Can't Beat the Classics
Recently, after being inspired by watching several reruns of the 1970's television cop drama Kojak, I wrote an article about the show and its baldheaded star, actor Telly Savalas. The response was favorable; people generally liked Savalas as the tough talking Theo Kojak. A couple of comments left on the article mentioned the movie "The Dirty Dozen" as being the commenter's first exposure to Savalas. Although I had heard of the movie, I couldn't quite remember it and so I decided I would watch it the next time it was on television.
This past week, I was fortunate to catch a repeat of The Dirty Dozen on the local classic movie channel. Wow, this action-packed drama kept my interest from beginning to end. This World War II action adventure premiered in 1967. It is about 12 soldiers, all convicts in a military prison either sentenced to death or to years of hard labor, who are given the choice to either serve out their sentences or join a select group on a dangerous mission to invade a Nazi occupied compound in France. This top secret mission is led by Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin) who entices the convicts to join this select group with a guarantee that, should they prevail, they will be set free. The movie was nominated for four Academy Awards and the American Film Institute ranked it 65 in their "100 Years... 100 Thrills list."
This Metro Golden Mayer classic begins with a military hearse arriving at the Marston – Tyne Military Prison. The audience is visually transported into the dark and cold reality of a military prison execution. The prisoner is helplessly pleading for his life, saying; "I didn't mean it! I'm sorry!" while the Military Chaplin is reading the last rights and other military personnel, including Major Reisman, silently witness the gruesome event.
Major Reisman is summoned to a meeting with high ranking military personnel, including Major General Sam Worden (played by Ernest Borgnine) who believes "a soldier's job is to wear his uniform and kill the enemy." Reisman is ordered to carryout "Project Amnesty," a mission requiring him to select twelve general prisoners "convicted and sentenced to death or long terms of imprisonment for murder, rape, robbery, and other crimes of violence," train and secretly deliver them into a European chateau occupied by high ranking Nazi officials who stay there as a place to rest and attend conferences. These generals also enjoy the benefit of female companionship there. The members of the special force are to drop into the chateau by parachute, enter the fortified and heavily guarded building and kill as many senior officials as possible.
Aware that he has no choice, Major Reisman reluctantly agrees to the assignment with one caveat, they must offer the prisoners freedom at the end of the mission. Although the original plan was "temporary amnesty" with the idea being the prisoners would return to serve out their sentences after the mission, after Major Reisman points out the prisoners would have no incentive to participate without an offer for their freedom, Major General Worden agrees to the deal.
The Dirty Dozen
Major Reisman meets his team of twelve in a lineup as another officer reads out their names and sentences:
Major Reisman meets with his team, an eclectic cast of convicts, and gives it to them straight: "You've all volunteered for a mission which gives you just three ways to go. You can either foul-up in training and be shipped back here for immediate execution of sentence or you can foul-up in combat, in which case I will personally blow your brains out. Or you can do as you're told in which case you might just get by." In addition, Reisman informs his team of misfits that if any one of them tries to escape, they will all be shipped back to prison for immediate execution of sentence. "Anyone of you try anything smart and the twelve of you get it right in the head . . . so try to remember that."
Initially, the group of twelve are not a unified bunch, some want to try to escape while the others believe it is better to carry out the mission. However, after weeks of training and working together, they finally band together in a protest over having to shave using cold water. When Major Reisman hears about the mutiny he informs the group they would no longer be given any soap or shaving equipment, saying "So you want to stink . . . well that’s okay with me because I don’t have to smell you." After this an MP labels the group as "The Dirty Dozen."
The movie theater trailer captures the attention and imagination of the audience with this description;
"Major Reisman, you are ordered by Allied command to select 12 general prisoners, convicted by courts-martial and sentenced to be executed or serve lengthy prison terms for murder, rape, robbery, and other crimes of violence and you will deliver them secretly behind enemy lines in France to undertake a mission of sabotage that could change the course of the war. The 12 men will be known as 'The Dirty Dozen.'
"Lee Marvin as Major John Reisman; 'There's a little of Major Reisman in every man,' says Marvin, 'tough and unyielding, yet compassionate. I think it's the best role I've ever been asked to play.’
"Ernest Borgnine as General Worden; 'I'm tired of seeing generals portrayed as deskbound pen pushers,' says Borgnine, 'so I played Worden as a rough professional soldier.'
"Robert Ryan as Colonel Everett Dasher Breed; 'There were officers like Breed,' says Ryan, 'who could never suffer the rules broken or even bent a little.'
"Jimmy Brown as Napoleon Jefferson; 'Jefferson is any man fighting for recognition against the odds,' says Brown, 'I think I understand him pretty well.'
"John Cassavetes as Victor Franko. Says Cassavetes; 'Franko is a petty hoodlum forced to heroism by circumstances beyond his control.'
"Trini Lopez as Jiminez, he's crawling with hate.
"Charles Bronson as Wladislaw, the last guy in the world you'd expect to be a hero.
"Telly Savalas as Archer Maggott; 'Maggot is a maniac, ' says Savalas, 'his religious fanaticism can never be moderated or quailed, it is a constant danger.'
"Clint Walker as Samson Posey, an Indian with war paint smeared on his soul.
"Train them, excite them, arm them, and turn them loose on the Nazi high command.
"The Dirty Dozen."
Watch The Dirty Dozen Movie Trailer
So, did the Dirty Dozen accomplish their mission? You must watch this action packed movie to find out!
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