The Dirty Dozen (1967)

Introduction

The Dirty Dozen is a 1967 American war film directed by Robert Aldrich.

Outline

In Britain, in March 1944, the Advance Section Communications Zone (ADSEC) of the US Army is responsible for planning detail for the D-Day invasion. ADSEC commander Major General Sam Worden has orders for Major John Reisman, an OSS officer, and Reisman’s former commander – and main antagonist – Colonel Everett Dasher Breed of the 101st Airborne Division. Worden assigns Reisman an unusual and top-secret mission, code-named Project Amnesty. He is to train 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, whose elimination will obstruct 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.

Travelling to military prison, Reisman meets his twelve selected convicts, all either serving lengthy sentences or awaiting execution: Franko, Vladek, Jefferson, Pinkley, Gilpin, Posey, Wladislaw, Sawyer, Lever, Bravos, Jiminez, and Maggott. Reisman pays personal visits to the five awaiting death sentences. Under the leadership of Reisman, supported by Capt. Kinder and supervised by MP Sgt. Bowren, the group begins training. After being forced to construct their own living quarters, the twelve men gradually learn how to operate as a group. Because of an act of insubordination instigated by the rebellious Franko, shaving kits are withheld for a time as punishment, leading to their nickname “The Dirty Dozen.”

For parachute training, the men are sent to the base operated by Colonel Breed. Under strict orders to keep their mission secret, Reisman’s men run afoul of Breed and his troops, especially after Pinkley – under Reisman’s orders – poses as a general and inspects Breed’s troops. Angered at the usurpation of his authority, Breed attempts to discover Reisman’s mission by having two of his men attack Wladislaw in the latrine, but they are both knocked out by Posey and Jefferson. The convicts assume Reisman sent the attackers until Breed and his men investigate the Dirty Dozen’s camp. Reisman, who had been away when Breed arrived, infiltrates his own post and opens fire on the paratroops as the convicts jump them. They disarm the paratroops, and Colonel Breed is forced to leave. Reisman also supplies the men with prostitutes as they near the end of their training.

Reisman is called on the carpet by General Worden and his chief of staff, Brigadier General Denton. Denton, siding with Breed, insists that Reisman has exceeded his authority and urges General Worden to terminate Operation Amnesty. Reisman rises ferociously to the defence of his men, demanding that they deserve a chance to prove themselves. ADSEC Major Max Armbruster, a friend of Reisman, suggests a test: During practice manoeuvres in which Breed will be taking part, the “Dirty Dozen” will attempt to capture the Colonel’s headquarters. During the manoeuvres, the men use various unorthodox tactics, including theft, impersonation, and rule-breaking, to infiltrate Breed’s headquarters and hold his men and him at gunpoint. This proves to General Worden that Reisman’s men can be used for the mission, and the operation is green-lighted.

On the night of the raid, the men are flown to France, but a slight snag occurs when Jiminez breaks his neck during the jump and dies. As trained, the others proceed with the mission, with Gilpin taking on Jiminez’s duties. Wladislaw and Reisman infiltrate the meeting disguised as German officers, while Jefferson and Maggott sneak onto the top floor of the building and the others set up in various locations around the chateau. The plan falls apart when psychopathic Maggott encounters one of the women who had accompanied the officers. Maggott stabs her and then begins shooting wildly at enemy and ally alike, alerting the German officers; Jefferson kills Maggott because he has compromised the mission.

As the officers and their companions retreat to an underground bomb shelter, a firefight ensues between the Dirty Dozen and the chateau’s guard force. As planned, Wladislaw and Reisman lock the Germans in the bomb shelter, then pry open the ventilation ducts to the shelter, drop unprimed grenades down, then pour gasoline inside. Jefferson throws a live grenade down each shaft and sprints for the half-track the team has hijacked for their getaway, but is shot down as the grenades explode.

In the course of the battle, only Reisman, Bowren and Wladislaw escape back to England with their lives. A voiceover from Armbruster at the end of the movie confirms that General Worden exonerated the sole surviving member of the Dirty Dozen and communicated to the next of kin of the rest that “they lost their lives in the line of duty”.

Film Inspiration

The film is based on E. M. Nathanson’s novel of the same name that was inspired by a real-life group called the “Filthy Thirteen”.

Dirty Dozen Films

Trivia & Goofs

  • Three years after The Dirty Dozen was released, Too Late the Hero, a film also directed by Aldrich, was described as a “kind of sequel to The Dirty Dozen”.
  • The 1969 Michael Caine film Play Dirty follows a similar theme of convicts-recruited-as-soldiers.
  • The 1977 Italian war film The Inglorious Bastards is a loose remake of The Dirty Dozen.
  • Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 Inglourious Basterds was later derived from the English-language title of director Enzo G. Castellari’s 1977 war film The Inglorious Bastards.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director: Robert Aldrich.
  • Producer: Kenneth Hyman.
  • Writers: Nunnally Johnson and Lukas Heller (Screenplay), and E.M. Nathanson (novel).
  • Music: Frank De Vol.
  • Cinematography: Edward Scaife.
  • Editor: Michael Luciano.
  • Distributor: MGM.
  • Release Date: 15 June 1967 (US).
  • Running Time: 150 Minutes.
  • Country: UK and US.
  • Language: English, French, and German.

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