Dirty Dozen, The (1967)

Dirty Dozen, The (1967)

“Look, they may not look pretty — but any one of mine is worth ten of yours.”

As punishment, an army major (Lee Marvin) during World War II is tasked by his superior (Ernest Borgnine) with the job of training and overseeing a dozen prisoners — including surly Franco (John Cassavetes), sociopathic Magott (Telly Savalas), simple-minded Pinkley (Donald Sutherland), African-American Jefferson (Jim Brown), and German-speaking Wladislaw (Charles Bronson) — to carry out a critical suicide mission at a Nazi-filled chateau in France.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Charles Bronson Films
  • Donald Sutherland Films
  • Ernest Borgnine Films
  • George Kennedy Films
  • John Cassavetes Films
  • Lee Marvin Films
  • Misfits
  • Nazis
  • Prisoners
  • Ralph Meeker Films
  • Richard Jaeckel Films
  • Robert Aldrich Films
  • Robert Ryan Films
  • Soldiers
  • Telly Savalas Films
  • World War Two

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “Robert Aldrich’s much-copied war film… was a box office smash despite the moviegoers’ growing aversion to the genre in light of Vietnam,” largely “because it managed to stage exciting, brutal war sequences while simultaneously celebrating misfits, putting down authority figures and the military, and showing war to be a madman’s game that can only be fought down and dirty.”

He describes it as a three-part film in which the first third has Marvin whipping “twelve murderers and rapists” “into shape and making them into a team by developing their mutual hatred for him”:

… the second third showing “Marvin proving to the other officers (Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Webber) that his unwashed ‘dirty dozen’ are a crack outfit,” and the final third comprised of “the mission itself.”

Peary points out that “the large doses of humor present in the earlier parts of the film are replaced by strong action and bloody killings,” with our side presented as shockingly vicious…


… as when the soldiers “pour grenades and petrol into an underground chamber where the German officers and their women are trapped and then set a fire that wipes them all out.”

Peary writes that the “film is solidly directed and has a strange appeal,” with perhaps “the oddest aspect… that these criminals are redeemed when they commit acts that are far more repugnant than the ones for which they were arrested.” Of special note is a stand-out performance by pugnacious Cassavetes, who earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination:

… and perfect casting of Savalas as a bigot you instantly know you can’t trust.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine direction and cinematography
  • Exciting action sequences

Must See?
Yes, as a classic of the genre.


  • Genuine Classic
  • Important Director


One thought on “Dirty Dozen, The (1967)

  1. Rewatch (7/6/22). A once-must, at least, for its place in cinema history. It’s likely to be the kind of film that fans of the genre would find themselves enjoying all over again after a considerable period of time.

    My understanding is that its studio was surprised by just how popular this film turned out to be. It is a bit surprising when you consider how long it takes the film to ‘get to the goods’ in the fulfillment of the DD’s mission.

    But the script is a clever, multi-layered concoction: recruitment, training, simulation all slowly adding to the tension that will pay off in the lengthy conclusion.

    Aldrich’s direction is terrific, it’s filmed and edited energetically and the ensemble acting is remarkable for a film of its type. (There were 2 very brief moments when, in his delivery of two specific lines, I had the passing feeling that Marvin’s character is supposed to be gay – macho-gay, doing an unnecessary parody of effeminacy, but gay nevertheless… and that’s not the kind of thing I normally seek out in a straight-acting character.)

    It’s a solid war film with a unique, decided difference.

Leave a Reply