Feed the French. Kill the Germans.
Well its been over a month since I lasted posted and I feel sufficiently refreshed and with time on my hand again to resume posting. So to start the ball rolling again I’ve selected a movie that has been requested by a number of Cats.
Set during the World War II, The Dirty Dozen (released in 1967) stars Lee Marvin as Major Reisman who is a tough and efficient US military officer with attitude problems with his superior officers.
He is assigned by General Worden (Ernest Borgnine) for an almost impossible top secret suicide mission where he has to assemble a squad of army criminals for a mission to destroy a château in France just before the D-Day landings. This particular château has no military value as such, but is used by many Nazi officers as a place of recreation, destroying it whilst they relax inside will disrupt the German plans immensely. But can this rag tag band of murderers, rapists and thieves shape up into something resembling a fighting force ? Their reward, should they survive the mission, is amnesty, but Reisman for sure has his hands full whether it be it with his squad or with his superiors.
The Dirty Dozen has evolved to be one of those films from the 1960s that has become a perennial favourite like The Great Escape, Zulu and The Magnificent Seven. It’s a little surprising that it’s popularity has endured given its cynicism and amoral core, something which is one of the many great and intriguing things about director Robert Aldrich’s testosterone laced movie. Met with mixed reviews on release, with the negative side of the fence bemoaning its violence and preposterous plot, The Dirty Dozen none the less performed outstandingly at the box office where it was the fifth highest grosser of the year and the number one money maker in terms of profit to budget. Coming as it did during the middle of the Vietnam War, it was evident that the paying public quite easily bought into the thematics of it all. In over 50 years since it first lured people into the picture houses, Aldrich’s movie shows no sign of aged frayed edges, or better still, and more remarkable, the enjoyability factors it holds has not diminished.
What makes it a terrific film, then ? First off is the all-star macho cast assembled by Aldrich and his team, big hitters like Lee Marvin (stepping in when John Wayne balked at the script), Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Robert Ryan and Charles Bronson were already names to the public; but these are also supplemented by soon to be stars like Donald Sutherland, John Cassavetes, and Telly Savalas (also stepping into a role vacated by another, this time Jack Palance who didn’t like the racial aggression of the character) and stoic performers like Richard Jaeckel & Robert Webber. Into the mix is curio value with the casting of singer Trini Lopez and gridiron star Jim Brown. Throw Clint Walker into the pot as well and you’ve got a considerable amount of beef in the stew ! Secondly the film led the way for a slew of movies that featured bad guys as heroes, so with that Aldrich’s film holds up well as being a hugely influential piece. Then thirdly is that it is not only intermittently funny as the violence explodes on the screen, but that it is also chocked full of action and adventure. All that and for those so inclined you can find questionable morals under scrutiny and see the war is hell banner firmly flown during the nastiness of the missions’ culmination.
Split into three parts: meet the guys; see them train; and then the mission; the film has been criticised for its lack of realism, but is that really needed in what is essentially a male fantasy piece setting out to entertain ? Besides which, lets applaud it for acknowledging that brutality and atrocities were committed on both sides of the fence; rest assured, The Dirty Dozen still had enough edginess about it back in the 1960s !
It’s also true enough to say that the characters, are in the main, stereotypes, and that the unravelling story is a touch clichéd, but these are men that men want to be (okay maybe not Savalas’ religious maniac rapist !) and men that women can cast a flirtatious eye over; there’s plenty of character here to hang your hats on as they appeal to the inner rebel hidden away in many a viewer. The messages in here are not sledge hammered into the story (Aldrich always said he wasn’t making a message movie, just a film about camaraderie and unlikely heroes), and the construction of the action is top notch from one of America’s most under appreciated directors. It’s nicely shot in 70mm MetroColor/MetroScope by Edward Scaife (Night Of The Demon, Khartoum) and features a suitably boisterous music score from Frank De Vol (Cat Ballou, The Flight Of The Phoenix).
It’s far from a flawless picture, of that there is no doubt, but it’s loved by millions and continues to gain an audience yearly by those who are willing to view it on its own entertaining terms. As a young boy I wanted to be Lee Marvin because of this film. As a retired guy in his 60s now, I still want to be Lee Marvin in this film (my favourite tough guy movie star from the 1960s). That’s yet another reason for me why The Dirty Dozen continues to be so thoroughly entertaining.
and the tease for next weeks post . . . They fought like seven hundred.