"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, 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:
Actor Allusion: Jim Brown, an absurdly good, multiple record setting NFL Running back, has a scene where he outruns explosions in an extended take. Clearly, the guy's pretty good at running.
Anyone Can Die: And sadly, most of them do. Only Reisman, Wladislaw and Sgt. Bowren survive the assault.
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.
They aren't necessarily gleeful. General Worden (Borgnine) looks obviously pleased the dozen pulled off the mission and glad Reisman made it back alive. The other general, Denton, looks rather uncomfortable given he's having to praise Reisman when earlier in the movie he told Reisman he pretty much detested him as an insubordinate loser.
Creator Backlash: Despite being one of his biggest hits star Lee Marvin reportedly wasn't happy with the final product, which he described as a "dumb moneymaker" that didn't properly capture how this situation would have really played out in the actual war - and he would know being a World War II veteran himself. Marvin even went so far as to compare this film, rather unfavorably, to his later WWII epic The Big Red One which he said was a much more accurate depiction of WWII.
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.
Averted with Pinkley. He's approached by a German guard to light his cigarette with other members of the Dozen watching in fear. Fortunately Pinkley knows how to say "You're welcome".
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.
Karma Houdini: Colonel Breed bullied 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 brig 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. Though he gets a little payback when the Dozen capture his wargame HQ right out from under him...
It's implied - especially given the treatment they give Reisman - that the upper chain of command is corrupt, self-serving, or elitist. There's a good reason why Wladislaw's wish to kill more Generals seems appealing...
How 'bout the the final German soldier who kills Franco? He doesn't get killed.
Killed Off Screen: Gilpin tosses a grenade into the vent below the antennae on the chateau's roof and therefore sacrifices himself because his foot is stuck in a hole in the roof. Also, 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.
Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Maggott was on Death Row for raping and killing women. 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.
In a possible subversion, Maggott flat out denied that he had raped any of the women that he had killed, despite being convicted for it (Note that he didn't deny killing them).
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.
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.
Those Two Guys: Briefly, Colonel Breed's two officers that give a savage beating to Wladislaw for information about Reisman's scheme, in the latrine before getting pummeled by Jefferson and Posey. Wladislaw later gets to seek his revenge when Colonel Breed visits the Dozen's camp.
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."
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.
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.