I watched The Dirty Dozen for the first time today.

Not sure why it took me so long. But now that I’ve seen it I must say it was something of a letdown.

I guess I expected it to be… Dirtier.

Much of it was played for laughs, which surprised me. The more serious bits were still a sanitized, Technicolor, Hollywood version of war, and I had a hard time buying into it. Kind of a shame.

Tell me why I should have liked it better. Or not.

Yeah, I wouldn’t personally consider it a classic movie. I do like it and used to watch it when it happened to be on. Lee Marvin and Donald Sutherland are both good in it. John Cassavettes looks and acts like a bad half psycho but Grows Into A Team Player. There’s scene where he awkwardly gives a thumbs up and grins that I don’t think was supposed to be funny, but was. Telly Savalas’ character was probably meant to be scary and messed up.

A lot of it was meant to be funny and a lot of it was. I like when Sutherland reviews the troops and when Marvin gives the uptight officer a hard time by confiding that he now knows that under that cold exterior, there’s an emotional man with a lot of feelings. There’s a lot of macho going on, and some goofing.

I don’t think the movie version was meant to be gritty, although the book may have been. It’s been a long time since I read it. As I recall, it was straightforward, and not a lot of laughs.

Other bits of the film I think weren’t meant to be funny but kind of were: longhair paratroopers, Marvin’s sidekick dropping the name of the flick (“Come on you… you Dirty Dozen!”), Jim Brown having next to nothing to do until they give him hand grenades and get him to RUN REAL FAST, and that lame song the Dirty Guitarist plays.

As 60s WWII action/comedies go, I prefer Kelly’s Heroes.

I agree that the tone was a bit uneven. I’m not sure I would call a military mission with ~80% fatalities to be a “sanitized, Technicolor, Hollywood version of war”, but certainly there have been grittier war movies since it came out.

From the Wikipedia article, Roger Ebert and Bosley Crowther criticised it as being violent and sadistic (“a studied indulgence of sadism that is morbid and disgusting beyond words”), so obviously times have changed!

Way back when, drugstores had those revolving book racks, and half of the books in them were WWII thrillers with swastikas on the covers. DD was of the genre, and was even stupider than the movie: a long build-up of the characters practicing karate chops in the compound, and then the actual mission was not dramatized. The author did a cop-out and added a fake military-style action report as an epilogue.

WWII was, with the exception of Good Morning Vietnam, a unique war in the US & British film industries as having inspired “Service Comedies,” most of which have a formulaic third act “OK, now the shit gets serious” section (Mister Roberts, Father Goose, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy, etc. etc.) Dirty Dozen had the added distinction of having been made by Robert Aldrich, who never passed up the chance to flip off the audience in an otherwise good movie.

Number 2 sir!

It may be “sanitized” by current Private Ryan standards, but IIRC it was pretty graphic for its time. The hanging at the beginning, lots of blood when people were shot, Kojak stabbing the hooker, the Nazi officers and their women being burned alive, etc. But yeah, if you don’t enjoy the humor, you won’t enjoy the movie.

Action/Adventure genre often has comedic elements.

My fave character in this flick was Kojak. He was the only one that seemed believable as his character. The grenade/football was … well, at least it wasn’t time for OJ yet. :wink:

Yeah, Kelly’s Heroes and Force 10 From Navaronne were easier to watch.

The two actors who seemed the most out of place to me were Donald Sutherland and Trini Lopez. If you cut out their scenes, the comedy bits probably would have seemed more edgy than slapstick.

I could have done quite well with fewer minutes of unbroken “Ah-Oooh-Gah” alarm klaxons. That really, really, really got tired.

I was haunted by the hellish death dealt out to all the people in the basement, not all of whom were Nazis or even German soldiers. Nasty.

And I laughed myself sick at the “Ice Capades” version in the tv ad during the Super Bowl, some years ago. That was a really damn classy parody!

All that said? A classic. Very fine film, worth watching again and again.

I think “sanitized” was a poor choice of words. Maybe a better way to put it was that I found a lot of it to be very stagey (in fact some “outdoor” scenes were obviously shot on soundstages) and more than a little hokey. Case in point: a Nazi guard gets shot in the tower; he falls onto the roof, rolls off, falls onto a ledge, rolls again and falls some more. Other Nazis shot through windows inevitably fall forward, dramatically crashing through said windows. It all got to be kind of eye-roll inducing after a while.

