Film / The Dirty Dozen

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"I reckon the folks'd be a sight happier if I died like a soldier. Can't say I would."
Samson Posey

Before the Basterds, and before the Expendables, there were the Dozen.

The Dirty Dozen was released in 1967, and starred, among many others, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, and Donald Sutherland. Set in 1944, it follows the tale of Major Reisman (Marvin), a rebel in a uniform. He's given the task by his superiors to take twelve enlisted men convicted of capital offenses, and train them for an important mission. Their mission, whether they choose to accept it or not, is to parachute behind enemy lines and infiltrate a mountain retreat for senior Wehrmacht officers on the eve of D-Day. There, they will kill those present, even if the act of doing so costs them their lives.

Three sequels were made in the eighties.

Definitely cannot be confused with The Dozens, which is the game of put-downs where Your Mom jokes come from.


This work features examples of:

  • Anyone Can Die: And sadly, most of them do. Only Reisman, Wladislaw and Sgt. Bowren survive the assault.
  • Appropriated Appellation: Sergeant Bowren nicknames the twelve convicts 'the dirty dozen' after they refuse to bathe or shave as a protest regarding their poor living conditions. The name sticks.
  • Army of Thieves and Whores: The dozen are all men who have been sentenced to death or long periods of hard labor by a military tribunal for charges varying from murder, rape, and desertion.
  • Artistic License – Military: Colonel Breed bullies his way onto a restricted military base he was not authorized to be in, in an effort to coerce members of a team training for a classified operation he was not cleared for to disclose their mission. This makes him a security risk at best and a spy at worst. By rights his actions at the camp would have had him sitting out the war games the following week in the stockade awaiting an interrogation by intelligence and possibly a court-martial. Instead, he is still in command of his unit, which is holding an important post in the war games, without any evidence that he was punished for his actions at all.
    • The entire premise of the film is this. Per former officer Dale Dye on the DVD commentary: The military would indeed occasionally spring soldiers out of the brig if some were needed for a mission, as the brig was for relatively minor infractions like going AWOL, failing too many inspections, or back-talking a superior officer. However, they would never spring anyone out of an actual prison, to say nothing of Death Row; prisoners being held there have proven their inability to exist within the constraints of society, let alone an important military operation.
  • Ax-Crazy: Maggott. He tortures and kills a woman in the chateau for his own personal amusement and then fires at his own teammates, alerting the Germans to what's going on and basically ruining the entire plan. The Squad has to kill him first, and then improvise a way to salvage the operation.
  • Berserk Button: Don't push Posey. He killed a man who pushed him by hitting him hard enough that his jawbone pierced his brain.
  • Black and Grey Morality: The bad guys are clearly Those Wacky Nazis. But the Dirty Dozen are mostly made up of sociopaths like Maggott and Franko, and what they do when they assault the chateau - killing everyone, Wermacht officer and prostitute alike - aren't the action of traditional "good guys". Worse, the Allied officers who planned and signed off on the mission are so gleeful about the mission's success that Wladislaw's open desire at movie's end to kill himself some more Generals sounds justifiable.
  • Boxed Crook: If they don't like their new mission, there's always a nice warm noose or labor gang waiting for them back at the prison. And if any one of them tries to run, they all get sent back.
  • By Wall Is That Holey: Reversed in a shot when the inmates, while building a barracks cabin, raise a wall around Major Reisman.
  • Characters Dropping Like Flies: Only one of the dozen survives the mission.
  • Chromosome Casting: As befitting the military setting, the major characters are all male. None of the female characters are named, and the most important of them (Whose primary purpose is to set off Maggott's psychotic misogyny and be murdered for being in the wrong place at the wrong time) is on-screen for less than five minutes.
  • Combat Pragmatist: When asked to prove their worth in a war games simulation, the dozen stage an accident and sneak into the enemy headquarters while wearing the opposing teams' armband color. Later, during the actual mission, they herd the German officers into the cellar, pour gasoline on them, and drop grenades down the vents.
