‘The Dirty Dozen’: THR’s 1967 Review (2024)

On June 15, 1967, MGM unveiled the 149-minute World War II thriller The Dirty Dozen, featuring a template that would be echoed in action films for decades. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review of the film is below.

The Dirty Dozen, a Kenneth Hyman production for MGM, is the beneficiary of extensive advance publicity and excitement and has a strong, virile cast to deliver both the brutalizing violence and grotesque comedy which will make it one of MGM’s big money pictures of the year. It is overlong, uneven and frequently obscure, but will succeed by virtue of its sustained action, even though what it attempts to say, if anything, remains elusive. Robert Aldrich directed with his usual eye for arresting composition and the impact of individual episodes. The quality of the print reviewed suffered by having been blown up to 70mm in an apparent attempt to imbue first-run engagements with greater import.

Perhaps if the movie had not run two-and-a-half hours, there would have been less opportunity to confuse the purpose, which was apparently to make the point that war is Hell, directed by madmen. Frankly, the hours fly by, the action is well directed and the laughs are numerous. But relevant connective tissue between the episodes seems to be missing.

In the screenplay by Nunnally Johnson and Lukas Heller, adapted from the book by E.M. Nathanson, Lee Marvin plays a U.S. Army major, who has perhaps made no more infractions of the rules than his peers, but has the misfortune of having all of them listed as part of his record. Because of this, he is given the assignment of training 12 convicted, thoroughly undisciplined GIs, most of them awaiting execution, and leading them on a suicide mission to kill the German high command. Marvin protests that the plan is the conception of lunatics, a conclusion which seems to be silently shared by his liaison, Robert Webber, George Kennedy, Ralph Meeker and Ernest Borgnine.

The action progresses logically with Marvin devising means to bring the rebels together in shared hatred of him and achieving a measure of discipline and spirit. A complication, both to Marvin and the film, is that the secret training mission brings Marvin under the scrutiny of an old rival, Robert Ryan, a stuffy, by-the-books head of the parachute school. He assigns beefy sad*sts to attack the dozen in an attempt to learn the purpose of their mission. He attacks the compound with troops but is repelled by the dozen. His objections to Borgnine almost cancel the plan, which would mean immediate execution of the malcontented GIs.

The dozen redeem themselves by capturing Ryan’s command post through a series of extra-legal ploys during a massive war game. The sequence proves to be the high point of the film, reducing the action which follows.

The actual attack on the German hideout is immensely cluttered. It snafus on a predictable shoot-out between Telly Savalas, a religious Southern bigot and full-time madman, and Jim Brown, who plays a Negro sentenced to death for killing the “whitey” who attempted to mutilate him. There has not been time to adequately know the dozen by the time the climactic action begins. TriniLopez disappears, apparently the victim of offscreen death in a tree following his parachute drop. Since the whole sequence of the raid is contained in the changed rhyme, we are not familiar enough to follow all of the foul-ups in the plan.

The action is heady, but many will be offended that it includes an act by the U.S. team in which they pour grenades and gasoline through air vents on to officers and women trapped in a bomb shelter, incinerating them Buchenwald-style. Charles Bronson and Marvin survive the madness. Bronson’s last line, on learning that the dead dozen will be listed as having died honorably in action, is “killing generals could get to be a habit with me.” Is that line supposed to ring pacifistically? The only general we have met is Borgnine, who seems to be one of the most reasonable men of them all. Aside from the top brass who conceived the plan but are never seen, the worst excesses are committed by the lower hierarchy of the officers and by the dozen, with whom we are frequently encouraged to identify. What of Marvin’s implication? Or is the film simply a brutalizing savory for action lovers?

Marvin is excellent, particularly in the first half of the film. Borgnine excels primarily by telling glances in a deft performance not dependent on dialogue alone. Brown and Lopez play competently, while John Cassavetesscores in a comically arrogant role as the most outspoken of the convicts. Bronson, despite recurrently swallowed passages of dialogue, makes another strong impression. Richard Jaeckel, Clint Walker and Webber have command of their brief supporting roles, while Savalas languishes in the film’s most incredible role.

Sound recording by Franklin Milton and Claude Hitchco*ck is substandard; at least one of the players sounds as though he had been dubbed by another. Edward Scaife’s cinematography in Metrocolor and puffed 70mm appears to have accomplished some excellent night effects, but this is weakened in the grainy quality which resulted in the blow-up. W.E. Hutchinson’s settings are suitably authentic, while the remainder of technical credits, including Michael Luciano’s editing, are slick. The score by Frank De Vol is percussive and martial, amplifying the starkness which is curiously balanced with the outrageously comic throughout the film. — John Mahoney, originally published on June 16, 1967

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‘The Dirty Dozen’: THR’s 1967 Review (2024)


‘The Dirty Dozen’: THR’s 1967 Review? ›

There are some nice, amusing scenes, especially when one of the dozen (Donald Sutherland) pretends to be a general and inspects some troops. In fact, right up to the last scene the movie is amusing, well paced, intelligent. Everything just leads up to the really big party, however.

