One of the smash hits of its year, this action-packed archetypal bloke-flick is violent and amoral and a magnificent adventure that stirs the blood and warms the heart.
Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin) is given the task of recruiting 12 death-row military inmates and turning the unruly bunch of convicted murderers, rapists and street punks into a highly trained fighting machine to parachute into certain death on a suicide mission – designated “Project Amnesty” – behind Nazi lines.
There are no complicated motives, no layers of intrigue – just the need to lay a righteous beating at the enemy’s heart.
The ‘dirty dozen’ includes a sex pervert (Telly Savalas), a psycho (John Cassavetes) and a mentally-challenged killer (Donald Sutherland).
Reisman initially uses the group to best the troops of his by-the-book superior officer, Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan), in war games.
They then lead a perilous assault on a well-guarded French chateau – used for conferences and recreation by German officers – and kill the Nazis vacationing there, becoming somewhat dubious heroes.
The violence is, in fact, mild by today’s standards, but it nevertheless leaves a nasty taste in the mouth and the movie rightly earned its original X certificate.
Some films show the absurdity of war, others satirise its insanity, but Robert Aldrich’s all-star caper just uses it as an adventure playground . . . Dem doity Nazi’s don’t stand a chance!
The irony is that these criminals redeem themselves by committing acts which are more barbaric than the ones they were condemned for – because anything is acceptable in war.
Major John Reisman
Maj Max Armbruster
Capt Stuart Kinder
Col Everett Dasher Breed