Cast: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Richard Jaeckel, Trini López, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Clint Walker
Director: Robert Aldrich
Propelled by Lee Marvin and the ensemble cast’s spirited performances, The Dirty Dozen tries hard to rise above its reach
During World War II, the US army comes up with an interesting albeit questionable plan of making optimum use of the Military Death Row convicts. They order Major Reisman (Lee Marvin) to take command of 12 such death row convicts, train them as saboteurs and infiltrate a castle behind Nazi lines. The castle is rumored to be used by the Nazis as a house of pleasure for its higher-ups who come there to relax and give in to their carnal desires. Once inside, the men are supposed to assassinate as many of the officers as possible denting the Nazi war efforts and throwing their leadership in disarray due to the loss of the commanding men. Major Reisman is initially apprehensive about the plan but he is forced to take up the assignment by the commanding General. However, as he gets to know the 12 convicted men through the course of the training, he realizes that there might be more to them than the conviction that they carry with them and eventually starts respecting them for their capabilities.
The Dirty Dozen is held in high esteem by many moviegoers even though it is not exactly the part of the elite like The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, and such. I had a good time with this film for a plethora of reasons. To start with, the idea of death row inmates taking it out on the Nazis to get off the hook appeared to be an interesting concept and it was executed well enough to extract a sense of realism as well as theatricality wherever necessary. I was amazed at how funny the film turned out to be even though it has such a grim subject matter to deal with. The very first scene of the film wherein, the protagonist of the film, Major Reisman witnesses a hanging and his subsequent meeting with General Worden (Ernest Borgnine) where he evidently carries the morose of the episode he witnessed before sets the mood for the rest of the film. Reisman is not particularly happy about his existence and the way the army works. His superiors are disgruntled too because of his lack of army manners and his nature of questioning authority that they view as insolence. The mutual disdain between the man and the establishment sets up the perfect showdowns that are referenced continually throughout the film to extract drama and thrills.