skip navigation
The Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Dozen(1967)

  • Saturday, May 24 @ 08:00 PM (ET) - Reminder REMINDER
Up
Down

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here
ADD YOUR COMMENT>

share:
Remind Me

TCMDb Archive MaterialsView all archives (1)

DVDs from TCM Shop

The Dirty Dozen A renegade officer trains a... MORE > $26.98 Regularly $26.98 Buy Now

Articles

powered by AFI

SEE ALL ARTICLES
The Dirty Dozen (1967)

SYNOPSIS

With some reluctance, US Army Major Reisman takes on the job of training a dozen convicted violent criminals for a suicide mission behind enemy lines. Reisman works against the wildly disruptive and erratic behavior of the men in his charge to whip them into excellent condition to first humiliate American troops in a mock battle and then to carry out their brutal assignment, the mass assassination of German officers at a chateau in France.

Director: Robert Aldrich

Producer: Kenneth Hyman

Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson, Lukas Heller

Cinematography: Edward Scaife

Editing: Michael Luciano

Art Direction: W.E. Hutchinson

Original Music: Frank De Vol
Cast: Lee Marvin (Major Reisman), Ernest Borgnine (General Worden), Charles Bronson (Joseph Wladislaw), Jim Brown (Robert Jefferson), John Cassavetes (Victor Franko), Robert Ryan (Col. Breed), Telly Savalas (Archer Maggott)

Why THE DIRTY DOZEN is Essential

Judging by the audiences who cheered for its rousing World War II action and explosive, over-the-top heroics, The Dirty Dozen could hardly be called an anti-war movie, not in the sense of others of its time, such as M.A.S.H. (1970). On the other hand, the anti-authoritarian, anti-military attitude on display in the picture, so characteristic of this period (in the thick of the war in Vietnam), mark the film as vastly different from John Wayne's gung-ho The Green Berets (1968). This story of condemned criminals pressed into the service of a sneak attack against German high command pulled off the neat trick of appealing to all sides of a nation increasingly divided over the controversial military conflict in Southeast Asia, becoming one of the biggest hits of the year and continuing to appear on many people's favorites lists.

At the time of its release, however, not everyone was cheering. Many reviewers objected to the picture's "deleterious" viewpoint and excessive violence, characterized by one critic as "criminal and psychopathic forms of sadism." Director Robert Aldrich, with a screenplay based on a true story and a cast of both macho action players and respected actors, took to the extreme the standard war movie clich of a squad from disparate backgrounds thrown together for an impossible mission. The heroes here range from the merely criminal to the fully unhinged, promised clemency for their misdeeds by a military command heedless of their safety and any ethical/moral concerns. Aldrich objected to the criticism by insisting he wanted to show how all sides in a war do despicable things, but the New York Times' Bosley Crowther echoed the sentiments of many who said the film's ability to have it both ways pointed to an easy cynicism whose clear intent was "just to delight and stimulate the easily moved."

However you take the intent and effect of The Dirty Dozen, its entertainment value can't be denied, but that alone is not what earns it a place in cinema history. As Gary Sussman of moviefone.com has pointed out, all of the things Crowther and others slammed back in 1967--what they considered its sadistic, antisocial "hooliganism" and excessive violence, its mocking cynicism about authority--are exactly what would make it a hit today. The so-called brutality on display here was just the early stage of a new level of violence creeping into movies as censorship standards and public taste changed. This is one of the key films of the time, along with such bloody dramas as The Wild Bunch (1969) and Bonnie and Clyde (1967), that shifted the depiction and degree of violence on the screen and changed how we viewed and accepted it. Even more significant, as with those movies, The Dirty Dozen had us rooting for characters who, only a decade or so earlier, would have been the villains of any other movie--criminals, outlaws, sociopaths, people who will never fit into the mainstream even on the very slim chance that they may want to--while the once typical "heroes," i.e., the military authority (with the exception of Lee Marvin's sympathetic major), are shown to be stupid, delusional, and generally contemptible.

