The Dirty Dozen (1967)

Director: Robert Aldrich

Starring: Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, John Cassavetes, Jim Brown, Charles Bronson, Clint Walker......(many more)

Cinematography: Edward Scaife

Music: Frank de Vol

Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson, Lukas Heller

Novel: E.M. Nathanson

FACT: Marvin nearly died when a proportion of his arse was destroyed during fierce combat in the Battle of Saipan during World War II.

Lie: All of the major cast's surnames correspond to Cockney rhyming slang for states of being or diseases: Lee Marvin (starvin'); Robert Ryan (dyin'); John Cassevetes (Type 2 diabetes).

In one line: 12 criminals are given the chance of a reprieve by volunteering for a near-suicide mission.


Major John Reissman (Marvin) is coerced into forming a squad of elite fighting troops using convicts from a military prison. The group consists of psychopaths, rapists and murderers.

The Major trains the group and christens them 'The Dirty Dozen' after they refuse to wash or shave following a minor rebellion at their self-built camp.

Reissman proves his convict brigade's worth in a military exercise against his hated rival Dasher Breed's (honestly - Ryan) men.

The Dirty Dozen are parachuted into France, where they attack a heavily-guarded chateau containing hundreds of Germany's top army officers.


Possibly the most mean-spirited of all the films featured on this site.

Marvin's mission is to trap as many German officers in the cellar of a French chateau and burn and bomb them to death. I suppose it's no worse than the firebombing of Dresden (and fuck me, that wasn't very nice) but their very proximity to the people they are killing makes this an incredibly nihilistic film for its time.

To compensate for its general nastiness, there are some tremendous performances from a great cast. Marvin is excellent as ever; Ryan is just one of the greatest film actors ever (although this isn't one of his best roles), and Telly Savalas is just a little too convincing as Southern Bible-Belt, woman-hating rapist Archer Maggot.

Talking of Savalas, as well as being some sort of relative of Jennifer Aniston and prompting the classic old-chestnut used by his groupies during the height of his TV fame, "I was on Telly last night", he is one of a select group of film actors to have a UK number one (as did fellow DD actor Lee Marvin). If' is fairly cheesy, but here's Telly's tremendous version of Some Broken Hearts Never Mend from German, er, telly:

Note the way Telly feels the need to spark up a ciggy during the song. What a meff.

Apart from Maggot, too many of The Dirty Dozen are basic nice guys, either 'wronged men' or just men who have made the wrong decision at the wrong time. One exception  is Mob murderer Victor Franco, played with great relish by John Cassavetes. Cassavetes steals the film from a very heavyweight cast and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his charismatic and (also) very believable portrayal of a psychotic low-life.

There are some text book montages in the film (particularly the building of the camp) and Aldrich directs in his, typical no-nonsense but very effective style. There are some strange comic interludes (accompanied by some terrible 'comic' music accompaniment - just to emphasise that these are the 'comic' moments) and some of the most challenging-looking British 'vice-girls' you'll ever see on the 'silver screen'.

Julia Roberts-style up-market sex workers they ain't.

All in all, a troubling, rather nasty film, saved by (generally) an exceptional cast and two or three outstanding performances.