The Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Dozen
Original poster by Frank McCarthy
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Produced by Kenneth Hyman
Written by Nunnally Johnson
Lukas Heller
Based on The Dirty Dozen 
by E. M. Nathanson
Starring Lee Marvin
Ernest Borgnine
Charles Bronson
Jim Brown
John Cassavetes
Richard Jaeckel
George Kennedy
Trini Lopez
Ralph Meeker
Robert Ryan
Telly Savalas
Donald Sutherland
Robert Webber
Clint Walker
Music by Frank De Vol
Cinematography Edward Scaife
Edited by Michael Luciano
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • June 15, 1967 (1967-06-15)
Running time
150 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5.4 million[1]
Box office $45.3 million[2]

The Dirty Dozen is a 1967 war film directed by Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, Robert Webber, and Donald Sutherland. The film is based on E. M. Nathanson's novel of the same name that was inspired by a real-life group called the "Filthy Thirteen". In 2001, the American Film Institute placed the film at number 65 on their 100 Years... 100 Thrills list.


  • Plot 1
    • Act one – identification and "recruiting" the prisoners 1.1
    • Act two – training 1.2
    • Act three – the mission 1.3
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
    • Casting 3.1
  • Reception and criticism 4
  • Awards 5
  • Box office performance 6
  • Basis in fact 7
  • Sequels and adaptations 8
  • Differences from novel 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


In George Kennedy).

Major Reisman is assigned an unusual and top-secret preinvasion mission: gather a small band of the Army's worst ex-soldier convicts (some awaiting execution) and turn them into commandos to be sent on a suicide mission, an airborne infiltration and assault on a château near Rennes in Brittany. The chateau will be hosting a meeting of dozens of high-ranking German officers, the elimination of which will presumably hamper the German military's ability to respond to D-Day. Those felons who survive the mission will have their sentences commuted and returned to active duty. However, Reisman repeatedly tells the men that few of them will be coming back home.

Reisman is assigned 12 convicts (the dirty dozen), all either serving lengthy sentences or awaiting execution. Notable members include slow-witted Vernon Pinkley (Donald Sutherland); Robert Jefferson (Jim Brown), an African American soldier convicted of killing a man in self defense; Samson Posey (Clint Walker), a gentle giant who becomes enraged when pushed; Joseph Wladislaw (Charles Bronson) a taciturn coal miner recruited for his ability to speak German, convicted of shooting his squad's medic; A.J. Maggot (Telly Savalas), a misogynist, religious fanatic, and probably insane; and Victor Franko (John Cassavetes), a former member of the Chicago organized-crime syndicate who has extreme problems with authority.

Under the supervision of Reisman and military police, Sergeant Bowren (Richard Jaeckel), the group begins training. After being forced to construct their own living quarters, the 12 individuals are trained in combat by Reisman and gradually learn how to operate as a group. For parachute training, they are sent to the base operated by Colonel Breed. Under strict orders to keep their mission secret, Reisman's men run afoul of Breed and his troops, especially after Pinkley poses as a general and inspects Breed's troops. Angered at the usurpation of his authority, Breed attempts to discover Reisman's mission and then attempts to get the program shut down by having two of his men jump Wladislaw in the latrine, but they are both knocked out by Posey and Jefferson. The 12 men think Reisman sent them until Breed and his men investigate the camp and recognize the two men from the latrine. Major Armbruster suggests a test of whether Reisman's men are ready: during practice maneuvers in which Breed will be taking part, the "Dirty Dozen" will attempt to capture the Colonel's headquarters. During the maneuvers, the men use various unorthodox tactics, including theft, impersonation and rule-breaking, to infiltrate Breed's headquarters and hold his men and him at gunpoint. This proves to the general that Reisman's men can be used for the mission and that the operation is a go.

The night of the raid, the men are flown to France, and practice a rhyme they have learned which details their roles in the operation. A slight snag occurs, when upon landing in a tree, one of the dozen, Jiminez (Trini Lopez), breaks his neck and dies, but as trained, the others proceed with the mission. Wladislaw and Reisman infiltrate the meeting disguised as German officers, while Jefferson and Maggott sneak onto the top floor of the building. The others set up in various locations around the chateau.

