The Dirty Dozen - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Dirty Dozen Reviews

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March 20, 2017
One of the best ensemble movies made. It's a dramatic yet 'cool' war film, whilst still being able to portray it's subject in cold, harsh, brutal and ultimately mindless reality. Marvin, Bronson & Cassavetes stand-out brilliantly. Not looking forward to Tarantino's remake, not even he can better this classic.
½ February 5, 2017
A good Ol' classic WWII movie.
January 30, 2017
viewed on 2/8/04 (Mon)

Knew the TV series inspired by this movie. Looks kind of one of those chauvinist action-packed no-brainers. I did not have a good impression of this movie though.

My younger brother asked for it. Apparently the show was so good, he could remember even the story details after so many years. Well, worth seeing then.

Yup. It is very engaging. Running at the length of 150 min., it doesn't for once feel long. Among the cast whom I know are Donald Sutherland, Charles Bronson and John Cassavetes. John is the father of Nick whose latest movie, The Notebook, is coming to town and he was married to Gena Rowlands.

Some interest findings after watching this and GUNS OF NAVARONE. The way the characters die is very laughable, twisting their bodies and faces. Though alot of scenes of killing, I will hardly see any blood and the killing is much like stageplay. It makes me question the necessity of gory scenes of violence in contemporary movies.

I always have this idea that the story happens at the battlefield when in fact, the first half of the movie takes place at the training base of the dozen and the second half happens at this chateau. The first half is not that as serious and even has some tongue-in-cheek humour.

The second half is when the action kicks in. The showdown at the chateau is really very very exciting. In the making-of featurette, we are told the set took four months to build and an actor had to risk his life to detonate explosives to blow up the place, just like in the story. That is to say there must not be a second take and the actor if not careful would die at the scene! In the absence of advanced technology in filmmaking, I really take my hat off these forefathers of filmmakers.

The story of twelve doomed prisoners on a doomed mission with a condemned officer may allow some grounds for some see-we-are-not-that-useless melodrama but surprisingly, the movie downplays all these and instead chooses to tell the story straight as an actioner. Now, got that, Roland Emmerich?

Rating: B+
January 9, 2017
In Britain, in the spring of 1944, Allied forces are preparing for the D-Day invasion. Among them are Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin), an OSS officer; his commander, Regular Army Major General Sam Worden (Ernest Borgnine); and his former commander Colonel Everett Dasher Breed (Robert Ryan). The three personalities clash easily. Reisman is aided by his friend, the mild-mannered Major Max Armbruster (George Kennedy). Major Reisman is assigned an unusual and top-secret mission, code-named Operation Amnesty. He is to select a small band of the Army's worst convicts and turn them into commandos to be sent on a virtual suicide mission, the airborne infiltration and assault on a château near Rennes in Brittany. The chateau will be hosting a meeting of dozens of high-ranking German officers, the elimination of whom will hamper the German military's ability to respond to D-Day by disrupting the chain of command. Those who survive the mission will be pardoned and returned to active duty at their former ranks. However, as Reisman repeatedly tells the men, few of them will be coming back from this one. Reisman is assigned 12 convicts (the 'Dirty Dozen'), all either serving lengthy sentences or awaiting execution. Notable members include slow-witted Vernon Pinkley (Donald Sutherland); Robert Jefferson (Jim Brown), an African American soldier convicted of killing a man in self defense; Samson Posey (Clint Walker), a gentle giant who becomes enraged when pushed, convicted of accidentally killing a man who purposely shoved him; Joseph Wladislaw (Charles Bronson) a taciturn coal miner recruited for his ability to speak German, a battlefield-commissioned former officer convicted of shooting his platoon's medic; A.J. Maggot (Telly Savalas), a misogynist, religious fanatic, and probably insane soldier convicted of raping and beating a woman to death; and Victor Franko (John Cassavetes), a former member of the Chicago organized-crime syndicate who has extreme problems with authority, convicted of robbing and killing an elderly man for two pounds and ten shillings. Will the group manage to keep together and perform the suicide mission...?

