|The Dirty Dozen|
|Directed by||Robert Aldrich|
|Produced by||Kenneth Hyman|
|Screenplay by||Nunnally Johnson|
|Based on||The Dirty Dozen|
by E. M. Nathanson
|Music by||Frank De Vol|
|Edited by||Michael Luciano|
|Box office||$45.3 million|
The Dirty Dozen is a 1967 American war film directed by Robert Aldrich, released by MGM, starring Lee Marvin. The picture was filmed at MGM-British Studios and features an ensemble supporting cast including Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Robert Ryan, Telly Savalas, Robert Webber and Donald Sutherland. The film is based on E. M. Nathanson's novel of the same name that was inspired by a real-life group called the "Filthy Thirteen". In 2001, the American Film Institute placed the film at number 65 on their 100 Years... 100 Thrills list.
In Britain, in March 1944, the Advance Section Communications Zone (ADSEC) of the US Army is responsible for planning detail for the D-Day invasion. ADSEC commander Major General Sam Worden has orders for Major John Reisman, an OSS officer, and Reisman's former commander - and main antagonist - Colonel Everett Dasher Breed of the 101st Airborne Division. Worden assigns Reisman an unusual and top-secret mission, code-named Project Amnesty. He is to train a small band of the Army's worst convicts and turn them into commandos to be sent on a virtual suicide mission: the airborne infiltration and assault on a château near Rennes in Brittany. The chateau will be hosting a meeting of dozens of high-ranking German officers, whose elimination will obstruct the German military's ability to respond to D-Day by disrupting the chain of command. Those who survive the mission will be pardoned and returned to active duty at their former ranks.
Travelling to military prison, Reisman meets his twelve selected convicts, all either serving lengthy sentences or awaiting execution: Franko, Vladek, Jefferson, Pinkley, Gilpin, Posey, Wladislaw, Sawyer, Lever, Bravos, Jiminez, and Maggott. Reisman pays personal visits to the five awaiting death sentences. Under the leadership of Reisman, supported by Capt. Kinder and supervised by MP Sgt. Bowren, the group begins training. After being forced to construct their own living quarters, the twelve men gradually learn how to operate as a group. Because of an act of insubordination instigated by the rebellious Franko, shaving kits are withheld for a time as punishment, leading to their nickname "The Dirty Dozen."
For parachute training, the men are sent to the base operated by Colonel Breed. Under strict orders to keep their mission secret, Reisman's men run afoul of Breed and his troops, especially after Pinkley - under Reisman's orders - poses as a general and inspects Breed's troops. Angered at the usurpation of his authority, Breed attempts to discover Reisman's mission by having two of his men attack Wladislaw in the latrine, but they are both knocked out by Posey and Jefferson. The convicts assume Reisman sent the attackers until Breed and his men investigate the Dirty Dozen's camp. Reisman, who had been away when Breed arrived, infiltrates his own post and opens fire on the paratroops as the convicts jump them. They disarm the paratroops, and Colonel Breed is forced to leave. Reisman also supplies the men with prostitutes as they near the end of their training.
Reisman is called on the carpet by General Worden and his chief of staff, Brigadier General Denton. Denton, siding with Breed, insists that Reisman has exceeded his authority and urges General Worden to terminate Operation Amnesty. Reisman rises ferociously to the defense of his men, demanding that they deserve a chance to prove themselves. ADSEC Major Max Armbruster, a friend of Reisman, suggests a test: During practice maneuvers in which Breed will be taking part, the "Dirty Dozen" will attempt to capture the Colonel's headquarters. During the maneuvers, the men use various unorthodox tactics, including theft, impersonation, and rule-breaking, to infiltrate Breed's headquarters and hold his men and him at gunpoint. This proves to General Worden that Reisman's men can be used for the mission, and the operation is green-lighted.
