So Dirty there's Even a Maggott
Growing up there were those movies which would be shown again and again on TV such as "The Great Escape" and "The Magnificent Seven". One of those movies was the first "The Dirty Dozen" which I watched so often that at one time I knew it inside out and like many young boys would re-enact certain scenes whilst playing in the back garden. The thing about "The Dirty Dozen" is that whilst not a great war movie it was and still is a great action movie which mixes strong characters, powerful actors, action, humour and that element of gung-ho heroics which appealed to the younger me and to be honest the adult me.
Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin - The Professionals) is facing disciplinary action due to his rebellious anti-authority attitude. But he is given a way to escape punishment if he accepts a strange and dangerous mission. His job is to pick a dozen men thrown into military prison for a suicide mission to blow up a chateau full of important German Officers. The trouble is that whilst the men have no hope if they stay in prison they are not so keen about being used in a suicide mission especially when Reisman starts training them in his own, brutal way.
To be honest, there is no great depth to "The Dirty Dozen" and basically revolves around the training of a dozen men to go and blow up a Nazi chateau and in doing so, more than likely sentence themselves to death as they have little chance of returning alive. Doesn't really sound much of a storyline for what is such a popular movie, but instead of giving you a movie which requires much brain power, it bombards you with action, subtle humour and clich├ę ridden dialogue which although now is slightly cheesy, is still also great. Along with the lack of an in-depth storyline they dispatch with any real character depth, yes we learn that all the chosen soldiers are facing a long time in prison or in some cases the death penalty, but that is as far as it goes.
So with such a thin script and no real character depth you may be surprised to know that I love "The Dirty Dozen". Where as the likes of "The Great Escape" entertains you with a more detailed storyline, "The Dirty Dozen" does not try to pretend to be anything other than a good old fashioned action movie where men were men and boys were, well boys. Yes, some of the scenes of violence towards the Germans could be seen as mindless violence and probably be very questionable in a modern movie, but remember "The Dirty Dozen" was made back in 1967 when tensions were still running high.
As already mentioned, there is very little character depth given to any of the main characters, but the actors still remain very memorable. First up you have Lee Marvin as the unfortunate man in charge, Major John Reisman, basically a soldier who has fallen foul of his superiors due to his attitude. Then you have the likes of John Cassavetes as Franko, a soldier who would love to stick a knife in the Major's back, Donald Sutherland as Vernon Pinckley who finds everything a joke and the psychotic Maggott played by Telly Savalas. These are only a few of the stars who make an appearance and with the likes of Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, Trini Lopez, Clint Walker and Ernest Borgnine also appearing, you definitely have the pick of Hollywood legends. Some viewers will find the lack of character depth off putting, but it definitely would have been out of place in "The Dirty Dozen", as it would have turned it into more of a serious drama, rather than the fun action movie that it is.
What this all boils down to is that even though "The Dirty Dozen" does not have much of a plot, and very little character depth it does have great action and subtle comedy to make it work. It is what I would call a good old fashioned action movie where men were real men and there was no pussy footing about trying to be politically correct.