Film / The Dirty Dozen

"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.
  • 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 by killing everyone, Wermacht officer and prostitute alike doesn't make them any better than the Nazis. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Follow the Leader: The film was successful enough to spawn a subgenre of World War II commando films (Where Eagles Dare, Kelly's Heroes) and even a TV series with a similar premise (Garrison's Gorillas).
  • 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.
  • Gentle Giant: For a guy on death row for punching a man's jaw through his brain, Posey is surprisingly nice.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • Misfit Mobilization Moment: When Colonel Breed tries to dry shave one of the Dozen.
  • Money, Dear Boy: Lee Marvin admitted that this was the only reason he did the film, he hated it because he had been a soldier during WWII and knew that real war was nothing like what the film portrayed.
  • Murderers Are Rapists: Maggott, allegedly. He admits to the murder but denies the rape.
  • Model Planning: The plan is largely with a model (and a Donald Duck figure).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.