As Sussman rightly points out, then, the influence The Dirty Dozen has had on future generations of film has more to do with attitude: "Every anti-authoritarian action hero (from another 'Dirty' guy, Clint Eastwood's once-controversial Dirty Harry, to Bruce Willis' John McClane, to Sylvester Stallone's John Rambo, to Christian Bale's public-opinion-be-damned Dark Knight), every indiscriminate slaughterer we're expected to identify with (from Bronson's vigilante heroes to take-your-pick from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, or Jason Statham), every lawman who bitterly grinds his badge into the dust, every crimefighter who must become as monstrous as the brutes he pursues, every warrior who expects our admiration for his willingness to shoot first and ask questions later--all of them owe a debt to The Dirty Dozen and the challenge it offered us, to see something admirable and even noble in antisocial violence channeled in the right direction."

It also didn't hurt, during the Vietnam years, that it put forth the idea that war is not merely hell, it's insane; it's not noble, it's dirty. We may never engage in another "popular" war as we did in the 1940s. Our enemies are not always as easy to identify or pigeonhole as before, and our motives may no longer read quite so pure and honorable as they did then. The Dirty Dozen didn't create that cynicism or destroy our faith in those who purport to lead us, but it certainly tapped into a growing sentiment in the air, and it helped to define a type of action movie that, for better or worse, audiences still flock to.

By Rob Nixon

back to top
The Dirty Dozen (1967)

In style, attitude, and pushing the envelope of violence, the film can be seen as a major precursor to modern-day action films, particularly those that feature a group of unlikely heroes banding together for impossible missions.

Critics have noted that sections of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (2009) borrow heavily from this picture, not least the violent wish-fulfillment fantasy of a sneak attack on Hitler and his high command during a social occasion.

The movie inspired three loosely connected sequels, all of them television movies. The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission (1985) featured Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, and Richard Jaeckel in their original roles in a story once again revolving around convicted soldiers recruited for a deadly mission. Borgnine turned up as General Worden again in The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission (1987), in which Telly Savalas had the lead, not as his character from the first movie, who was killed, but as an Army major leading his misfit band to destroy a nerve gas manufacturing plant. Borgnine and Savalas reprised their roles one last time in The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission (1988) with yet another renegade soldiers plot. There was also a short-lived TV series that aired in 1988 with none of the original cast or characters.

Some shots and sequences from the original were edited into the first (1985) sequel.

The Dirty Dozen bears close resemblance to an earlier movie about criminals and misfits being recruited for a dangerous covert mission. Although a B movie in just about every respect, The Secret Invasion (1964) was director Roger Corman's most expensive project to that date. Corman later said he had heard that the producers of The Dirty Dozen actually postponed production for a year because of the story similarities. Corman noted that both films shared some plot points with his first directorial effort, Five Guns West (1955), in which a group of condemned Southern prisoners are promised pardons if they undertake a mission that could prove suicidal.

A remake of The Dirty Dozen has been bandied about for a few years. Reportedly, Zak Penn (X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006) is writing the screenplay.

In the romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Tom Hanks compares his emotional reaction to the combat scene in this movie to the way Rita Wilson's character reacts to An Affair to Remember (1957).

The term "dirty dozen" is now in fairly widespread use, generally for a group of undesirables, such as the 12 most contaminated types of produce or the IRS list of the most common tax scams. The National Recreation and Park Association also uses the term for the 12 most common playground safety concerns, and the League of Conservation Voters groups under that title the members of Congress who consistently vote against environmental causes.

There is a popular music group in New Orleans known as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

Across the U.S., several foot races with mud pits and obstacles, usually for charity, are termed The Dirty Dozen.

A book published by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, examining the 12 so-called "worst" Supreme Court cases from the authors' point of view is called The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom.

Jake McNiece, one of the Filthy 13 whose exploits inspired the novel on which this film was based, wrote a memoir of his war years (with historian Richard Killblane), The Filthy Thirteen: From the Dustbowl to Hitler's Eagle's Nest - The True Story of the 101st Airborne's Most Legendary Squad of Combat Paratroopers (Casemate, 2003).