Perhaps I wasn’t very moved by the Dozen’s high fatality rate because I never really became invested in the characters or their plight. Bronson was the only one who felt like he had any kind of believable history prior to the opening credits. Cassavetes and Savalas were entertaining but a bit too cartoonishly over the top. Sutherland would have been a good comic-relief character if the rest of the tone hadn’t been so goofy anyway. All the rest were just kind of bland. Never once did I buy into the premise that these were truly killers, rapists, etc., who were fighting for their very survival.

I will say that the two moments that impacted me the most were the hooker-stabbing and the fiery slaughter of everybody in the bomb shelter. But by that time they had pretty much lost me.

This is a film that I’ve been hearing about for years, so I suppose a big part of the issue is that I had built it in my mind into something it never really was in the first place. When I finally saw it, I didn’t get what I expected. That isn’t necessarily the film’s fault.

One final aside: More than once I found myself thinking of Inglorious Basterds. It’s easy to see where Tatrantino got a lot of his inspiration for that film.

Perhaps because WWII films of that period were much closer in time to the war itself and it hadn’t yet been trapped in the amber of historical solemnity, the tone of a lot of war films of the late 60s and early 70s was much more cheerful and gung-ho; WWII was still a staple of entertainment. Much of the audience of a film like The Dirty Dozen - and certainly its makers - had experienced the war personally in some way, or were at least the sons and daughters of someone who had. These days period war films have to make a Serious Statement, preferably one about the Greatest Generation. We can have The Book Thief, we can’t have Hogan’s Heroes.

“The Southern gentleman was inquiring as to the dining arrangements.”

Yeah, that got me, too.

I had seen this as a kid, with a bunch of other kids – it might have been a “sleep over” night at the Y, or something like that. I was 10 when it came out, but this must have been a couple years later, for the 16mm to be available. We all loved it. Hadn’t seen it since then. (Two other movies I put in the same category, seeing with lots of other kids: Kelly’s Heroes, albeit a bit later, and The Mouse That Roared. Odd the things we lump together in our memories.)

I saw it again a few years ago, and I was horrified by the torching scene, which no doubt caused a bunch of 12-yr-old boys to cheer all those years ago. The times they change.

It’s definitely not a film made for today’s sensibilities.

I’ve always been “Meh” about the Dirty Dozen. Like others have said, it’s rather formulaic war-genre once they’re on the mission. I hate the anachronistic hippy attitude of much of the early parts.

I can understand the OP’s disappointment with The Dirty Dozen, because it’s title and a lot of the write-ups don’t reflect the film’s tone. It is much more an action-comedy set in World War Two than a war film. You could actually take the same script, make Lee Marvin’s character work for the CIA, have them go after an Osama Bin Ladin-type character in an unspecified Eastern European country, and it would likely do well at the box office today.

(How do you get the cons to co-operate? Simple…the CIA implants a microchip in the brain. Screw up or try to escape and the chip is activated, triggering a massive cerebral haemorrage causing instant death. Succeed in the mission…the chip is disarmed or removed and they go on their merry way. Sweeten the pot with a million in a numbered tax-free offshore account for the survivors.)

There are a few “grittier” war movies in the 60s and 70s. However, most of them seemed to come out of European co-productions rather than the Hollywood movie factory (the studios simply provided the American distribution and some of the financing). One that springs to mind is “Play dirty” with Michael Caine.

Kelly’s Heroes is still my favourite action/adventure/comedy.

What parts of The Dirty Dozen had a hippy attitude?

Always with those negative waves, man.


The anti-authoritarian tone of the “recruitment” phase. But to be totally honest, I may be conflating my hate of the hippy parts of Kellys Heroes with the Dirty Dozen.

I know I’m being picky, but Oddball and his gang were Beatniks rather than hippies. The name “Moriarty” was obviously a tip of the hat to Dean Moriarty, protagonist of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

They were condemned death-row prisoners, being told “We want you to train for a near-suicide mission under a nutjob Colonel, and if you by some miracle survive and return, we’re putting you right back in the stockade to be executed.” I’d be pretty resistant to that too.