In response to the violence of the film, Roger Ebert, in his first year as a film reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote sarcastically:
"I'm glad the Chicago Police Censor Board forgot about that part of the local censorship law where it says films shall not depict the burning of the human body. If you have to censor, stick to censoring sex, I say...but leave in the mutilation, leave in the sadism and by all means leave in the human beings burning to death. It's not obscene as long as they burn to death with their clothes on." In another contemporaneous review, Bosley Crowther called it "an astonishingly wanton war film" and a "studied indulgence of sadism that is morbid and disgusting beyond words"; he also noted: It is not simply that this violent picture of an American military venture is based on a fictional supposition that is silly and irresponsible.... But to have this bunch of felons a totally incorrigible lot, some of them psychopathic, and to try to make us believe that they would be committed by any American general to carry out an exceedingly important raid that a regular commando group could do with equal efficiency - and certainly with greater dependability - is downright preposterous. Crowther called some of the portrayals "bizarre and bold": Marvin's taut, pugnacious playing of the major ... is tough and terrifying. John Cassavetes is wormy and noxious as a psychopath condemned to death, and Telly Savalas is swinish and maniacal as a religious fanatic and sex degenerate. Charles Bronson as an alienated murderer, Richard Jaeckel as a hard-boiled military policeman, and Jim Brown as a white-hating Negro stand out in the animalistic group. Variety was more positive, calling it an "exciting Second World War pre-D-Day drama" based on a "good screenplay" with a "ring of authenticity to it"; they drew particular attention to the performances by Marvin, Cassavetes and Bronson. The Time Out Film Guide notes that over the years, "The Dirty Dozen has taken its place alongside that other commercial classic, The Magnificent Seven: The violence which liberal critics found so offensive has survived intact. Aldrich sets up dispensable characters with no past and no future, as Marvin reprieves a bunch of death row prisoners, forges them into a tough fighting unit, and leads them on a suicide mission into Nazi France. Apart from the values of team spirit, cudgeled by Marvin into his dropout group, Aldrich appears to be against everything: anti-military, anti-Establishment, anti-women, anti-religion, anti-culture, anti-life. Overriding such nihilism is the super-crudity of Aldrich's energy and his humour, sufficiently cynical to suggest that the whole thing is a game anyway, a spectacle that demands an audience.

"The Dirty Dozen" is amongst those great big budget ensemble war movies that came out in the 60s and 70s, with the difference that "The Dirty Dozen" is quite ugly, violent in an authentic way, anti-everything, cynical, psychopathic and sadistic. What sort of responsibility do we have in war? What does war do to you? Is it morally ok to use convicts as canon fodder in a suicide mission? Are their lives worth less than others? The film by director Robert Aldrich adds plenty of rich moral dilemmas for the brain during the watch. As Time Out Film Guide said: Aldrich appears to be against everything: anti-military, anti-Establishment, anti-women, anti-religion, anti-culture, anti-life. He intended the film as an anti-war allegory for what was happening in Vietnam at the same time and from all the extra stuff behind the scenes itīs quite apparent that he wanted the film to show what war really is up close without sugarcoating it. And with an ensemble of Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland, Clint Walker, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Webber, John Cassevetes etc you simply canīt go wrong if you manage to pull out great performances from them which Aldrich did. The ones that really stands out are Marvin as the disobediant and anti-hero Major Reisman and Cassevetes as the hardnosed criminal and trouble-maker Franko. We get top notch performances from both. The art direction, special effects, sets etc adds to the production value as well. "The Dirty Dozen" is a great anti-war ensemble piece that entertains you on one hand but at the same time makes your brain question the moral and actions you see on the screen.
½ January 7, 2017
Classic film. Very very memorable. I loved it. The acting was great, the story was very good, and the dialogue was well-made. The only thing I didn't like was that it was a bit too long. But, wow. Lee Marvin was the highlight of the film.
½ September 10, 2016
This is a perfectly emotional anti-hero film.
½ September 8, 2016
Was entertaining enough but I hardly think the mission that was the basis of the movie was worth all the trouble. Not to mention I found the execution of that mission to be morally questionable, celebrating this and the criminals that took part as a "great film" is rather odd to me.
September 4, 2016
Brilliant movie and still makes my all time favorites after FIFTY yeras
August 29, 2016
Only the editing of the action scenes has aged.
½ August 14, 2016
I loved this. Right up there with my favourite Aldrich films (though maybe 'Kiss Me Deadly' is still my number one), and of the greatest performances of both Lee Marvin and John Cassavetes (who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at both the Golden Globes and Oscars for his work here).