The plan falls apart when Maggott sees one of the women who had accompanied the officers, abducts her at knifepoint, and orders her to scream. The German officers downstairs ignore her, thinking she is just having sex. Maggott stabs her and begins shooting wildly at enemy and ally alike, alerting the German officers. Jefferson kills Maggott because he has compromised the mission and evidently gone insane.

As the officers and their companions retreat to an underground bomb shelter, a general firefight ensues between the dozen and the German guards. As planned, Wladislaw and Reisman lock the Germans in the bomb shelter, then the dozen pry open the ventilation ducts to the shelter and drop unprimed grenades down, then pour gasoline inside. Jefferson throws a primed grenade down each shaft and sprints for their vehicle, but is shot down as the grenades explode. Reisman, Bowren, Wladislaw, and Franko, the remaining survivors of the assault team, are making their escape on a German half-track, when Franko, shouting triumphantly that he has survived, is shot by a stray round. Back in Britain, only Reisman, Bowren, and Wladislaw (the sole surviving felon) have managed to get out alive.

The film unfolds in three major acts.

Act one – identification and "recruiting" the prisoners

After witnessing a hanging in a military prison in London, Major Reisman is briefed on the mission at General Worden's headquarters. As the credits to the film are rolling, he walks along the line of 12 prisoners and stares at each of them as Sergeant Bowren (Richard Jaeckel) reads out their sentences.

Name Portrayed by Sentence
Franko, V. R. John Cassavetes Death by hanging
Vladek, M. Tom Busby 30 years' hard labor
Jefferson, R. T. Jim Brown Death by hanging
Pinkley, V. L. Donald Sutherland 30 years' imprisonment
Gilpin, S. Ben Carruthers 30 years' hard labor
Posey, S. Clint Walker Death by hanging
Wladislaw, T. Charles Bronson Death by hanging
Sawyer, S. K. Colin Maitland 20 years' hard labor
Lever, R. Stuart Cooper 20 years' imprisonment
Bravos, T. R. Al Mancini 20 years' hard labor
Jiminez, J. P. Trini Lopez 20 years' hard labor
Maggott, A. J. Telly Savalas Death by hanging

On March 19, Reisman visits Franko, Wladislaw, Maggott, Posey, and Jefferson in their cells. Some details of their crimes are revealed and he uses a different approach with each in an effort to gain their cooperation.

Act two – training

Depicting the unit building their own compound and training for the mission, it highlights the interpersonal conflicts between the men, some of whom see the mission as a chance for redemption and others as a chance for escape. The second act places the mission, and the characters, in jeopardy when a breach of military regulations on Reisman's part forces General Worden, at Breed's urging, to have the men – now dubbed the "Dirty Dozen" by Sergeant Bowren because of their refusal to shave or bathe as a protest against their living conditions – prove their worth as soldiers at 'divisional maneuvers', a wargame in "Devonshire". With respect to the time period of the training, Reisman indicates before the war games his men have trained for six weeks. Reisman is scolded at a meeting with the top brass about a party he threw for the men on the night of April 14–15; however, during the party, Reisman is told the next day is Mother's Day, which would have placed the party on the first Saturday in May.

Act three – the mission

The final act, which was a mere footnote in the novel, is an action sequence detailing the attack on the chateau on the night of June 5, just before the D-Day invasion on June 6. The men recite the details of the attack in a chant to remember their roles:

  1. Down to the road block, we've just begun
  2. The guards are through
  3. The Major's men are on a spree
  4. Major and Wladislaw go through the door
  5. Pinkley stays out in the drive
  6. The Major gives the rope a fix
  7. Wladislaw throws the hook to heaven
  8. Jimenez has got a date
  9. The other guys go up the line
  10. Sawyer and Gilpen are in the pen
  11. Posey guards points five and seven
  12. Wladislaw and the Major go down to delve
  13. Franko goes up without being seen
  14. Zero-hour – Jimenez cuts the cable, Franko cuts the phone
  15. Franko goes in where the others have been
  16. We all come out like it's Halloween

Note: When Jimenez dies, his duties are performed by Gilpin. In turn, Gilpin's duties are performed by Lever.