  • Cool Guns: The Dozen use M3 submachine guns. Major Reisman even has his magazines taped together jungle style.
  • Crime of Self-Defense: The black soldier Robert Jeffersen was sentenced to death row by military tribunal for killing two white racists who tried to castrate him.
  • Cunning Linguist: One of the reasons that Joeseph Wladislaw (Charles Bronson) was picked for the squad was that he knew some German. He couldn't understand a word of what a couple soldiers he passed said, so it's clear Wladislaw isn't fluent. He did know at least enough to get by, though.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: "Everbody's slipping on the soap..."
  • Deadpan Snarker: Franko. Reisman has his moments, and Pinkley has a very funny one.
  • Dead Man's Trigger Finger: Happens by implication. Briefly, in a wide shot, you can see Posey - who is manning the heavy machine gun - jerk back as if he has been hit by the Nazi gunfire, then we cut to a shot of a German motorcycle being hit as if the machine gun went off as Posey slumped over, dead.
  • Dirty Coward: Franko. Justified in that he's smart enough to know the Dozen are getting sent on a Suicide Mission, and he doesn't want to die for nobody.
  • Downer Beginning: The film starts with a hanging scene. An American GI is being hanged in a British military prison for robbery and murder.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Reisman, Wladislaw, and Pinkley in the Nazi chateau.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Although this one is a major (Reisman). The drill sergeant under his command — Bowren — is more Reisman's aide de camp to be nasty enough.
  • Dwindling Party: The first death happens right when they land with the parachutes, the last while leaving the scene. The others somewhere in between.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Jiminez (Trini Lopez) is trying to scale a rope onto a platform suspended about a hundred feet into the air. As Reisman and some of the men are talking about how it will be Jiminez's assignment to scale the actual Nazi chateau, Reisman casually remarks, "Say Jiminez gets killed before he can reach the top of the chateau?" Jiminez gets killed BEFORE the Dozen even reach the chateau by accidentally parachuting into an apple tree and getting his neck snagged on a branch.
    • The Dozen's last meal before the mission is reminiscent of The Last Supper. Also, the person sitting in the Judas Iscariot place is the one who betrays the group.
  • Genre Shift: The tone changes dramatically once the team actually starts their mission. The first act could almost be considered a comedy. The second... not so much.
  • Gentle Giant: For a guy on death row for punching a man's jaw through his brain, Posey is surprisingly nice.
  • Got Volunteered: All of the Dozen were hauled out of prison where they were awaiting execution.
  • Holier Than Thou: Maggott tries to justify his murder and alleged rape of women through his special interpretation of Holy Scripture. He's still the most evil character in the entire movie. And in a movie of Nazis vs. criminals, that's really saying something.
  • The Immodest Orgasm: Disturbingly inverted. Maggot is surprised infiltrating the chateau by the lady friend of one of the German officers. She tries to seduce him, but unfortunately for her, Maggot is the resident crazy misogynist of the bunch. She screams, he stabs her slowly, every German soldier in the house hears... but they all assume someone's having fun and laugh about it.
  • Incessant Chorus: The brass band in the inspection scene, who happily burst into their piece whenever the impatient colonel comes out of his office, to his increasing annoyance.
  • Introdump: The opening credits has a roll call of all the "Dozen" as they stand before Major Reissman. Sgt. Bowren reads each members name and his prison sentence while his face is in closeup.
  • Killed Offscreen: Posey's death is not shown onscreen, although he is presumably shot whilst manning the machine gun. Only Bravos, who is firing alongside Posey, is shown dying in the ensuing carnage scenes. Briefly, in a wide shot, you can see Posey jerk back as if he has been hit by the Nazi gunfire, then we cut to a shot of a German motorcycle being hit as if the machine gun went off as Posey slumped over, dead, and what follows is the shot of Bravos dying.
  • Kill 'em All: Of the original Dozen, only Wladislaw survives to get his pardon.
  • "Last Supper" Steal: Early on the team gets a scene greatly resembling Da Vinci's The Last Supper, with Maggott sitting in the same position as Judas.
  • Leave No Survivors: The aim of the mission is to kill every German in sight.
  • Letterbox Arson: The Dozen kill the Nazi bigwigs at the chateau by pouring fuel down the ventilator shaft into the bunker and then igniting it with grenades.
