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DIRTY DOZEN, THE (director: Robert Aldrich; screenwriters: Nunnally Johnson/Lukas Heller/based on the novel The Dirty Dozen by E.M. Nathanson; cinematographer: Edward Scaife; editor: Michael Luciano; music: De Vol; cast: Lee Marvin (Maj. John Reisman), Ernest Borgnine (Maj. Gen. Worden), Charles Bronson (Joseph T. Wladislaw), Jim Brown (Robert T. Jefferson), John Cassavetes (Victor R. Franko), Richael Jaeckel (Sgt. Bowren), George Kennedy (Major Max Armbruster), Telly Savalas (Maggott), Robert Ryan (Colonel Breed), Donald Sutherland (Vernon L. Pinkley), Trini Lopez (Pedro Jiminez), Clint Walker (Samson Posey), Donald Sutherland (Vernon L. Pinkley), Stuart Cooper (Roscoe Lever), Colin Maitland (Seth K. Sawyer); Runtime: 149; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Kenneth Hyman; MGM; 1967)
“It’s a cholesterol-free action-packed war drama and not a tale about an unsanitary egg carton.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s a cholesterol-free action-packed war drama and not a tale about an unsanitary egg carton. Robert Aldrich (“Vera Cruz”/Too Late the Hero”/”Ulzana’s Raid”) helms this commercially motivated populist WW II drama, that has gone onto undeserved legendary status and is a much imitated film. It was the year’s highest grossing film. Adapted from E.M. Nathanson’s novel The Dirty Dozen and scripted by Nunnally Johnson and Lukas Heller, it plays out as an extremely violent nihilistic experience being anti-military, anti-Establishment and, for that matter, anti-life, reflecting the revolutionary times of war protest when it was made. It emulates the ridiculous unrealistic heroic way John Wayne wins a war, only it slants its sympathies in a vulgar comical way to a bunch of anti-social felons.

It’s set a few months before D-Day in England (filmed on location in Chenies, England and at the MGM studios in London). U. S. Army officer Major Reisman (Lee Marvin) is summoned before a special board of Army officers and is reprimanded for behavior unbecoming an officer. Blustery General Worden (Ernest Borgnine) gives him a chance to get rid of his black marks by assigning him the task of training 12 expendable convicted GI’s, sentenced to long prison terms for serious crimes with some on death row, to go on the voluntary suicidal commando mission of parachuting into Nazi-occupied France and blowing up a chateau where top-ranking German officers are holding a conference. Reisman is the only one who has no choice in the assignment.

It’s Reisman’s job to convince the hardened felons to go on the mission with no promise of clemency for any survivors, to prepare for the hard training and discipline required, and to forget about how perilous the mission is. The felons are all stock characters, with the following standing out: Franko (John Cassavetes) is a sleazy murderer who before the army was a petty Chicago mobster with the syndicate; Robert T. Jefferson (Jim Brown, quit the NFL to become an actor after this film) is an angry black man who hates whitey; Posey (Clint Walker) is the not too swift Indian strongman; Maggott (Telly Savalas) is the sexually depraved psychopath; Wladislaw (Charles Bronson) is the railroaded noncom murderer; Pinkley (Donald Sutherland) is the yardbird moron; and there are six other misfit felons with similar tales.

As expected there’s much bloodshed, a coming together of the misfits to win one for the team and the bloody climax (which takes too long to get to) showing the bad boys doing good in action against the even worse bad boy Nazis. It’s all preposterous, a glorification in hokum that’s appealing in a mindless way to the viewer who lets his guard down and is led to believe it’s only meant as diversionary entertainment. It exploits the war is hell belief by showing that war can also be a blast.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”