Trini Lopez's recording of the song he sang in the movie, "The Bramble Bush," reached number 4 on the US adult contemporary charts.

The "Last Supper" scene is similar to one used in another Vietnam-era anti-war film set during an earlier war (Korea), M.A.S.H. (1970). It's not clear if Aldrich's scene influenced Robert Altman a few years later since evocations of the Last Supper appeared in other films before The Dirty Dozen, notably Luis Buuel's Viridiana (1961).

The scene with Jim Brown running through the chateau grounds, dropping grenades to blow up the building, played on the audience's awareness of his famous touchdown runs as a pro football player.

Four of the actors in this movie--Clint Walker, George Kennedy, Ernest Borgnine, and Jim Brown--were cast as the voices of the animated figures in the film Small Soldiers (1998).

Director-actor Ron Howard told Moviefone.com that despite being a child star for several years on television and in the movies, it was The Dirty Dozen that really got him excited about film craft. "It was perfect. I was twelve, thirteen years old; going through puberty. Here was this totally macho rock 'em-sock 'em, heroic action movie--one of the best 'mission' movies ever made. Everything about it, top to bottom, was cool. And it turned me on to the movies. In a lot of ways, it made me want to go to the movies every single week to try and have the kind of experience that would just take you away."

By Rob Nixon

back to top
The Dirty Dozen (1967)

Robert Aldrich (1918-1983) started in motion pictures as a production clerk at RKO in 1941. He served an early apprenticeship as assistant to a number of acclaimed directors, including Jean Renoir (The Southerner, 1945), Max Ophuls (Caught, 1949), Joseph Losey (The Prowler, 1951), and Charles Chaplin (Limelight, 1952). He was also assistant director to William Wellman on one of the greatest war films, Story of G.I. Joe (1945).

The film's financial success allowed Robert Aldrich to buy his own film studio, which opened in August 1968. His plan was to produce up to 16 films there over the next five years, but the failure of his first two productions, The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968) and The Killing of Sister George (1968), scuttled his hopes. He was soon forced into a four-picture deal with ABC-Palomar. His pictures under that contract were not hits either. The director never regained the box office status he had with The Dirty Dozen or quite the critical acclaim he enjoyed in the 1950s, although he did enjoy something of a comeback with the Burt Reynolds prison-football movie The Longest Yard (1974).

Because they all appeared frequently in the action genre, it's not surprising that the cast worked together a number of times in various combinations: Bronson and Marvin (5 films, 1 TV show), Bronson and Borgnine (4 movies), Marvin and Borgnine (6 movies), Marvin and Ryan (4 movies, including Ryan's final film, The Iceman Cometh, 1973), Ryan and Borgnine (3 movies), Ryan and Bronson (2 movies). Aldrich also directed his stars multiple times: Marvin (3 movies), Bronson (4 movies, 3 TV shows), Borgnine (6 movies), Ralph Meeker (twice, including Meeker's starring role in what is often considered Aldrich's greatest film, Kiss Me Deadly, 1955).

In the novel, the black character's name is Napoleon White. It was changed to Robert Jefferson for the movie at some point, although in the original trailer, he's called Napoleon Jefferson.

In the "Last Supper" scene, Telly Savalas as Maggott is placed in the position of Judas, signaling his eventual betrayal of the mission.

The opening credits don't occur until several minutes into the movie. Although a common practice today, it was considered unusual back in 1967.

In the German release, audiences saw Jim Brown dropping the grenades into the chateau air shafts but not the gasoline being poured in and the people inside burning up.

In Spain, the dubbed version changed the name of John Cassavetes's character from Franko to Franchi because the country's ruler at the time was Francisco Franco.

