Made at the tail end of the sixties, The Dirty Dozen was among the first war movies to mix the feel of the growing counterculture in amongst its action set pieces. Directed with characteristic terse grit by famed hard-man, Robert Aldrich (Ulzana’s Raid, The Longest Yard), this bruising classic has one of the greatest of all war movie and guys-on-a-mission-flick premises: a hard bitten major (Lee Marvin at his taciturn best) puts together a crew of military prisoners (a mix of rapists, thugs, criminals, oddballs, and the unjustly imprisoned) for a suicide mission against the Nazis in WW2. Played by a posse of iconic character actors and action heroes – including John Cassavetes, Donald Sutherland, Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas, Jim Brown, and Clint Walker – this team remains utterly unforgettable in their cruel swagger. They provide the punch for The Dirty Dozen, and the resultant film is tough, imaginative, inventively violent, and often very, very funny.
The Dirty Dozen is also a behind-the-scenes movie trivia buff’s dream, and comes busting-at-the-seams with facts and anecdotes: Hollywood legend, John Wayne, was initially offered the lead role; there was abundant tension on the set, mainly caused by John Cassavetes’ unpredictability and Lee Marvin’s boozing; director, Robert Aldrich, beefed up pro-footballer-turned-actor, Jim Brown’s scenes, principally because he was such a big fan of his on-field brilliance; Frank Sinatra convinced singer-actor, Trini Lopez, to walk off the film because its delays would ruin his career; and, most famously, one-time US Marine, Lee Marvin, hated the movie, which he only made for the money and said was nothing like actual war, much preferring his films, Hell In The Pacific (1968) and The Big Red One (1980), both of which reflected the actor’s strong anti-war feelings. “I studied violin when I was very young,” Marvin once said to a reporter. “You think I’m a dummy, right? I’m only in dummies. The Dirty Dozen was a dummy money-maker, and baby, if you want a money-maker, get a dummy.”
Regardless of what the late, great Lee Marvin might think, The Dirty Dozen is no dummy: it’s tough, muscular filmmaking of the first order.