Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Dirty Dozen

When reviewing war films, Roger Ebert often likes to quote Francois Truffaut as a segue into his critique by saying, "it's not possible to make an anti-war film because all war movies end up making war seem like fun." I've never really understood this quote because all the war movies that I consider great, such as The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, and Apocalypse Now depict war as harrowing and nothing even close to resembling fun. However, after watching The Dirty Dozen I think I understand what kinds of films Mr. Truffaut and Mr. Ebert were referring to. This film is a hight concept film and essentially just a rollicking good time. Lee Marvin stars in a fine performance as a tough as nails (what else?)  major with a spotty service record who is assigned to a top secret mission: take 12 soldiers from a U.S. army prison, all who have committed serious crimes, some who have death sentences, and break into a heavily guarded French chateau used by German officers as a respite spot, killing as many as possible. The men are all a ragtag group who aren't as bad as purported and eventually and expectedly start to work together and make a formidable force. For 1967, The Dirty Dozen is a pretty tough film that moves at a nice pace. The cast is a virtual who's who of tough guys including Marvin, Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes (great as a psychopath in Academy Award nominated performance), George Kennedy, Donald Sutherland, and Ernest Borgnine. There is a plodding and unnecessary segment in the middle where the dozen plays war games against a rival officer's squad to show their worth that could have been left out, but the opening recruiting segment, the training sequence, and especially the daring raid at the end are spectacular. The Dirty Dozen is an exciting war film that provides evidence supporting Truffaut's assertion.