Dirty Dozen, The (1967)

The Dirty Dozen (1967), directed by Robert Aldrich.

A maverick Major takes twelve scruffy military convicts, some with minds focused by imminent hanging, on a suicide mission just before D-Day. Only one of the prisoners survives.

As an action fantasy the plot is ludicrous but very satisfying. Much comedy and a great concentration of talent. Lee Marvin had a cool, cynical intensity I don't think anyone else could do. John Wayne turned down the role.

The actual mission is only the last 45 minutes. Most of the time is spent selecting and training the prisoners, with a comic war-game sequence to show they now have the right stuff. I didn't quite follow their intricate plan for storming the chateau, nor how it all fell apart. A problem is that half of the dozen (including Donald Sutherland) are the more anonymous "Back Six" and it's hard to keep track of what happens to who.

Aldrich said this was meant to be a more skeptical 1950s perspective on 1940s events. That revolution, disaffection and disobedience to authority were on the rise in the 1960s just amped that up and made a natural fit for what he was trying to do. Major Reisman and his men hate their own superiors as much as the nazis. We get the feeling he took the mission because he couldn't stand duty in the regular Army.

Looking at the wikipedia article I am struck by how hostile the critics were, objecting to the violence. This after decades of mowing down hecatombs of Germans in uncounted films. Perhaps it was the casual, almost flippant nature of the killing. Or the fact that some of the dozen were psychos, or that the ultimate success of the mission required dumping gasoline on the German officers and their women in their bunker and burning them alive.

Score by Frank De Vol, to whom I haven't paid much attention, but have been hearing often recently: The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), Pillow Talk (1959), Attack (1956).

Available on Blu-ray. It's not pretty, although some of that may be due to the film itself. They don't call it olive drab for nothing.

The commentary track is of that patched together type. It has some good bits: the director's letters to his producer are vivid passages. The actors provide some stories.

My favorite segments are by Marine Captain Dale Dye, who runs a training camp for actors who need to be soldiers. He gives a hilarious un-Hollywood perspective and I wish he'd been allowed a whole track. He adores Lee Marvin (USMC) and always points out the other actors who had WW2 service and knew how to wear the uniforms and hold their weapons: Richard Jaeckel, Robert Webber, Robert Ryan, Telly Savalas, Charles Bronson, Ernest Borgnine, Clint Walker.