This hearkened back to the heady times when if you got a great cast and director together, you were virtually guaranteed you'd come out of it, because of comparatively little studio interference, with a bonafide classic piece of cinema. People thought the studio system was broken and needed fixing, by films such as 'Easy Rider'? THIS, along with other fine Aldrich works from this period, age a lot better and hold up much finer today than Dennis Hopper's so-called 'masterpiece' and its ilk.
½ August 14, 2016
I loved this. Right up there with my favourite Aldrich films (though maybe 'Kiss Me Deadly' is still my number one), and of the greatest performances of both Lee Marvin and John Cassavetes (who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at both the Golden Globes and Oscars for his work here).

This hearkened back to the heady times when if you got a great cast and director together, you were virtually guaranteed you'd come out of it, because of comparatively little studio interference, with a bonafide classic piece of cinema. People thought the studio system was broken and needed fixing, by films such as 'Easy Rider'? THIS, along with other fine Aldrich works from this period, age a lot better and hold up much finer today than Dennis Hopper's so-called 'masterpiece' and its ilk.
July 24, 2016
This fantastic concept is so poorly executed that it is begging to be remade. Someone remake this and do a better job.
½ May 8, 2016
Classic "bunch of guys on a suicide mission" movie. Good cast. Well-paced. A really good movie.
March 24, 2016
It's a great caste and John Cassavetes manages to make it even 'dirtier'. When Reisman (Lee Marvin) asks his name in the line up of recriuits, JC steps up and tells him with a smirk, a cigarette dangling from his defiant lips ' Franko...Victor Franko'. Reisman orders him to get rid of the cigarette and he refuses with ' No Sir, not a chance' or something to the effect. Great stuff, moments in movies.
March 10, 2016
Yes deserves all the praise, not sure how to make a better movie. Great cast and story, with excellent directing.
½ February 24, 2016
Playing like an over long hybrid of Thunderbirds and Dad's Army, this very unsubtle boy's own actioner at least has the great Lee Marvin in charge, and a strong cast that includes Donald Sutherland, John Cassavetes, Robert Ryan and Telly Savalas. Loud, implausible and macho.
½ January 20, 2016
With a talented cast lined up, The Dirty Dozen sounded like an exciting war film.