  • Locked in a Freezer: When Reisman's men start their attack, the Nazi officers and civilians retreat to a basement bomb shelter. Too bad for them that the Americans dump gasoline and dozens of grenades down the air vents, the outer gates don't unlock from the inside, and there's a whopping great stockpile of ammonium picrate down there as well.
  • Looks Like She Is Enjoying It: Maggot points his knife at a terrified woman and tells her "scream." When she does, the Nazi officers in the lounge have a good laugh about how much she is enjoying the moment.
  • Loophole Abuse: The dozen "cheat" at a war game by switching their armbands to the enemy side's. When another soldier points out that it's against the rules, Jefferson simply replies "We're traitors".
  • Loves the Sound of Screaming: Maggot demands a woman do this before he knifes her, nearly warning their targets.
  • Majorly Awesome: Reisman provies the page image.
  • Meaningful Name: Turns out the soldier by the name of "Maggott" is the biggest threat and liability to his team's mission.
  • Military Maverick: Reisman. All of the Dozen are actually mavericks (or much worse) but they definitely face consequences for it.
  • Misfit Mobilization Moment: When Colonel Breed tries to dry shave Franko.
  • Mission Briefing: The model house rehearsal is probably one of the oldest examples. Of course, because we hear it step by step, it doesn't go exactly as planned.
  • Model Planning: The plan is largely with a model (and a Donald Duck figure).
  • Murderers Are Rapists: Maggott, allegedly. He admits to the murder but denies the rape.
  • The Niedermeyer: Wladislaw is in prison awaiting execution for shooting his commanding officer, who, according to Wladislaw, was absconding over the hill with all of his unit's medical supplies.
  • N-Word Privileges: Maggott tries dropping the N-Word and Jefferson makes sure Maggott learns he doesn't have the privilege to do so.
  • The Notable Numeral: One of the most notable examples.
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: The film has been criticized for depicting war crimes: in one scene, Reisman orders that a group of surrendered German soldiers be summarily executed. A later scene in which a group of German officers and their wives/mistresses are killed in a basement has also been cited as an example, though in the context of the mission the killing of the women would more likely be classified as collateral damage.
  • Outranking Your Job: Major Reisman leads twelve convicts and a sergeant on the film's climactic raid.
  • Parachute in a Tree: Jiminez breaks his neck this way during a drop in France. (Caused by Creative Differences between the actor and director, from all accounts.)
  • The Pardon: The motive to do it.
  • Psycho Party Member: Maggot is a Type II. He's clearly off-balance from the start, spouting off racist comments like nobody's business, but he really becomes a problem at the climax where he nearly foils the mission by stabbing a woman to death at the party... for no reason.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Trope Codifier. The team sent in to blow up the Nazi R&R chateau is made up entirely of men facing either execution or life sentences in military prisons. Except for Magotnote , though, most of them are implied to be not-such-bad guys who simply were pushed too far, or never should have been allowed in the military at all.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Maggott was on Death Row for raping and killing women (though he personally denies the rape charges). Once the Dirty Dozen assault the chateau, Maggott sabotages the entire mission when he kills a prostitute and fires on his teammates when they try to stop him.
  • Reality Ensues: Major Reisman is tasked with turning a group of crazy, disobedient military prisoners into an elite fighting unit. This works during a training exercise but when they try it in real life things quickly start falling apart. The biggest setback is caused by Maggot going Ax-Crazy - what did they expect?
  • Retirony: One of the guards manning the checkpoint outside the chateau mentions that he's going on leave in another week or so. He and the person he's talking to are the first people to die.
  • Screaming Woman: Fortunately it's mistaken for The Immodest Orgasm. Until someone starts shooting.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying!: The Nazi chateau is filled with ranking Nazis and their mistresses, enjoying a decadent party amidst the hell of World War II.
