The Dirty Dozen (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Sound: B- Extras:
A Film: B+
Robert Aldrich's The Dirty Dozen (1967) is hardly
the most realistic of war films, but that doesn't prevent it from being one of
the most entertaining. On the audio commentary track, former soldier and
longtime Hollywood military technical advisor Dale Dye points out many of the
film's inconsistencies and implausibilities, but while Aldrich's film isn't
another Platoon, Saving Private Ryan or We
Were Soldiers, it was quite edgy and gutsy for its day.
Aldrich's The Dirty Dozen is really a macho male fantasy that
actually has a lot more in common with Clint Eastwood's highly underrated Heartbreak
Ridge, which came along 19 years later.
Aldrich, who remains one of the most underappreciated great
directors in Hollywood history, takes a traditional World War II mission
adventure and deftly blends it with the anti-authoritarian attitudes that were
quickly growing in America as the Vietnam War was escalating. The
Dirty Dozen hit a nerve with audiences, and still plays to the inner
rebel in all viewers who harbor such a streak.
In a role originally intended for John Wayne, who opted out
to star in and direct The Green Berets, Lee Marvin is
perfectly cast as Major John Reisman, an Army officer notorious for
defying authority and doing things his own way. Reisman's own reputation
as a rebel is what makes General Wordon (Ernest Borgnine) think he's the
perfect man to lead a very unconventional, top-secret mission. Shortly
before D-Day on June 6, 1944, Reisman must lead a dozen men behind enemy
lines and destroy a Nazi chateau, taking out several Nazi officers in the
process in hopes of disrupting the enemy chain of command. But
what makes this mission so unique is that Reisman isn't leading a group of
ordinary soldiers. Because the mission is so high risk, Reisman is
ordered to recruit 12 court-martialed soldiers who are currently imprisoned and
awaiting execution or serving a minimum of 20 years hard labor. The only
motivation for this "dirty dozen" of murderers, rapists and thieves
is that if they happen to survive the mission, which is unlikely, they'll
be set free.
During several weeks of training, Reisman will have his work cut
out for him winning over such a surly group of rugged individualists,
including an outspoken stateside Mafioso named Franko (John Cassavetes in
a role that earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor); a
tough guy of few words named Wladislaw (Charles Bronson); a black prisoner
named Jackson (Jim Brown in his first major film role) who killed some crackers
in self-defense; a gentle giant who'll snap if you push him too hard named
Posey (Clint Walker); a half-wit named Pinkley (Donald Sutherland); and a
religious fanatic named Maggott (Telly Savalas) on death row for rape and
murder, who might even be a little too unstable for this wild bunch of
renegades -- you certainly come away wishing actors as tough and naturally cool
as Marvin and Bronson were still around. Sadly, though, Hollywood just
doesn't make guys like this anymore.
As Reisman whips this collection of anti-socials into shape
with the help of a military police sergeant (Richard Jaeckel), Reisman
finds himself in a battle of wits with a by-the-book superior named
Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan), who despises Reisman for his unorthodox
ways. Viewing Reisman in comparison to a humorless tightass like Col.
Breed only manages to ingratiate Reisman to his ragtag squad.
The Dirty Dozen established an entire subgenre of action
films including The Devil's Brigade (1968), Play Dirty
(1968), The Devil's 8 (1969), The Losers
(1970) and Uncommon Valor (1983), and even influenced
Aldrich's own The Longest Yard (1974). And like Heartbreak
Ridge, it's a knowing film about a rebel doing things his own way
within a corrupt system (something I'm sure that a wily veteran
like Aldrich could relate to) whose straight-shooter, no-BS style manages
to inspire a group of misfits who'd given up. And yes, the underdog does
triumph in The Dirty Dozen, but it comes
with a heavy price.
My biggest gripe with the film is a problem it shares with many a
WWII movie: The German enemy is written as too conveniently stupid.
Had they been that dumb in real life, the war would have been over in a matter
of days instead of years.
Warner Bros.’ Two-Disc Special Edition of The Dirty Dozen
has this man's man's classic looking and sounding better than in previous
versions with improved color and remastered Dolby Digital 5.1
sound. The film was such an event film
that original producing studio MGM took the 1.75 X 1 British aspect ratio
negative and did 70mm blow-ups, sometimes calling it “Metroscope” because that
looked and sounded good. British
cinematographer Edward Scaife (Khartoum, Dirty Dozen knock-off Play Dirty) shot the war
epic very memorably, balancing scenes of gritty battles on the field with
face-to-face personal battles among the characters. The anamorphically enhanced version on this DVD is a good-looking
1.78 X 1 and is a pleasing print with MetroColor, which actually did
exist. Unlike the regular 35mm prints,
the 70mm prints had six strips of magnetic stereo sound and five of those were
speakers behind the screen versus the type of surrounds we have today.
The result included traveling dialogue and sound effects (trucks
driving by) that felt and sounded like that.
The new 5.1 mix has to fold down those five tracks into three, but you
can still hear those moments to a great extent. The sound still shows its age, but the music by Frank De Vol
(listed as just De Vol) is in the best shape because it was recorded with
better music studio audio equipment, dominated the surrounds and sounds
incredible for its age. The gap is
noticeable, but worth it to have the best fidelity playback of all the
elements, especially for a film that runs 149 minutes.
The set is also overflowing with extras. Included
is the first of three made-for-TV sequels called The Dirty Dozen:
The Next Mission (1985) in which Marvin, Borgnine and Jaeckel reprise
their roles, but fall victim to a terrible screenplay and uninspired
direction by Andrew V. McLaglen -- the by-the-numbers sequel hints at how
the original may have turned out if Wayne starred. Preceding the
main feature is an introduction by Borgnine, and a newly produced
documentary featuring interviews with Borgnine, Brown, Sutherland, Walker,
Trini Lopez and George Kennedy -- coincidentally, it was Kennedy who won
the 1967 Best Supporting Actor award for another all-time great about
imprisoned men, Cool Hand Luke.
Other extras include a documentary about a rebellious squad
of real-life WWII veterans nicknamed The Filthy Thirteen, and a Marine Corps.
recruitment film from the mid-1980s hosted by Marvin, himself a former
real-life Marine; there's also a vintage featurette with behind-the scenes
footage and footage of some of the actors on the swinging streets of
'60s London during a day off; the original theatrical trailer; and a
feature-length audio commentary with contributions by cast members Brown,
Lopez, Stuart Cooper and Colin Maitland, producer Kenneth Hyman, Dirty
Dozen novelist E.M. Nathanson, film historian David J. Schow, but
dominated by Capt. Dye's picking the film apart. Dye's criticisms of the
film's authenticity are valid, but those of us who prefer older action flicks
like The Dirty Dozen for their solid character development,
strong dialogue and coherently shot action probably wouldn't trade this one for
many of the more authentic military films on which Dye has worked in recent
- Chuck O'Leary