The Dirty Dozen was a really interesting experience. Coming from the time when the counterculture movement was taking off, The Dirty Dozen predates the landmark film Easy Rider by two years. This time around, the aggressive and powerful authority figure is the one that the film supports as his platoon of convicts rebel against him. Instead to taking their side, The Dirty Dozen follows his and ends up being a tale of recruitment and training, so it really isn't as deep as it could have been and has viewers looking at members of the titular dozen in a more negative light. The viewers have to get to know the characters before they actually sympathise for them, and whilst the film does eventually reach that effect, it is only through the development of the characters. What I'm saying is that The Dirty Dozen is a really one-sided film which favours the fictitious dangerous military training methods over the existence of its soldiers, even if its soldiers are convicts in this situation. What I'm saying is that The Dirty Dozen is not a bad film, but it certainly is not one which takes a fair look at the sides of both the trainer and the trainees. It does touch upon the themes later though because as other authority figures in the military begin to gain wind of the top-secret situation at hand they attempt to corruptly get the information out of the titular Dirty Dozen, and this shows the twelve convicts standing up against authority. So the message in The Dirty Dozen is rather confusing as it supports giving in to certain forms of authority but not giving into others despite both forms of authority belonging to the same military. So what the film is actually saying can prove confusing in certain areas.
But despite the muddled message in The Dirty Dozen, it still turns out to be an entertaining film. Although like many war films it is a long and slow feature with this particular film being one split into three main segments, it stays consistently interesting because of the great characters and the way that director Robert Aldrich lets that the story unfolds. The atmosphere of the film feels a bit light for it to be the gritty war film that it wants to be, this proves to have both positive and negative results in the final. Negative in the sense that it means that the effect of the film is not that hard hitting, positive because it means that the story has room for some laughs along the way. All in all it achieves a mixed response in my opinion because it means that the effect of the story is limited and the harsh nature of the mission is not as serious as the characters claim it to be, but it also means that the material does not drag viewers through the same old tired war cliches. So though the tone may not always be the most ideal, The Dirty Dozen keeps its long story entertaining in one way or another.
However, the actual mission itself is not as exciting as one might have hoped. After everything leading up to the climax, the two hour build-up to it does not fully justify the quality of its execution. The main issue is that although the script in the film puts a lot of harsh emphasis on the final raid, the transition into it is not that exciting. While the detailed explanation of how it happens is good and the set up for it is firm, it all changes when one of the characters betrays their comrades mid-mission and murders a woman. This one plot dynamic was one I found to be just tedious because the character was such a thoughtless prick that he compromised everything and it tore apart the theme of camaraderie that the preceding two hours of the film had spent building. Basically, the main problem I had with The Dirty Dozen was the way that the character Arthur J. Maggott single handily changed the path of it during the most important scene of the film, and while the fault is not the actors, the presence of that character really damaged the film in my opinion. After such an extensive build-up of intense expectation, the fact that The Dirty Dozen suddenly changes everything in the blink of an eye is really not that much of a welcome twist. It speeds the film up and throws instant intensity at the viewers in an unepexected before churning out its action climax, so the pacing of the film is far from perfect.
Ultimately the quality of the story receives has some flaws in my opinion, but as a whole the general concept is an exciting one and the screenplay matches it with plenty of strong dialogue to support it all. One of the best things about the writing in The Dirty Dozen is the fact that it makes an attempt to ensure that few of the main characters in the film have irrelevant meaning. Attempting to characterize more than a dozen main characters in a single film is not the easiest challenge and The Dirty Dozen does have to forsake the depth of some characters in favour of others, but it makes a strong effort to connect the audience to its titular team of mercenaries whether it's through appreciating their friendly interactions or finding antagonism in their attitudes. The developing relationship between the titular team and commanding officer evokes themes of camaraderie with occasional sparks of conflict to ensure that things are never falsely picture-perfect.
When it comes to the technical qualities of The Dirty Dozen, the entire film is constructed very well. The scenery for the film always picture perfect, giving an immaculate setting for the narrative which fuels everything with natural imagery. The cinematography also manages to effectively capture the scope of the film and the detail in the physical acting of the characters. The composition for the music in The Dirty Dozen is also a strong fit, emitting the strong feeling of a classical war movie during the more inspiring moments of the film while pulling back for a more slow-burning atmosphere of tension over the duration of the climactic build-up. All these elements bond together brilliantly during the climactic action scene. The musical score keeps things intense while the sound effects keep the loud bangs of warfare very active, keeping their prolonged period of gunfire and explosions dramatic and spectacular. The editing during these scenes is also timely, fast enough to intensify the mood yet slow enough so that things remain visually clear. There are some moments amid the action climax where the actors stop and smile, finding a sadistic pleasure in their plight to kill the Germans. The result is a depiction of horrors from the war in a different meaning, the kind where soldiers become so accustomed to killing that it becomes a joy of theirs. Ernest Borgnine argues that this is the reason The Dirty Dozen was not nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and however true it may be it is an absolute necessity to fit the realism of the narrative.
And last of all, the cast in The Dirty Dozen deliver a brilliant collection of efforts which captures the feeling of humanity within the intentions of the script and brings it to life with all the dramatic and humourous ambitions.
Lee Marvin makes the perfect lead actor for The Dirty Dozen. From the instant he comes on screen, Lee Marvin is very strict with his swift responses and answers anyone who approaches him with the utmost respect and sophistication. This makes him the perfect fit for a soldier in any film, and he just builds from there as he progressively develops into the leader of a criminal platoon. His ability to maintain this edge just increases as the ambition of the story grows bigger, and he passes this spirit onto the actors around him. It's as if he actually has to train the actors in the same way Major John Reisman has to train the criminals he has recruited, giving him a greater edge of responsibility in the leading role. Lee Marvin has the natural charisma of a soldier but pushes it even further for The Dirty Dozen, sharing a rich chemistry with any fellow cast member lucky enough to cross paths with him and proving that he still has his strengths in handling artillery without neglecting the ability to momentarily laugh along the way. That way, he grasps the serious nature of the story with relentless strength but knows when to laugh as well.
John Cassavetes unleashes a wave of antagonism against the authority he clashes with in The Dirty Dozen, holding nothing back and letting all his rage out. It isn't excessive even though it is occasionally funny, and most of the time it feels raw. He has the intense nature of a real soldier to him, but he also represents a key figure for the anti-authoritarian themes of the film which causes a rift between his character Victor Franko and John Reisman. His chemistry with Lee Marvin is rich for both the actors, and as the story progresses we see John Cassavetes develop his character very well. He gains more strength, determination and focus which is made all the more powerful by a contrast to the character he was at the start of the film. John Cassevetes is one of the finest members of The Dirty Dozen.
Clint Walker emits the feeling of a gentle giant in The Dirty Dozen. Samson Posey comes off as being a friendly character, but also a man whose tremendous stature and temper becomes his downfall even though he clearly makes an effort to suppress them. He shares a memorably intense moment with Lee Marvin where the man antagonizes him to really push the limits on the character, and despite his attempts to contain himself he progressively leads towards unleashing it. Clint Walker is able to successfully make a likable character out of Samson while engaging with the physical challenges of the film with the utmost ease.
Donald Sutherland is very much present for the sake of comic relief since he stands out as one of the more ignorant members of the titular team of mercenaries. He does his duty when the film demands him step up to the battle, but the majority of the time he simply brings the laughs along with his confused facial expressions and keeps the laughter alive.
Charles Bronson is a welcome presence in any film simply because of his hard-edged nature and his ability to maintain it throughout any scene as well as his skill with weaponry. And Telly Savalas is a relentless creep who always has something to hide, making him a suspicious and engaging screen presence.
Jim Brown is an appealing addition to the cast as Robert Jefferson is a victim of the oppressive racism of the time yet does his duty without sacrificing any dignity in the process, making him respectable and likable from the beginning
Lastly, George Kennedy projects a likable supporting presence due to his instinctive energy whileand Ernest Borgnine makes a capable foil.

