The Dirty Dozen (1967) – A Movie Review

The Dirty Dozen is a fictional story about a clandestine American military mission during WW II.  Disgraced Army Major John Reisman, played by Lee Marvin, is ordered by Gen. Sam Worden (Ernest Borgnine) to select twelve court martialed Americans whose sentences vary from 20 years at hard labor up to hanging and train them up for a mission behind enemy lines in Nazi occupied France.  If they survive and complete the mission honorably their sentences may be commuted.  If not, they will be returned to serve their sentences.

The beginning of the movie is our introduction to the prisoners.  Each man has an aversion to authority, several are hardened killers and one man (Archer Maggott played by Telly Savalas) is a delusional psychotic.  The most sympathetic characters are played by Charles Bronson, Jim Brown and Clint Walker.  Each has been convicted of murder but in each case, extenuating circumstances have been ignored by the military court that decided the case.  Probably the least sympathetic convict (other than Maggott) is V. R. Franko played by John Cassavetes.  He is a Chicago gangster who murdered a British civilian for less than ten dollars-worth of money.  But he is also the everyman of the outfit whose defiance of authority becomes the rallying point for the prisoners to gel into a functional team.

The movie progresses from the team being trained by Reisman, then to a confrontation with a hostile base commander, Col. Everett Dasher Breed, played by Robert Ryan, then to a test of their competence in a War Game against Breed’s elite troop and finally to their mission.

This mission is a night time parachute drop into occupied France where the team will infiltrate a château where the German High Command are assembled and kill as many of the high-ranking officers as possible in the hope that it will disrupt the command and control of the Nazi military response to D-Day which is scheduled the morning after the raid.

The action goes according to their very detailed plan until Maggott finds himself in a room with a young German woman and proceeds to sadistically murder her before running amok with his machine gun thus prematurely alerting the Germans to their peril.  The climax of the attack is James Brown tossing a series of grenades into the gasoline soaked and explosives filled ventilation lines for the bomb shelter where the Germans have taken cover.  The whole château goes up in pyrotechnic splendor and only Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and one supporting cast member live to return home from the mission.

The full list of the actors who played the twelve prisoners is John Cassavetes, Tom Busby, Jim Brown, Donald Sutherland, Ben Carruthers, Clint Walker, Charles Bronson, Colin Maitland, Stuart Cooper, Al Mancini, Trini Lopez and Telly Savalas.

As absurd as this whole mission sounds, and it is absurd, the movie, especially the mission in France, is exciting, interesting and very well done.  Telly Savalas is a little over the top in his psycho characterization but he sells it well and it isn’t hard to see it coming.

Bronson and Marvin impersonating German officers in the château is fun to watch and the amount of gun play and other diverting activities is sure to keep a male audience’s attention.  I highly recommend this movie for its entertainment value.  It isn’t an actual war movie.  It’s more of a caper movie but a very exciting one.

The Great Escape – A Movie Review

The Great Escape came out in 1963.  It’s based on an actual World War II large scale escape by British Commonwealth soldiers from a German POW camp during World War II.  Some American actors were added in to increase the interest for American audiences but for the most part the details of the story are true.

There’s an all-star cast including Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson and James Coburn.  On the British side there’s Richard Attenborough, Donald Pleasence and a bunch of Brits I never heard of.

The plan is to build a tunnel out of the camp and provide clothes and identification papers for 250 men to scatter over the countryside and escape out of Germany.  Each of the men has a particular skill; tunnellers, scroungers of supplies, document forgers, tailors, etc.  The ingenuity they use to perform this seemingly impossible series of operations is remarkable.  They begin building three tunnels (Tom, Dick and Harry) and accumulating their supplies.  There are setbacks and delays.  The first tunnel is discovered and one of the men despairs and is shot down rushing the fence in broad daylight.  Stress builds up and some of the men crack.  Finally, the escape is run and disaster occurs.  Seventy-six men get out of the camp and we follow them as they attempt the escape from Germany.  Some make it, some are caught and some are killed.

It is an amazing story.  Even if it were just fiction it would be entertaining.  But knowing it actually happened is mind-boggling.  And the movie is well done.  The plot and dialog are good and sometimes quite compelling.  The actors are sympathetic characters and even some of the Germans come across as interesting humans.

If you like war stories and especially if you like history this is a movie you might want to see.  Highly recommended.

The Twilight Zone Revisited

My hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Last July I posted a review of the Twilight Zone in which I stated unequivocally that all but a handful of the episodes are unwatchable.  Once again, the SyFy Channel featured a marathon of the episodes around the holidays and once again, I found myself watching way too many of them.  I recorded about fifteen of them on the cable box and proceeded to replay them almost obsessively over the last few weeks.  I did find a couple more that I had forgotten were pretty good and kept re-watching the few that I do enjoy.  But what became intolerable was having to deal with the commercials from the SyFy Channel each time I watched.  Even fast forwarding through became so painful I finally deleted all the episodes in disgust.

The one episode that I had forgotten I liked was “Two.”  Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery are soldiers from opposing armies that wander into a deserted city five years after a war has depopulated the world.  Surprisingly, the sparse dialog and minimal action work remarkably well and create a genuinely affecting moment.

Anyway, I buckled under the pressure.  I went on Amazon and bought the whole series on blu-ray, all one hundred and sixty odd, mostly awful shows.  I guess this proves I’m a hopeless addict to bad television.

It showed up tonight and I put on “To Serve Man.”  Oh well, at least there are no SyFy Channel commercials.  That’s one nightmare I won’t have to face again.  That’s at least an improvement.

“Mr. Chambers, don’t get on that ship!  “To Serve Man,” it’s a cookbook!”  Ahhhh, ain’t it grand!