If the soundtrack occasionally sounds like TV music, remember that Frank DeVol (billed here simply as DeVol) also wrote the theme songs for the sitcoms The Brady Bunch and My Three Sons. He had worked with Robert Aldrich on three of the director's best films of the 1950s as conductor on Kiss Me Deadly, The Big Knife, and Attack. He was nominated five times for Academy Awards, including his work on the Aldrich film Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte and the Western comedy Cat Ballou (1965), the movie for which Lee Marvin won his Best Actor Academy Award.

Screenwriter Lukas Heller (1930-1988) won an Edgar Allan Poe Award (shared with Henry Farrell) for the script for Aldrich's gothic thriller Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte. He also wrote the scripts for two other earlier Aldrich films, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), and two later pictures, The Killing of Sister George and Too Late the Hero (1970). He also wrote the screenplay for the Lee Marvin western Monte Walsh (1970).

Several vehicles and military insignia that appear in the movie have been flagged as being incorrect for the period in which it's set.

By Rob Nixon

back to top
The Dirty Dozen (1967)

In World War II, there was a sub-unit of the 101st Airborne Division that came to be known as the Filthy 13. Although unknown until many years after the war, the legendary group became famous (through a mix of rumor, myth, and fact) for their hard drinking and violent fighting skills. A photographer for the military publication Stars and Stripes saw some paratroopers stationed in England, heads shaved into Mohawks, applying paint to their faces; that look was later corroborated by one of the few surviving members of the group, Jake McNiece, one of the men who undertook a "suicide" mission, parachuting behind enemy lines just ahead of D-Day to destroy Nazi supply routes. The group, through which 30 men eventually passed as members became wounded or killed, was said to have carried out several brutal secret raids against the Nazis. They had a reputation for getting into a lot of trouble and spending significant amounts of time in the stockade. Another known survivor among the 13, Jack Agnew, later explained that he and his comrades "weren't murderers or anything, we just didn't do everything we were supposed to do in some ways and did a whole lot more than they wanted us to do in other ways."

The exploits of the 13 inspired newspaper and magazine writer E.M. Nathanson to write a novel fictionalizing their story as The Dirty Dozen.

Robert Aldrich was one of the most interesting directors working in American movies in the 1950s. His baroque, highly stylized noir style in such films as Kiss Me Deadly (1955), The Big Knife (1955), and Attack (1956) made him a favorite of auteur theorists, and his two gothic melodramas of the early 60s, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), garnered great commercial success. He was in a good position by the mid 1960s to expect success in his bid to purchase the rights to Nathanson's novel before it was published. MGM, however, beat him to it in 1963, two years before the book's publication date.

Aldrich was attracted to both the story's action elements and to its core irony, that the heroes were criminals and even psychopaths.

After several unsuccessful attempts by MGM to get a workable screenplay, Aldrich was brought on to the project. He was given a first pass of the script written by veteran Nunnally Johnson (The Grapes of Wrath, 1940; How to Marry a Millionaire, 1957). "This would have made a very good, very acceptable 1945 war picture," Aldrich said. "But I don't think that a 1945 war picture is necessarily a good 1967 war picture."

Aldrich brought in German-born writer Lukas Heller, with whom he had worked on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and The Flight of the Phoenix (1965). Heller played up the anti-authoritarian tone and brought a certain black humor to the story.

Ken Hyman, the producer assigned by MGM to the project, did not like the fact that Heller had been hired by Aldrich and accused the writer of not letting him see the script. Hyman insisted on the credits reading "Screenplay by Nunnally Johnson." In the end, the Writers Guild ruled that Heller and Johnson would share screen credit.

Despite having cast approval, Aldrich was dismayed to find out that Hyman and MGM had offered the lead role of Major Reisman to John Wayne. Fortunately, Wayne dropped out due to demands on his time making The Green Berets (1968), a Vietnam war film he was directing and starring in.

Aldrich initially gave the part of the Southern bigot, Maggott, to Jack Palance, star of his scathing Hollywood drama The Big Knife. Palance thought the role failed to make a serious comment about bigotry and withdrew from the film.