So The Dirty Dozen may have an ambiguous message and a slow pace, but it is a serious war classic due to the originality of its premise, the engaging characters, sense of humour and Robert Aldrich's visionary sense of direction.
January 8, 2016
Great old school WWII special ops mission. Carried out by a bunch of US Army misfit prisoners from a military prison. Go check it out, you won't be disappointed. I added it to my library.
December 28, 2015
Its narrative is like any other critically acclaimed films in that era, but the violence during the third act brought the level down. (B)

(Full review coming soon)
December 25, 2015
This is my favorite men-on-a-mission film of all time, which is saying something considering some of the classics in this sub-genre of war film (i.e.. "Where Eagles Dare," "The Great Escape," "Inglourious Basterds," etc.). Lee Marvin is a WWII major charged with offering a dozen military prisoners who are either sentenced to death or life in prison with a chance at a pardon if they volunteer to go on a suicide mission behind enemy lines in Nazi Germany. The overall story is a pretty familiar and well trod one, whipping a group of raw recruits into shape for a deadly mission. However, the film stands out as unique in a number of ways. One, Lee Marvin in the lead as Maj. Reisman is a major factor in this film being a favorite of mine. Even though Marvin derided the film as "crap" and "just a dummy moneymaker," he gives one of his best tough guy performances. This may be a matter of personal taste that Marvin is one of my favorite actors, but it's certainly a big part in my loving this film. And regarding Marvin's sentiments towards this film, I'll back Marvin's comments insomuch that this film is not at all a realistic depiction of war (see Marvin in Samuel Fuller's "The Big Red One" instead for that). And as an aside, Marvin actually wrote quite eloquently about his wartime service in the Pacific theater of WWII and himself is interred t Arlington National Cemetery. Another major factor is the director Robert Aldrich brings a level of toughness rarely seen in Hollywood pictures to this picture. The violence here stands out even more so compared to say "Bonnie & Clyde" or "The Wild Bunch," which were very much breaking with tradition, whereas the script for "The Dirty Dozen" is really a pretty old style of story right out of "Sands of Iwo Jima" with a tough-as-nails officer whipping a rag tag group of recruits into shape for a deadly mission. It's a pretty durable formal that's been resurected again and again, though Aldrich and screenwriters Nunnally Johnson and Lukas Heller (from a novel by E.M. Nathanson) up the ante on that old story by making the receipts murders, rapists and criminals, by making the tough officer just as antiestablishment as his sociopathic team, and by being willing up the brutality rarely seen in previous war films (i.e. killing civilians). It's also important here to mention the cast, who besides Marvin includes Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland, Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Robert Ryan, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, Richard Jaeckel, Clint Walker, and Jim Brown. And director Aldrich fills the film with terrific details, like the (SPOILER ALERT) siren in the tension filled finale that adds level of street with it's content blaring an then finally it get's shot out and stopped, but then the silence and lack of the sirens is even more scary. Aldrich, though has always been smart about his use of sound designed, which is on display in just about every scene in "Kiss Me Deadly." I'm not going to argue that this film is high art, but this is certainly among one of the most entertaining action films of all-time.
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