psychopaths – with comical results. Excitement and humor abound, alternating from the suspense of a knife fight, to the hilarity of Sutherland’s goofily grinning Pinkley impersonating a general, to the rather dated (though cinematic) graduation gift of a truckload of local prostitutes. And rivalry with Breed leads to a thoroughly amusing war games exercise that demonstrates the dozen’s field capabilities.

“Up till now, it’s all been a game.” The film is lengthy, but the minutes are never wasted. By the time the invasion rehearsal segues into the actual incursion on the chateau, and casualties start to accrue, the tension ramps up considerably. It’s a slam-bang finale (a sustained half-hour of combat), brimming with near-misses, suspicious guards, unexpected confrontations, unanticipated hiccups, and even last-minute snapping psyches. Plus, there’s an abundance of machine gun shootouts and wartime chaos (including the somewhat callous killing of a lot of German women). It’s certainly one of the most complex, action-packed, and memorable of all the ’60s war epics.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10