The Dirty Dozen

Year: 1967
Studio: MGM
Director: Robert Aldrich
Writer: Nunnally Johnson/Lukas Heller
Cast: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas, John Cassevetes, George Kennedy, Donald Sutherland

The old production code was fading away in Hollywood and as Jack Valenti's new MPAA rating system was taking shape, The Dirty Dozen was one of the movies that took advantage of both the new landscape and the rebellious new taste for violence, profanity and anti-heroes sweeping the moviegoing public.

It's cut from the same cloth as The Dam Busters and Where Eagles Dare, a rollicking - almost swashbuckling - tale of daring and danger set in World War II, but with a twist. The heroes aren't all square jawed Hollywood leading men but a collection of psychopathic killers, rapists and thieves.

Smart, rebellious army officer Reisman (Marvin) is given a mission and an ultimatum by his smug, smarmy superiors. He must recruit and train convicted criminals from an army prison to lead a mission attacking a German chateau that serves as a party and playhouse for Nazi officers in order to kill as many of them as possible.

Reisman spends most of the movie trying to get the men functioning as a unit and trusting him and each other. It's no mean feat when many of them are condemned, spurious of authority and already hate both him and each other.

Gradually Reisman's tough love sees the team take shape and in a pre-climax set piece they use bare-faced cheek to win an organised wargame against a snooty rival of Reisman's before leading the final daring raid.

The film took some risks, most notably in depicting the men pouring gasoline down the chimneys of the underground bunker in order to burn everyone locked inside alive, including the women of the party. But it also played it safe, such as in making sure the supremely nasty religious-sexual zealot Maggot (Savalas) meets justice while the wrongfully accused or genuinely sorry among them make it through or die heroically.

A good time Beano-style romp.

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