Directed by: Robert Aldrich
Premise: Set in World War II just before the D-Day invasion, an Army major trains a group of convicted criminals for a high-risk mission to kill top Nazi leaders.
What Works: The Dirty Dozen is a very influential film, establishing and embodying the template for the elite military squad seen in later films as varied as Platoon, Major Payne, Aliens, Inglorious Basterds, and Saving Private Ryan. The cast includes a great collection of tough actors from the 1960s and 70s including Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Richard Jaeckel, Ernest Borgnine, and Donald Sutherland. Each actor has particular story turf and yet most emerge as distinct characters. The relations between them have an authentic quality and their growth from a group of condemned convicts to a functional military squad manages credulity even though the process and speed of their transformation is pretty far out. The ending of The Dirty Dozen is exemplary; the pacing of the action slows appropriately to draw out the tension and then speeds through some savage violence, leading to a climax that brings the development of the characters to a satisfying conclusion.
What Doesn’t: The Dirty Dozen runs a bit long as it goes through the training. The time spent pays off in the end but the film does take a long time to get there. The Dirty Dozen is also a film of a different age. This is not a politically correct movie and a contemporary audience might not accept the way in which it relates to war and women, among other things. But the film’s unabashed machismo does its credit and suits the approach to the material.
DVD extras: The two-disc edition includes a commentary track, an introduction by Ernest Borgnine, documentaries, and a trailer.
Bottom Line: The Dirty Dozen is an important and oddly fun film that is less about the realities war than it is about mythologizing a certain kind of manhood. As anachronistic and even regressive as it is, The Dirty Dozen remains a satisfying and influential action picture.
Episode: #302 (August 22, 2010)