On the night of the raid, the men are flown to France, but a slight snag occurs when Jiminez breaks his neck during the jump and dies. As trained, the others proceed with the mission, with Gilpin taking on Jiminez's duties. Wladislaw and Reisman infiltrate the meeting disguised as German officers, while Jefferson and Maggott sneak onto the top floor of the building and the others set up in various locations around the chateau. The plan falls apart when psychopathic Maggott encounters one of the women who had accompanied the officers. Maggott stabs her and then begins shooting wildly at enemy and ally alike, alerting the German officers; Jefferson kills Maggott because he has compromised the mission.
As the officers and their companions retreat to an underground bomb shelter, a firefight ensues between the Dirty Dozen and the chateau's guard force. As planned, Wladislaw and Reisman lock the Germans in the bomb shelter, then pry open the ventilation ducts to the shelter, drop unprimed grenades down, then pour gasoline inside. Jefferson throws a live grenade down each shaft and sprints for the half-track the team has hijacked for their getaway, but is shot down as the grenades explode.
In the course of the battle, only Reisman, Bowren and Wladislaw escape back to England with their lives. A voiceover from Armbruster at the end of the movie confirms that General Worden exonerated the sole surviving member of the Dirty Dozen and communicated to the next of kin of the rest that "they lost their lives in the line of duty".
|Franko, V. R.||11||John Cassavetes||Death by hanging|
|Vladek, M.||6||Tom Busby||30 years' hard labor|
|Jefferson, R. T.||3||Jim Brown||Death by hanging|
|Pinkley, V. L.||2||Donald Sutherland||30 years' imprisonment|
|Gilpin, S.||4||Ben Carruthers||30 years' hard labor|
|Posey, S.||1||Clint Walker||Death by hanging|
|Wladislaw, T.||9||Charles Bronson||Death by hanging|
|Sawyer, S. K.||7||Colin Maitland||20 years' hard labor|
|Lever, R.||5||Stuart Cooper||20 years' imprisonment|
|Bravos, T. R.||12||Al Mancini||20 years' hard labor|
|Jiminez, P.||10||Trini Lopez||20 years' hard labor|
|Maggott, A. J||8||Telly Savalas||Death by hanging|
As of November 2019, seven actors who portrayed members of the Dirty Dozen are deceased.
Although Robert Aldrich had failed to buy the rights to E.M. Nathanson's novel The Dirty Dozen while it was just an outline, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer succeeded in May 1963. On publication the novel became a best-seller in 1965. It was adapted to the screen by veteran scriptwriter and producer, Nunnally Johnson, and Lukas Heller. A repeated rhyme was written into the script where the twelve actors verbally recite the details of the attack in a rhyming chant to help them remember their roles while approaching the mission target:
The cast included many World War II US veterans, including Lee Marvin, Robert Webber and Robert Ryan (US Marines), Telly Savalas (US Army) and Charles Bronson (Army Air Forces), Ernest Borgnine (Navy), and Clint Walker (Merchant Marine). Marvin served as a private first class in the Marines in the Pacific War and provided technical assistance with uniforms and weapons to create realistic portrayals of combat, yet bitterly complained about the falsity of some scenes. He thought Reisman's wrestling the knife from the enraged Posey to be particularly phony. Aldrich replied that the plot was preposterous, and that by the time the audience had left the cinema, they would have been so overwhelmed by action, explosions and killing, that they would have forgotten the lapses.
John Wayne was the original choice for Reisman, but he turned down the role because he objected to the adultery present in the original script, which featured the character having a relationship with an Englishwoman whose husband was fighting on the Continent.Jack Palance refused the "Archer Maggott" role when they would not rewrite the script to make his character lose his racism; Telly Savalas took the role instead.
Six of the dozen were experienced American stars, while the "Back Six" were actors resident in the UK, Englishman Colin Maitland, Canadian Donald Sutherland and Tom Busby, and Americans Stuart Cooper, Al Mancini, and Ben Carruthers. According to commentary on The Dirty Dozen: 2-Disc Special Edition, when Trini López left the film early, the death scene of Lopez's character where he blew himself up with the radio tower was given to Busby (in the film, Ben Carruthers' character Glenn Gilpin is given the task of blowing up the radio tower while Busby's character Milo Vladek is shot in front of the château). Lopez's character dies off-camera during the parachute drop which begins the mission. The same commentary also states that the impersonation of the general scene was to have been done by Clint Walker, who thought the scene was demeaning to his character, who was a Native American. Aldrich picked out Sutherland for the bit.