By Rob Nixon

back to top
The Dirty Dozen (1967)

The film was shot in various locations in England, primarily in Hertfordshire. The major part of it (the training sequence) was shot at Hendon Aerodrome, about 15 miles north of London, while the besieged chateau was built at MGM's British studios in Borehamwood.

The chateau set was built by a crew of 250 people over a period of four months. The production filmed there for 25 days before the climactic scene of the Dozen blowing it up. It was 240 feet wide and 50 feet high and reportedly built so solidly that it would have taken 70 tons of explosives to bring it down, so a cork and plastic section of the set was constructed to be destroyed on film.

The training segment of the story took two months to film.

The cast learned judo and commando techniques.

Lee Marvin later recalled how director Robert Aldrich instructed his cast to get their contemporary hair styles changed to ones more fitting for the time and setting. Marvin immediately got a crew cut, but many of the others merely got trims to their existing styles. After telling them twice their looks weren't acceptable, Aldrich finally told them they needed either to come in with their hair cut correctly or else call their lawyers.

Marvin had worked with Aldrich before, on the war movie Attack. He found the director "a tremendous man to work with. You knew when you went to work with him you were both going for the same object--a good final print."

Marvin also had high praise for all the men in the film, commenting that everyone was ideally cast "and even when they ad-libbed a scene, invariably it was in character, so all it could do was to help the film."

Jim Brown later recalled: "I loved my part. I was one of the Dozen, a quiet leader and my own man, at a time when Hollywood wasn't giving those roles to blacks. ... I've never had more fun making a movie. The male cast was incredible. I worked with some of the strongest, craziest guys in the business."

During production, Art Modell, the owner of the Cleveland Browns, the football team where Jim Brown had distinguished himself as the NFL's all-time leading rusher, told Brown he would have to choose between football and acting. Brown chose the movies and announced his retirement from the sport. Modell later admitted it was a mistake to make Brown choose.

Marvin related a joke Aldrich pulled on Charles Bronson, who was only about 5' 9" and wore low boxing shoes during rehearsal. When it came time to set up the first inspection scene, he placed Bronson between the 6' 6" Clint Walker and the 6' 4" Donald Sutherland. According to Marvin, Aldrich laughed for about ten minutes over Bronson's perturbed reaction.

As shooting ran over schedule, Trini Lopez left the production, whether it was because, as one story has it, Frank Sinatra advised him to quit so he could get back to promoting his recording and performing career or he was let go when his agent demanded more money. Aldrich had his character written out of the story by explaining he had been killed in the parachute jump behind enemy lines.

Commentary on a DVD release of the film claimed the fake inspection scene was originally to be played by Clint Walker, who objected that it was demeaning to his Native American character. It was then given to relative unknown Donald Sutherland.

By Rob Nixon

back to top
teaser The Dirty Dozen (1967)

The Dirty Dozen (1967) has been continually popular since it first exploded in 1967 as one of that year's biggest hits. Four Oscar® nominations (with one win for Best Sound Effects by John Poyner) certainly didn't hurt and it's so critically respected that the film has even been shown at the Museum of Modern Art. In fact it's captured imaginations across the world: there's even a Hong Kong remake starring Haing S. Ngor (The Killing Fields, 1984) and Samo Hung! One reason for the success is that despite its superficial appearance as yet another film about soldiers sent on a desperate mission behind enemy lines, The Dirty Dozen strikes the perfect balance between taut action and artistic integrity. Director Robert Aldrich said of this film, "The nature of war is dehumanizing. There's no such thing as a nice war."

The premise is pretty simple: During World War II, the Allies need to destroy a chateau hosting a Nazi conference. The catch is that it's so far behind enemy lines and so well guarded that few soldiers making the attempt can be expected to survive. The solution is to recruit twelve prisoners and misfits with an unspecific promise of pardons if they survive. Since the twelve are a nasty assortment of murderers, psychopaths and other cultural offenders the mission isn't likely to be an easy or pleasant one.