  • Sexophone: Heard when Reisman has a truckload of London hookers brought to the camp for the Dozen. It's implied this is the reason Reisman put Maggot on guard tower duty that particular night.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Franko. There's also Maggott, who's just a sociopath.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Maggot is perhaps one of the better pre-Vietnam examples in film. He's a fundamentalist, misogynistic rapist and killer of women who turns on his own team when he can't control his urges during the mission.
  • So Much for Stealth: During the mission, insane serial killer Maggot goes off mission and kills a prostitute with his knife. Fortunately her dying scream is mistaken for The Immodest Orgasm by the Nazi officers partying below. When Maggot starts shooting however...
  • Soul Survivor: Wladislaw is the only one of the dozen to survive the mission.
  • Southern-Fried Private: Pinkley. There's also Maggot, but he's a genuine full-blown psychopath, not just an ignorant, insular hick.
  • Spill Stain Sabotage: Wladislaw spills a bottle of ink over the guestbook rather than sign a name.
  • Straw Misogynist: Maggott is basically a serial killer who targets women of loose morals (in his view).
  • Stupid Evil: The dozen are proceeding with the infiltration of the German-occupied chateau in France, staffed by dozens of soldiers and generals and more reinforcements waiting nearby. Maggot, the most murderous member of the group, purposely sabotages the mission to take the opportunity to kill a German woman and tries to kill the rest of his team. He even urges the woman to scream in fear, alerting the Germans to his presence.
  • Suicide Mission: Only three members of the team survive the assault on the chateau.
  • Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder: This is what the Dozen are as far as the brass is concerned. If they succeed, they have struck a significant blow against the Nazis. If they fail, they have saved the army the cost of an execution.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Wladislaw. He was an officer on the front lines who shot a soldier for cravenly abandoning his post and running away from the battle. Reisman has no objection to Wladislaw's actions, but remarks that he should have done the deed when no one could see him do it.
  • Tempting Fate: Franko. As the remaining Dozen are getting away, he starts crowing that he's gonna survive after all... just as a German soldier crawls out of the woodwork and opens fire on the truck, killing him.
  • Title Drop: The prisoner-soldiers refuse to shave with cold water, so Major Reissman orders the MPs to stop issuing shaving kit and soap. One of the MPs says, "So now if you... you Dirty Dozen have no objections, we will get our equipment, and we will start in right now."
  • Token Evil Teammate:
    • Archer Maggott is a bigoted, psychotic, woman-hating, murdering rapist, and Major Reisman knows it. But given that Maggott is also a trained G.I., and the operation needs all the help it can get, Reisman retains his services. Maggott doesn't mind volunteering for the mission once he realizes it could save him from the hangman. Ultimately he goes completely insane, attempts to kill his teammates, and almost sabotages the entire operation, but for a while at least he was a warm body with a machine gun.
    • Victor Franko is a member of the Mafia (and a convicted murderer), has no respect for authority, and makes several attempts to escape and/or undermine Reisman's authority. He got better, though.
  • Token Good Teammate:
    • Wladislaw. Jefferson and Posey are relatively good guys as well. Jefferson's "crime" was most likely self-defense, and he was only sent to death row because of his race, while the man Posey killed was probably a bully who had it coming.
    • Most of the rest really aren't that bad either. Of the death row inmates, only Franko and Maggott genuinely deserve to be hanged.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Shows up as the Dozen go over their infiltration plan multiple times, including a mnemonic for memorizing all 16 steps. Of course, the plan starts breaking down almost immediately but they have enough redundancy to compensate. When halfway through the mission things really go wrong, the plan falls apart and they have to improvise the rest of the way.
  • Use Your Head: Justified. When you're wearing a steel helmet and your opponent isn't, headbutts and blocking punches with your forehead suddenly become beautifully viable.
  • Word Association Test: Played with. Wladislaw's responses are all about baseball.
  • You All Meet in a Cell: The dozen are all in prison for various crimes. That's why they are picked for the suicide mission, since it's their only hope to avoid a long prison term or death sentence. They don't meet each other there, but we are introduced to them there, as the commander offers each one the mission.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/TheDirtyDozen