I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Dirty Dozen

tn_dirtydozenMan, it’s one of those concepts that’s too perfect to fuck up: twelve WWII era inmates of a military prison are sent on a dangerous mission to kill as many Nazi officers as they can. The Americans have this target, but they don’t want to waste good soldiers, so why not these lifers and death row cons, murderers and rapists? It’s kind of the same concept as “paint clothes.” You don’t paint the house in pants you’d wear to church, and you don’t want to waste your best soldiers on a suicide mission so you use these fuckos you got in storage. If they die – well, you weren’t planning on using them anyway. No loss.

For the cons it’s a good deal too. They get to go outside. If it’s true they like killing, here’s their chance for more. They get to postpone their executions, or kill some time before their executions. And if they do a good job and survive they might get pardoned, maybe, if fuckin Ernest Borgnine sees it in his heart. If they die in the line of duty, well, maybe they’d rather die that way than on a rope.

mp_dirtydozenTheir major is the hated-by-the-brass Reisman (Lee G.D. Marvin). He has to train a crew of fuckups including Jim Brown (not fond of whites), John Cassavetes (adverse to authority), Telly Savalas (rapist who thinks he works for God), Donald Sutherland (young), Trini Lopez (on guitar) and Charles motherfuckin Bronson. If some of them gotta be murderers in order to bring a team like that together then, well, break a few eggs I guess. That’s a good lineup.

There are alot of sections to this movie: first he goes in and talks to them in their cells, convinces them to join. Then he starts training them, and has to get them to form bonds and work together as a unit, which isn’t easy. Then they form a rivalry with another squad and have to humiliate them in war games or their mission will be cancelled and they’ll go back to death row. Then they finally have the mission.

Of course, most of the dozen are sympathetic. Kind of a cheat. Almost all of them had honorable reasons for killing. Only Savalas is really despicable and dangerous. They put him on lookout duty when they have a party with prostitutes, because he can’t be trusted around women. He seems to think of any woman as a whore, who knows what he’s gonna think about an actual whore.

But they’re these scrappy outcasts who disdain authority, discipline and military order. So this is kind of like THE BAD NEWS BEARS as a WWII movie. You laugh as they fuck everything up, then the gruff major/coach who plays by his own rules (PBHOR) slowly whips them into shape. They bond, they have an underdog competition against another team who are so arrogant you want to see them lose bad and run home crying like babies. And the Dozen do beat them, they get to rub it in their faces. And even though the characterization isn’t all that deep you almost feel like you’re on their team too, becoming friends with them.

It’s also kind of like another movie by the same director, Robert Aldrich: THE LONGEST YARD. If you haven’t seen the original pre-Sandler one it’s a real broad comedy where inmates get to play (American) football against the screws. All these movies have an idea that we Americans like to think is very American, but that probaly transcends all cultures: the team of individuals. They’re all rebels who stand alone and PBTOR, but then after they hang around each other long enough they accidentally bond and next thing you know the loners are a team, united in one goal.

They’re also rebels that are part of the system, that’s another way they have their cake and yet also eat their cake. They reject the military and yet are military heroes. The Dirty Dozen are soldiers like Dirty Harry’s a cop.

THE DIRTY DOZEN is a fun movie, it’s not a gloomy war movie, but it also has some parts that were very graphic for the time. I mean, they really massacre those Nazis at the end. It was obviously an influence on Mr. Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and a reason why some people might think the Basterds are wimps. They’re all Donald Sutherlands with no Charles Bronsons or Jim Browns. That’s alot to live up to.

I love these types of premises, so I was surprised to learn from the extras that this was inspired by a real thing. It’s based on a book and the author of that book claims it came out of research and stories he heard about an actual group of condemned soldiers sent on a secret mission in WWII. The DVD also talks about some group called “The Filthy 13” who were so dedicated to the art of war that they didn’t have time for grooming, so that’s where he got that idea.

Wouldn’t it be cool if when they were fighting the Nazis the Nazis kept looking like they were gonna puke and saying, “Holy God what is that smell!?” That’s one thing people tend to forget about the Dirty Dozen. They smell like ass.

Anyway I wouldn’t say this is a masterpiece, but I do consider it a classic, and I think if for some reason you haven’t seen it you should add that to your to-do list.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, September 10th, 2009 at 1:02 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews, War. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “The Dirty Dozen”

  1. can I be… first? On the Dirty Dozen, no less? Huzzah!

  2. “Look, you little bastard. Either you march, or I’ll beat your brains in. Understand?”

    Lee Marvin is a god.

  3. I love this one so much. That tough/fun tone is so hard to hit, but Aldrich had it down.

    Have you seen Kelly’s Heroes recently, Vern? That has similar place in my heart.

  4. Plus, Donald Southerland is one of my favortie actors, period. He’s great in this even though its kind of a small part — his one big scene where he has to (SPOILER) impersonate the general is just classic, check out his shit eating grin through the whole scene. He’s so good at playing a real dumb fuck (or is he supposed to actually be retarded?) that I’m amazed he didn’t get typcast.

  5. Classic Scene, Mr S.

    And I must re-read that Truffaut/Hitchcock interview.

  6. I always loved the scene where Sutherland, impersonating the general, asks the soldier where he’s from. The guy answers, and Sutherland waits a beat before dropping his smile to say “Never heard of it.”

    Priceless.

    Mr. S, I share your Sutherland love. My personal favorite? “Don’t Look Now.” I still get chills whenever I see midgets in red hoods.