The film is adapted from E.M. Nathanson's novel, which Aldrich had wanted to film even before it was published though rights were bought by MGM. Reportedly Aldrich wasn't happy with the original script, feeling it was too conventional. But bringing the dark cynicism he showed in Kiss Me Deadly and The Big Knife (both filmed in 1955), Aldrich transformed the action film into something more substantial. Shooting started April 25, 1966 in England (three studios were used there) and lasted about six months. Since England isn't the best place to find a French chateau one had to be built. Unfortunately construction was so successful that trying to explode it as planned would have been far too dangerous so a mock-up was used.

The cast apparently enjoyed England, spending a lot of time in what was then swinging London though Lee Marvin would occasionally disappear on one of his motorcycle outings. Clint Walker (who plays Posey) had an unusual experience. He was a well-known TV star for Cheyenne with some film roles under his belt. Walker visited Buckingham Palace and marveled at the famously immobile guards but as he started to walk away, one asked for an autograph out of the side of his mouth! Walker's role was originally meant to be an Indian and include a rain dance. However, some characters were scaled back and others built up such as the part of Robert T. Jefferson. When Cleveland Browns' fullback Jim Brown signed on as Jefferson, director Aldrich beefed up his part because he was such a big football fan. In fact, it was while making The Dirty Dozen that Brown announced his retirement from football. One of the biggest beneficiaries from the film was John Cassavetes who nabbed a Best Supporting Actor nomination. The fame helped him bankroll films as a director just as he was embarking on perhaps his most productive period. In 1998, Joe Dante made his sharp attack on militarism Small Soldiers and for voices of his model-animated characters reunited The Dirty Dozen actors Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, George Kennedy and Clint Walker.

The Dirty Dozen was released in June 1967 and proved to be a big hit, the year's highest grossing film. Aldrich was able to buy a studio with the money he made though it eventually closed a few years later. The actors found more offers coming their way. In the 1980s there would be three TV movie sequels and even a short-lived series. Of course the original is the best and still as exciting now as it was then.

Producer: Kenneth Hyman
Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson, Lukas Heller, based on the novel by E.M. Nathanson
Cinematography: Edward Scaife
Sound Effects: John Poyner
Film Editing: Michael Luciano
Original Music: De Vol
Principal 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), Clint Walker (Samson Posey).
C-150m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.

by Lang Thompson

back to top
The Dirty Dozen (1967)

The movie premiered in the US in June 1967 and became the fifth highest grossing of the year. It was also, for a time, one of MGM's top ten moneymakers in its history to that point.

The Dirty Dozen won an Academy Award for Best Sound Effects (John Poyner). Also nominated were John Cassavetes for Best Supporting Actor, Michael Luciano for film editing, and a third nod for Best Sound.

Cassavetes also received a Best Supporting Actor nomination from the Golden Globes.

Michael Luciano was awarded Best Edited Feature Film by the American Cinema Editors USA.

Robert Aldrich was nominated by the Directors Guild of America.

Given the film's success, it's no surprise it was recognized in the annual Laurel Awards presented by Motion Picture Exhibitor magazine: Best Action Performance (Lee Marvin), 2nd place Male Supporting Performance (Jim Brown), 3rd place in the overall Action-Drama category, and a nomination for John Cassavetes for his supporting performance.

The picture won a gold medal in the Photoplay awards presented by the fan magazine of that name.

The Dirty Dozen placed fifth in Film Daily's "Ten Best" list for the year.

With his appearance in this and John Boorman's Point Blank (1967), Lee Marvin became the year's top male box office star.

Robert Aldrich responded to criticism of the film's violence and anti-establishment attitudes: "You see, the Catholics did a strange thing. In their thirty years of running the Breen Office [Hollywood's self-censorship board], they substituted permissive violence for sex. So you could be as violent as you wanted for many, many years. It has only been in the past ten years that violence has been a problem. Now, what I was trying to do was say that under the circumstances, it's not only the Germans who do unkind and hideous, horrible things in the name of war but that the Americans do it and anybody does it. The whole nature of war is dehumanizing. There's no such thing as a nice war."

