Friday, 26 March 2010

Movie Review: The Dirty Dozen (1967)

A classic World War II movie, The Dirty Dozen is among the best star-studded, action-packed accounts of fictional missions inspired by the global conflict.

Lee Marvin is the anti-authoritarian US Major Reisman, based in England in the days leading up to the D-Day Normandy invasion. He is tasked with a high-risk behind-enemy-lines-mission: train a unit composed of 12 convicts with sentences of death or long-term imprisonment around their neck; then attack and destroy a chateau in France popular as a retreat for high-ranking German army officers.

Most of the movie is occupied with Reisman training the dozen soldiers, almost all of whom are played by name actors and in some cases present or future stars: Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, and Jim Brown are all here.

Although Cassavetes and Bronson are given the most prominent roles, Sutherland, as the most intellectually challenged of the group, and Savalas, as a racist woman-hating religious nut, are the most memorable.

Director Robert Aldrich keeps the action moving with a straightforward and generally unobtrusive style, alternating scenes of the convicts clashing with Reisman during training with examples of their progression into a fighting unit. The training culminates in a lengthy war-game sequence where the dozen prove their resourcefulness and combat readiness.

The final 45 minutes of the relatively long 140 minute movie depict the actual raid itself, and of course nothing goes as planned. But the tension and action are continuous, and its a pleasant surprise that The Dirty Dozen, unlike most Hollywood fare, allows for a high number of casualties among the good guys. Perhaps this is penance for some pretty brutal killings that they engage in: one needs to be pretty hardened to cheer the extermination of women, albeit German wives and girlfriends, while trapped and cowering in a shelter.

Lee Marvin delivers one of the most famous and popular performances of his career as the renegade Major appropriately given control of the reins of the most renegade of missions. He manages to maintain a strong hold on the core of the film, despite the many other familiar faces and loud explosions swirling all around him.

The Dirty Dozen is not perfect by any means, but its a lot of fun, and it set the standard for many World War II movies that followed.

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