The Dirty Dozen (1967)

A seminal “Sunday Afternoon Movie”, especially for Dads. First things first: THAT GODDAMN CAST. Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker, John Cassavetes, good lord. That’s what you call a star-studded ensemble. As great as everyone is, Cassavetes gets MVP for his firey wild-card performance as the unhinged Franko. He even got an Oscar nomination for the role and no doubt a big paycheck to fund his own extraordinary filmmaking endeavours for the next few years.

The Dirty Dozen takes its sweet time to get going and the opening hour or so can be a bit of a slog. I know Suicide Squad is generally regarded as The Dirty Dozen of comic books but it also totally ripped off this film’s structure, as well as its concept, with the plodding introductions to every main character. I get the thought behind it – with such a big cast we need to get to know them – but I can’t help but think there would be a far more elegant and less-repetitive way of getting that information across. It doesn’t work here in 1967 so why the fuck did David Ayer think it would work in 2016? You could easily shave a good 20 minutes off the runtime by making that opening stretch leaner and meaner, just how Lee Marvin would like it. Shame.

That being said, the cast really do carry the whole movie and keep the two and a half hour run time tolerable as they get into various escapades. Aldrich’s muscular, no-fuss direction is solid but I really wish he shot it in anamorphic. It’d be much better for composing his twelve scoundrels in one glorious frame, no? Theres’s a reason Soderbergh shot all his Ocean’s movies wide.

I don’t feel like The Dirty Dozen has aged as well as other movies of this ilk – The Great EscapeThe Magnificent Seven – but it does have an undeniable cruel edge that sets it apart from those films. By the end when your (anti) heroes have trapped a bunch of German troops along with women in ball-gowns in a bunker and they gleefully begin pouring gasoline and explosives down on them, there’s definitely a moment of “fuck, this is tough”. I appreciate that kind of ugliness, especially in a tight-fisted war movie. It also ends how any movie like this should: with a big fucking explosion. Definitely solid and should be acknowledged for inspiring a lot of great movies in its wake, just a lot of them did it better.

Watched on blu-ray

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