Monday, April 29, 2013

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: The Dirty Dozen

This week I would like to bring your attention to a solid little war flick from 1967 - "The Dirty Dozen". Set during World War II, this film follows a US Army Major who is assigned a dozen convicts and is ordered to train them to carry out an assassination mission.
Despite that plot synopsis and the implications of the title, this film is a light affair by modern standards. The "dirty" in the title is actually more literal than you'd expect, relating more to the physical hygiene of the men rather than their wicked ways. In fact, most of the men were simply unfortunate victims of a corrupt legal system who were harshly punished for making a mistake (some were on death row). Unlike your typical war films which highlight the brutality of wartime, this one focuses on the bonds that are formed in training.
The way the story is constructed feels quite old-fashioned, but it's very effective. The narrative has a clear focus and moves along briskly. It's an example of good editing, as every scene felt directly linked to the central plot. It certainly didn't feel like a 2 1/2 hour film. As the story develops, we become invested in the characters as the script pays close attention to crafting each individual character. We get to know each of the dozen as individuals with unique personalities and skills. This attention to detail is a great attribute of the screenplay and it's enhanced by the acting ability of its ensemble cast.
Indeed, the acting is a major draw for this film, as it features a fine ensemble of famous actors in some of their earliest roles. It's really a treat to watch the likes of Donald Sutherland, Charles Bronson and John Cassavetes in their youth. The main attraction however, is the lead role of Major Reisman, played by Lee Marvin. I must confess, I had never even heard of him before, but he definitely made a good first impression. He brought this calm confidence to the character that just commands your attention. He is quite unlike other interpretations of "drill sergeant" characters. Whereas other films tend to portray them as ruthless caricatures, Reisman is undeniably firm, but he is also fair. It goes a long way in creating a believable situation where he is able to get his motley crew to work together.
For the most part, watching Major Reisman and his "dirty dozen" prepare for their pivotal mission is a lively, entertaining experience. Unfortunately, the film takes a strange sadistic turn towards the end. The cruelty of the mission's execution felt quite inconsistent with the overall tone of the film and it lessened my appreciation for the film. It's made even worse by the fact that we never get to see the cruelty of the enemy. It's understood that the Nazis were evil, but the way it's depicted almost demonizes the Americans and makes you sympathize with the Germans. I'm sure that wasn't the intent, so I would call this an unfortunate misfire. This is of course my personal opinion, so its likely that many other persons wouldn't be as disturbed by it. I would definitely recommend checking it out and deciding for yourself.

This film is part of my List of Shame.


  1. Saw it in March, indeed an entertaining flick.

    SPOILERS about the end:
    Though I'm with you that the tone of the last part of the movie is odd. It left me wanting more of a human reaction from the American soldiers at the end. I know if I had blocked those Germans underground, I would feel SOMETHING. Don't think the filmmakers addressed this(that I noticed). It was the outcome that mattered, not the psychology. Oh well.

    1. I definitely agree. I was quite horrified that they seemed to feel no remorse or hesitation while they were doing that.