Is Dirty Dozen worth watching? ›

The Dirty Dozen is a classic, and it's great entertainment, though it's not generally considered a great movie.

How historically accurate is The Dirty Dozen? ›

Nevertheless, The Dirty Dozen is largely responsible for preserving the memory of the Filthy Thirteen. According to one of the unit's survivors, Jack Agnew, the movie was about 30% true and 70% fiction. “We weren't murderers or anything,” Agnew said in 2010.

Was Dirty Dozen nominated for an Oscar? ›

The film was a box office success and won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing at the 40th Academy Awards in 1968. In 2001, the American Film Institute placed it at number 65 on their 100 Years...

Why is The Dirty Dozen famous? ›

The Dirty Dozen, British-American war film, released in 1967, that caused controversy with its extreme violence but became one of the highest-grossing movies of the decade, noted for its taut action, dark humour, and stellar cast.

Is The Dirty Dozen bad? ›

A total of 209 pesticides were found on Dirty Dozen items. Across all 12 items, 95 percent of samples had pesticides. Over 90 percent of samples of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines and grapes tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides.

What popular singer appeared in the movie The Dirty Dozen? ›

Mexican-American singer Trini Lopez, who had a hit in 1963 with his version of If I Had A Hammer and played one of The Dirty Dozen, has died at 83.

Are any of the original Dirty Dozen still alive? ›

Donald Sutherland, the father of Kiefer Sutherland, is the only surviving cast member alive, the other cast members includes Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas, George Kennedy, and most recently, ex football star Jim Brown, have just passed away.

What village was The Dirty Dozen filmed in? ›

Wow, these photos from the filming of 'The Dirty Dozen' in 1966 are truly fascinating! It's amazing to see behind-the-scenes moments and iconic cast members like Charles Bronson and Telly Savalas. The village green in Aldbury and Pickford Road in Markyate provided such authentic settings.

How many of The Dirty Dozen survived in the movie? ›

In the movie 'The Dirty Dozen', which characters survived the entire movie? - Quora. In the movie "The Dirty Dozen", which characters survived the entire movie? Of the team who went on the mission, Lee Marvin (Major Reisman), Charles Bronson (Wladislaw) and Richard Jaeckel (Sergeant Bowren) made it back.

Who is the only actor to refuse an Oscar? ›

(NEXSTAR) – The Academy Award is generally regarded as one of the highest honors that an actor can receive — the keyword being “generally.” In the history of the Oscars, however, there have only been three people who refused their awards: actors George C. Scott and Marlon Brando, and screenwriter Dudley Nichols.

Who refused a 1970 Oscar? ›

Scott played George S. Patton in the film Patton (1970) and researched extensively for the role, studying films of the general and talking to those who knew him. Scott declined the Oscar nomination for Patton, just as he had done for his nomination in 1962 for The Hustler, but won the award anyway.

Is The Dirty Dozen historically accurate? ›

While “The Dirty Dozen” was supposed to be pure fiction, Barbara Maloney, Agnew's daughter, told American Valor Quarterly that her father felt 30 percent of the film was historically accurate, including the scene in which the officers are captured. The 1968 film “The Devil's Brigade” is even more true to life.

What was wrong with maggot in The Dirty Dozen? ›

Maggott (portrayed by Telly Savalas) was a member of the Dirty Dozen team. Maggott considers himself a very religious man, using his religious beliefs to justify his racism and hatred (including rape) of women under the guise of wanting to rid the world of sinners and punish those who had acted against the ways of God.

Is The Dirty Dozen a good movie? ›

The Dirty Dozen, 1967 is an excellent War motion picture directed by late Robert Aldrich... based on a novel, with the same name, by late Erwin Nathanson...with good castings, says Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson as well as Donald Sutherland... full of fun during the Wargames scripts and a tragic ending...

Is The Dirty Dozen list accurate? ›

Since 1995, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) annually releases its “Dirty Dozen” list which inaccurately disparages the safety of popular, more affordable and accessible fruits and vegetables. A peer reviewed study published in the Journal of Toxicology examined EWG's list and their methodology.

Is The Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 real? ›

Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzes the most recent USDA data to compile its infamous Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists. These list the types of fruits and vegetables that tend to be grown with the most and least pesticides, based on the latest available numbers.

Is The Dirty Dozen based on science? ›

The Science

The “Dirty Dozen” list is based on publicly available data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA leads the Pesticide Data Program (PDP), a national initiative that samples food products and compiles information on pesticide residue levels.

What was the difference between the Filthy 13 and The Dirty Dozen? ›

Unlike the Dirty Dozen, the Filthy Thirteen were not convicts; however, they were men prone to drinking and fighting and often spent time in the stockade.

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