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The Dirty Dozen

December 14, 2006
I guess one of the reasons why I never had a steady date in college was my choice of movies. Hindi movie love stories were a big no, and most of the gals in my college used to go fida over those Dil, Ishq,Pyaar, Mohabbat movies. Or if it was English, it had to be the romantic stuff like Pretty Woman, A Walk in the Clouds etc. Me and most of the guys in my friends circle were totally into what we call the guy movies. Movies full of slam bang stuff. Most of my female pals knew my taste of movies, and hence very rarely they would take the risk of coming with me to a movie. I mean which female would want to sit with a guy in movies like Die Hard, Predator, Terminator II unless she was totally wacked out. And there were not much females of that species to be found.

       Anyway personal musings apart, this is a review of one more totally guys movie. And one of my favorite war movies, The Dirty Dozen . The 60’s was a period when we had great war flicks like Where Eagles Dare, The Dirty Dozen, Guns of Navaronne, The Great Escape, The Longest Day to name a few. My dad was a lover of such movies, and he would take me along as a kid, and that’s how I grew up loving such cinema. Dirty Dozen is a typical lets get together guys and go on a mission, spot the star World War II movies which appeared regularly during that period. But this is one movie which I love seeing again and again, thanks to it’s great dialogue and superb pacing.

With the advent of D-Day, the US Army has come up with a plan to interrupt German chain of command. Raid a secluded mansion where most of the high ranking Nazi officers come to party with their mistresses and kill every one there. It’s a suicidal operation, and so the army decides to make use of convicted criminals who are either on death row or facing life imprisonment. It’s a win win situation, if they die, they would have the honour of dying on the battle field, it they survive, their life sentence would be commuted.

Gen Worden( Ernest Borgine) the operation in charge chooses Maj John Reisman( Lee Marvin) for this thankless job. There is a hidden agenda here, Reisman has never been liked in the Army for his I care a damn attitude, and he is assigned this job, ostensibly to get rid of him. And Reisman’s job is not easy considering the persons he has to deal with as Capt Stuart Kinder informs him after evaluation:

Doesn’t give me anything. But along with these other results, it gives YOU just about the most twisted, anti-social bunch of psychopathic deformities I have ever run into! And the worst, the most dangerous of the bunch, is Maggott. You’ve got one religious maniac, one malignant dwarf, two near-idiots… and the rest I don’t even wanna think about!

So he has to deal with The Dirty Dozen the scum of the worst sort. Consider some of the main characters

Archer Maggot(Telly Savalas) – A religious maniac who hates women.
Viktor Franko( John Cassavetes) – A rebel who never gets along with any one else
Joseph Wladislaw( Charles Bronson) – A Pole facing imprisonment
Robert Jefferson ( Jim Brown) – The only black guy in the team who is the object of racial derision.
Vernon Pinkley (Donald Sutherland) – A total crook, facing charges of rape and murder.
And on top of it, he has to put up with a nasty fellow officer Col Everett( Robert Ryan) who is determined to see the misson fail.
How Reisman assisted by Sgt Clyde Bowden and Maj Max Armbuster (George Kennedy) manages to motivate this loony bunch of characters and execute the mission needs to be watched on the screen.

For a war movie, Dirty Dozen, has only one major action scene in the last 20-30 minutes. Most of the movie revolves around how Reisman trains the team and wins their respect. Initially most of the guys hate Reisman, but slowly they start to respect hgim and prepare to give their lives to him.

The training scenes are the best part of the movie. Especially effective are the confrontation scenes between Reisman and the rebellious Franko.
Also great are the scenes where Reisman wins the game of one upmanship with Col Everett.
Especially hilarious is the scene where Vernon Pinkley has to masquerade as a Colonel and do a troop inspection.
Reisman : Which one of you guys wants to be a General, Pinkley?
Pinkley : What kind of General sir?
Reisman: Just a plain, ordinary, every day, home-lovin’ American general.
Pinkley : Id rather be a civilian sir.
And when Pinkley impersonates as a General.
Very Pretty General, very Pretty, but can they fight
Where you from son? Madison City, Missouri sir, Never heard of it .

The climax scene was considered very violent for those times. But compared to the first 30 min of Saving Private Ryan it looks very tame.

Dirty Dozen works not just for it’s action sequences, but also for it’s superb dialogue, great performances and excellent characterization. It’s a war movie that involves you from start to go.

The undoubted star of Dirty Dozen is Lee Marvin as the tough talking Major who heads the side. Marvin had a reputation for tough guy roles and one cant imagine any other actor pulling it off so brilliantly. When he talks down the guys, you are thankful you are not the one facing it. Cool, composed and collected Lee Marvin is just outstanding.

Among the Dirty Dozen, the best performance is by John Cassavetes as the rebellious Franko and he also gets the best lines in the movie. Cassavetes was in fact nominated for an Oscar in this movie.
Charles Bronson in the beginning of his career makes an impact as the silent Pole, while Jim Brown puts in a good performance as the black guy who has to put up with racial feelings.
Telly Savalas is great as the religious maniac, while Donald Sutherland provides the humor with his goof ball act.
Ernest Borgine , George Kennedy and Robert Ryan provide good support.

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