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Movie Review: The Dirty Dozen (1967)

Charles Rector's Weblog; Nov. 10, 2015; By Charles Rector
Type: Commentary

Movie Review:  The Dirty Dozen (1967)


     U.S. Army Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin), an officer who seems to have an attitude problem and who seems to like fighting with his superiors, coupled with an ability to get difficult things done right, is assigned by Major General Worden (Ernest Borgnine) to command a seemingly impossible mission. This mission is to parachute behind enemy lines just before D-Day, the 6th of June 1944 and kill large numbers of German military officers at a rest and relaxation center in the German rear area. This mission is further complicated by the fact that the men that Reisman is to command are all convicted criminals who are either on military death row or serving lifetime sentences. If they accept going on this mission and survive it, they will all be pardoned for their crimes. In other words, a difficult mission for a difficult man.


     Major Reisman not only has to train these men in the art of the commando, but he also has to get them to act as a unit. This already difficult assignment is made even more difficult in light of the fact that many of these men hate each other. Another difficulty that Reisman encounters is the fact that the officer that Reisman has to report to, the absurdly named Colonel Everett Dasher Breed (Robert Ryan), just hates him with a passion. Colonel Breed even goes so far as to report to General Worden that Reisman's unit is not working out and recommend that it be disbanded. Major Reisman then persuades General Worden to try out the unit by having it participate in a war game. If the unit fails to carry out their mission in the game, then they will be sent back to prison to finish their sentences.


     While participating in this war game might seem like an easy mission, it is actually difficult to accomplish. This is because there was some merit in Colonel Breed's position. Many of Reisman's men proved to be uncooperative since they did not think that they would have anything to lose through bad behavior. Some of them even attempted to go Absent Without Leave. However, Reisman had more success in melding the dozen recidivists together into a unit than the likes of Colonel Breed were willing to give him credit for. In the actual war game, the twelve man unit succeeds with flying colors. One reason for their success is their inferior competition as shown by the pathetic scene where General Worden encounters a U.S. Army captain who is unable to read a road map.


     The suicide squad then get the green light for their mission to commence on schedule. Their next objective is to learn the layout of the French chateau where the German officers' rest area is located. The question is can the dozen man suicide squad carry out their education on the actual target? One thing is clear: the dozen fully understand that what they are doing is fighting terrorism with terrorism and civilians get hurt, then too bad.


     This movie was a major blockbuster and made major stars out of the likes of Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes and Telly Savalas. The Dirty Dozen is a classic example of just how a war movie should be made. It features a well written script, solid acting and competent direction and cinematography. The Dirty Dozen is one of the single best movies ever made about World War II even if both the mission and the men depicted in it are entirely fictional.

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