Jim Brown, the Cleveland Browns running back, announced his retirement from American football at age 29 during the making of the film. The owner of the Browns, Art Modell, demanded Brown choose between football and acting. With Brown's considerable accomplishments in the sport (he was already the NFL's all-time leading rusher, was well ahead statistically of the second-leading rusher, and his team had won the 1964 NFL Championship), he chose acting. Despite his retirement from football more than 50 years ago, Brown remains the league's 10th all-time leading rusher, the Cleveland Browns' all-time leading rusher, and the only player in league history to have a career average 100 yards per game. In some form of tribute, Art Modell himself said in Spike Lee's Jim Brown: All American documentary, that he made a huge mistake in forcing Jim Brown to choose between football and Hollywood, and if he had it to do over again, he would never have made such a demand. Modell fined Jim Brown the equivalent of over $100 per day, a fine which Brown said that "today wouldn't even buy the doughnuts for a team".
Interiors and set pieces took place at MGM British Studios, Borehamwood. The château was built especially for the production, by art director William Hutchinson. It was 720 yards (660 m) wide and 50 feet (15 m) high, surrounded with 5,400 square yards (4,500 m2) of heather, 400 ferns, 450 shrubs, 30 spruce trees and six weeping willows. Construction of the faux château proved problematic. The script required its explosion, but it was so solid, 70 tons of explosives would have been required for the effect. Instead, a cork and plastic section was destroyed.
Exteriors were shot throughout southeast England. The credit scenes at the American military prison - alluded in the movie to be Shepton Mallett - were shot in the ancillary courtyard of Ashridge House in Hertfordshire. The jump school scene was at the former entrance to RAF Hendon in London. The wargame was filmed in and around the village of Aldbury. Bradenham Manor was the Wargames' Headquarters. Beechwood Park School in Markyate was also used as a location during the school's summer term, where the training camp and tower were built and shot in the grounds and the village itself as parts of "Devonshire". The main house was also used, appearing in the film as a military hospital. After filming finished the training camp huts were relocated and used as sports equipment storage for the school's playing fields.
The Dirty Dozen was a massive commercial success. Produced on a budget of $5.4 million, it grossed $45.3 million, earning domestic rentals of $24.2 million in North America. It was the fifth-highest-grossing film of 1967 and MGM's highest-grossing film of the year.
It was a hit in France, with admissions of 4,672,628.
The film currently holds an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 34 reviews. On release, the film was criticised for its level of violence. Roger Ebert, who was in his first year as a film reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote sarcastically:
I'm glad the Chicago Police Censor Board forgot about that part of the local censorship law where it says films shall not depict the burning of the human body. If you have to censor, stick to censoring sex, I say...but leave in the mutilation, leave in the sadism and by all means leave in the human beings burning to death. It's not obscene as long as they burn to death with their clothes on.
It is not simply that this violent picture of an American military venture is based on a fictional supposition that is silly and irresponsible.... But to have this bunch of felons a totally incorrigible lot, some of them psychopathic, and to try to make us believe that they would be committed by any American general to carry out an exceedingly important raid that a regular commando group could do with equal efficiency - and certainly with greater dependability - is downright preposterous.
Crowther called some of the portrayals "bizarre and bold":
Marvin's taut, pugnacious playing of the major ... is tough and terrifying. John Cassavetes is wormy and noxious as a psychopath condemned to death, and Telly Savalas is swinish and maniacal as a religious fanatic and sex degenerate. Charles Bronson as an alienated murderer, Richard Jaeckel as a hard-boiled military policeman, and Jim Brown as a white-hating Negro stand out in the animalistic group.