    Which is everywhere . . . all the time. Not that I’m worried.

  7. Don’t be worried Bad Seed,

    People point and scream at me all the time.

  8. A classic for sure of action, war, WW2, Men on a Mission, macho, anti-authority, etc….and yeah Vern you’re right: The concept is gold. Hell I’m surprised Alistair MacLean never thought of it.

    Speaking of which.. Vern, where are you gonna review WHERE EAGLES DARE? Clint mowing down Nazis*, what could be better?

    Interestingly, I think I always admired tough guys like Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson more than say John Wayne because unlike John Draft Dodger Wayne, Marvin and Bronson actually served their country in WW2, both on the Pacific Front.

    *=I’ll join in on the KELLY’S HEROES love, more than that remake with George Clooney.

  9. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I totally found this one overrated. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it – but wasn’t one of the major characters killed offscreen like halfway through because of some on-set shenanigans by the actor? (kinda like the dude who gets thrown under the subway in The Warriors)? I’m sure they had good reason to do it but I remember it didn’t fit and threw off the flow of the movie.

    And also I’m surprised Vern didn’t mention more of the fact that they’re essentially assassinating civilian Nazis. I remember thinking their “dangerous suicide mission” was going to be some top-secret break-into-the-fortress shit and it turned out to be them dumping cans of gas on women wearing party dresses and setting them on fire. WTF? But then again I guess that was the point of the movie, that war wasn’t clean, etc. etc. Still didn’t make for a good climax or exciting action though. I actually prefer the original Inglorious Bastards to this (even though it’s more generic, it just delivers more of what we want to see, damnit)

  10. INGLORIOUS BASTARDS is okay, but my favourite DIRTY DOZEN rip off is the HK film EASTERN CONDORS. It’s got Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung and Yuen Wah plays this giggling Vietnamese General who knows kung fu. It ends with an amazing martial arts showdown in a Bond-villain-esque missile bunker. Great stuff.

  11. Emperor of the North Pole would make for an entertaining review. But I don’t know if an anti-authoritarian individual like yourself would balk just because someone suggested it, so forget I did. Plus I’m not exactly an authority figure.

  12. RRA – Aw man – Where Eagles Dare is just the business. Clint taking out the fuckers in the stairwell. Burton dropping knowledge in the big twisty exposition scene. Setting off al the phone mast bombs they set up in the first act. That theme tune. Fuck it – I’m putting it on.

  13. Perfect movie. Aldrich rules.

  14. shit, I forgote KELLYS HEROS also has Donald Sutherland. M*A*S*H, KLUTE, DON’T LOOK NOW, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (best version, IMHO), MURDER BY DECREE…

    all before 1980. Well done, Mr. Sutherland. Although perhaps my favortie Sutherland role is in the little-seen but fantastic CITIZEN X. It’s Stephen Rea’s show and he brings his A-game, which is already more than we deserve. But every time Sutherland is onscreen it just brings it up to 11. Add in Joss Ackland and Max Von Syndow to an already fascinating true story and what excuse do you have to NOT be watching it right now?

  15. telf – That theme will never escape anyone’s skull after they hear it. Fun Fact: Was Eastwood’s biggest box-office hit until I believe DIRTY HARRY some years later.

    If you want to piss off a German, bring up DARE. For some reason*, they really really hate that movie. On the other hand, DARE is apparently a Christmas tradition in the UK. I guess they treasure Eastwood playing the second banana to Burton.

    Mr. Subtlety – And don’t forget VIRUS! I’m surprised Vern hasn’t reviewed that forgettable super flop yet.

    *=I guess Eastwood mowing down rows of Nazis, as the right course of action, doesn’t fly well there. Yet same country earlier this decade voted RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK as one of the greatest movies ever. Weird.

  16. Vern – I heard about the book when I was a student back around 1990, and searched second-hand shops for years, eventually finding a copy from the time of the film. I read it cover to cover, and I can honestly say that in some ways it’s better than the film – and god how I love the film. Even had the pleasure of seeing it in an actual film print at the National Film Theatre at the end of the 90s. The books is all about the picking of the prisoners, the training and the build-up to the mission; most of it is from the Marvin character’s PoV, but some sequences diverge – we follow one guy who breaks out of the training and goes travelling around England trying to sort out pieces from his past, only to have the major catch him as he resolves the issues. It’s very much a character-driven thing, but then the biggest shock is he dispenses with the mission in like the last chapter, just rips through the whole mission at high speed, basically tallying who dies, how and why, and then who survives. Nothing Hollywood would be happy with, even someone as edgy as Aldrich had to beef up the entertainment quotient.

    And then there’s the sequel novel… with the Major parachuting into Korea, if memory serves.

  17. RRA – well, hell, they can’t ALL be zingers. Some days you wake up and make DON,T LOOK NOW, some days you wake up and make BEERFEST. It is the way of things.

  18. Err, I….liked BEERFEST?

  19. Caught me, I didn’t see BEERFEST because it looked like shite. I should have known Sutherland was a mark of quality. OK, how about THE PUPPET MASTERS? Now THAT was one big pile of shit.

  20. Yeah, also throw SHADOW CONSPIRACY in the manure too.

  21. added it to my to-do list last night. got about an hour in before i realized it was 3am. saving the rest for tonight. so far i feel like smackin’ myself for waiting this long to check it out.

  22. Check out Eastern Condors, it’s like a HK version of DD.

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