Lee Marvin also responded to criticism of the film's violence, particularly the scene in which the Nazis officers and the civilians with them are burned alive in the chateau: "Life is a violent situation. Let's not kid ourselves about that. It's not just the men in the chalet who were Nazis; the women were part of it, too. I liked the idea of the final scene because it was their job to destroy the whole group and maybe in some way speed up the demise of the Third Reich. We glorify the 8th Air Force for bombing cities where they killed 100,000 people in one night, but remember, there were a lot of women and children burned up in those raids."

"The Dirty Dozen is the definitive enlisted man's picture. In its view, World War II was a private affair in which officers were hypocritical, stupid or German, and only the dogfaced soldier was gutsy enough to be great. In this film, the lopsided interpretation works largely because of a fine cast and a taut plot that closes the credibility gap. ... Director Robert Aldrich gets convincingly raw, tough performances in even the smallest roles." - Time

"Robert Aldrich has turned The Dirty Dozen into one of the best and least compromising he-man adventure films. It's superbly cast. Everyone is excellent from Lee Marvin down. It's a slam-bang, grown-up adventure story, thumbing its nose at authority and morality and at the compromise that is Hollywood's war clich. It is cruel and unpleasant on an intellectual level, but that, of course, is war." - Judith Crist, Today show, NBC

"The realization that authority not only has its uses but, for some men, fulfills an aching need is a bitter pill that Aldrich coats with bountiful action, robust humor, and a uniformly superb cast." - Arthur Knight, Saturday Review

"A raw and preposterous glorification of a group of criminal soldiers who are trained to kill and who then go about this brutal business with hot, sadistic zeal is advanced in The Dirty Dozen, an astonishingly wanton war film. ... It is not simply that this violent picture of an American military venture is based on a fictional supposition that is silly and irresponsible. Its thesis that a dozen military prisoners, condemned to death or long prison terms for murder, rape, and other crimes, would be hauled out of prison and secretly trained for a critical commando raid behind the German lines prior to D-Day might be acceptable as a frankly romantic supposition, if other factors were fairly plausible. ... One might wonder, at times, whether [Nunnally] Johnson and [Lukas] Heller were not attempting a subtle exposition of the hideousness and morbidity of war--that is, until [Robert] Aldrich sets the hoodlums to roaring and shooting guns. Then it is clear that the intent of this loud picture is just to delight and stimulate the easily moved." - Bosley Crowther, New York Times, June 16, 1967

"Marvin again delivers a top performance, probably because he seems at his best in a role as a sardonic authoritarian. Charles Bronson, a very capable actor, stands out as a Polish-American who, once affixing his loyalty, does not shift under even physical brutality." - Variety

The Dirty Dozen ... is the beneficiary of extensive advance publicity and excitement and has a strong, virile cast to deliver both the brutalizing violence and grotesque comedy.... It is overlong, uneven, and frequently obscure, but will succeed by virtue of its sustained action, even though what it attempts to say, if anything, remains elusive." - Hollywood Reporter

"The Dirty Dozen is so full of socially deleterious propaganda that everyone connected with it should be ashamed. ... Criminal and psychopathic forms of sadism are made to seem no different from those of war." - Gordon Drummond, Films in Review

"A box office smash despite the moviegoers' growing aversion to the genre in light of Vietnam. That's because it managed to stage exciting, brutal war sequences while simultaneously celebrating misfits, putting down authority figures and the military, and showing war to be a madman's game that can only be fought down and dirty." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic (Simon & Schuster, 1986)

"Apart from the values of team spirit, cudgeled by Marvin into his dropout group, Aldrich appears to be against everything: anti-military, anti-Establishment, anti-women, anti-religion, anti-culture, anti-life. Overriding such nihilism is the super-crudity of Aldrich's energy and his humour, sufficiently cynical to suggest that the whole thing is a game anyway, a spectacle that demands an audience." - Time Out Film Guide

By Rob Nixon

back to top