Variety was more positive, calling it an "exciting Second World War pre-D-Day drama" based on a "good screenplay" with a "ring of authenticity to it"; they drew particular attention to the performances by Marvin, Cassavetes and Bronson.
The Time Out Film Guide notes that over the years, "The Dirty Dozen has taken its place alongside that other commercial classic, The Magnificent Seven". The review then states:
The violence which liberal critics found so offensive has survived intact. Aldrich sets up dispensable characters with no past and no future, as Marvin reprieves a bunch of death row prisoners, forges them into a tough fighting unit, and leads them on a suicide mission into Nazi France. 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.
Also, the film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
Three years after The Dirty Dozen was released, Too Late the Hero, a film also directed by Aldrich, was described as a "kind of sequel to The Dirty Dozen". The 1969 Michael Caine film Play Dirty follows a similar theme of convicts-recruited-as-soldiers. The 1977 Italian war film The Inglorious Bastards is a loose remake of The Dirty Dozen.Quentin Tarantino's 2009 Inglourious Basterds was later derived from the English-language title of director Enzo G. Castellari's 1977 war film The Inglorious Bastards.
Several TV films were produced in the mid-to-late 1980s which capitalized on the popularity of the first film. Lee Marvin, Richard Jaeckel and Ernest Borgnine reprised their roles for The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission in 1985, leading a group of military convicts in a mission to kill a German general who was plotting to assassinate Adolf Hitler. In The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission (1987), Telly Savalas, who had played the role of the psychotic Maggott in the original film, assumed the different role of Major Wright, an officer who leads a group of military convicts to extract a group of German scientists who are being forced to make a deadly nerve gas. Ernest Borgnine again reprised his role of General Worden. The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission (1988) depicts Savalas's Wright character and a group of renegade soldiers attempting to prevent a group of extreme German generals from starting a Fourth Reich, with Erik Estrada co-starring and Ernest Borgnine again playing the role of General Worden. In 1988, FOX aired a short-lived television series, among the cast was John Slattery, who played Private Leeds in eight of the show's 11 episodes. The surviving cast members provided the voices of the toy soldiers in Joe Dante's Small Soldiers.
In 2014, Warner Bros. announced that director David Ayer would be the director of a live-action adaptation of the DC Comics property Suicide Squad, and Ayer has gone on to say that the film is "the Dirty Dozen with super villains", citing the original film as inspiration.
Nathanson states in the prologue to his novel The Dirty Dozen, that while he heard a legend that such a unit may have existed, he incorrectly heard they were convicts. He was unable to find any corroboration in the archives of the US Army in Europe. He instead turned his research of convicted felons into the subsequent novel. While he does not state from where he acquired the name, but Arch Whitehouse coined the name "Dirty Dozen" as the 12 enlisted men of the airborne section that would become the "Filthy Thirteen" after the lieutenant joined their ranks. In Arch Whitehouse's article in True Magazine, he claimed all the enlisted men were full-blood Indians, but in reality only their leader, Jake McNeice was quarter Choctaw. The parts of the Filthy Thirteen story that carried over into Nathanson's book were not bathing until the jump into Normandy, their disrespect for military authority, and the pre-invasion party. The Filthy Thirteen was in actuality a demolitions section with a mission to secure bridges over the Douve on D-Day.
A similarly named unit called the "Filthy Thirteen" was an airborne demolition unit documented in the eponymous book, and this unit's exploits inspired the fictional account. Barbara Maloney, the daughter of John Agnew, a private in the Filthy Thirteen, told the American Valor Quarterly that her father felt that 30% of the film's content was historically correct, including a scene where officers are captured. Unlike the Dirty Dozen, the Filthy Thirteen were not convicts; however, they were men prone to drinking and fighting and often spent time in the stockade.
War may be getting a bad name, but it still pays at the box office. Ask Director Robert Aldrich. His 1967 film The Dirty Dozen made millions by drafting a gang of incorrigible convicts into a mission behind enemy lines. Too Late the Hero is a kind of sequel to The Dirty Dozen, based once again on a World War II suicide mission.