Aldbury – scene of the wargame
Bradenham Manor – Wargames HQ

Although Robert Aldrich had tried to buy the rights to E.M. Nathanson's novel The Dirty Dozen while it was just an outline, MGM succeeded in May 1963. The novel was a best-seller upon publication in 1965.

Filming took place at the MGM British Studios, Borehamwood and the British prison camp location scenes were filmed at Ashridge in Hertfordshire. Wargame scenes were filmed at the village of Aldbury and Bradenham Manor in Buckinghamshire featured as 'Wargames Headquarters'. Beechwood Park School in Markyate was also used as a location during the school's summer term, where the training camp and tower were built and shot in the grounds and the village itself as parts of "Devonshire". The main house was also used, appearing in the film as a military hospital.[3]

The château was built especially for the production, by art director William Hutchinson. It was 720 yards wide and 50 ft high, surrounded with 5,400 yd2 of heather, 400 ferns, 450 shrubs, 30 spruce trees and six weeping willows. Construction of the faux château proved problematic. The script required its explosion, but it was so solid, 70 tons of explosives would have been required for the effect. Instead, a cork and plastic section was destroyed.

The film is remembered for being the one during which Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown announced his retirement from football at age 29. The owner of the Browns, Art Modell, demanded Brown choose between football and acting. With Brown's considerable accomplishments in the sport (he was already the NFL's all-time leading rusher, was well ahead statistically of the second-leading rusher, and his team had won the 1964 NFL Championship), he chose acting. Despite his early retirement from football, Brown remains the league's ninth all-time leading rusher,[4] the Cleveland Browns' all-time leading rusher, and the only player in league history to have a career average 100 yards per game. In some form of tribute, Art Modell himself said in Spike Lee's Jim Brown: All American documentary, that he made a huge mistake in forcing Jim Brown to choose between football and Hollywood, and if he had it to do over again, he would never have made such a demand. Modell fined Jim Brown the equivalent of over $100 per day, a fine which Brown said that "today wouldn't even buy the doughnuts for a team".


The cast included many World War II US veterans, including Robert Webber and Robert Ryan (Navy), and Clint Walker (Merchant Marine). Marvin served as a private first class in the Marines in the Pacific War and provided technical assistance with uniforms and weapons to create realistic portrayals of combat, yet bitterly complained about the falsity of some scenes. He thought Reisman's wrestling the bayonet from the enraged Posey to be particularly phony. Aldrich replied that the plot was preposterous, and that by the time the audience had left the cinema, they would have been so overwhelmed by action, explosions, and killing, that they would have forgotten the lapses.

John Wayne was the original choice for Reisman, but he turned down the role because he objected to the adultery present in the original script, which featured the character having a relationship with an Englishwoman whose husband was fighting on the Continent.[5] Jack Palance refused the "Archer Maggott" role when they would not rewrite the script to make his character lose his racism; Telly Savalas took the role, instead.[6]

Six of the dozen were experienced American stars, while the "Back Six" were actors resident in the UK, Englishman Colin Maitland, Canadians Donald Sutherland and Tom Busby, and Americans Stuart Cooper, Al Mancini, and Ben Carruthers. According to commentary on The Dirty Dozen: 2-Disc Special Edition, when Trini López left the film early, the death scene of Lopez's character where he blew himself up with the radio tower was given to Busby[7] (in the film, Ben Carruthers' character Glenn Gilpin is given the task of blowing up the radio tower while Busby's character Milo Vladek is shot in front of the château). Lopez's character dies off-camera during the parachute drop which begins the mission.[8] The same commentary also states that the impersonation of the general scene was to have been done by Clint Walker, who thought the scene was demeaning to his character, who was a Native American. Aldrich picked out Sutherland for the bit.[9]

Reception and criticism

In response to the violence of the film, Roger Ebert, in his first year as a film reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote sarcastically:

I'm glad the Chicago Police Censor Board forgot about that part of the local censorship law where it says films shall not depict the burning of the human body. If you have to censor, stick to censoring sex, I say...but leave in the mutilation, leave in the sadism and by all means leave in the human beings burning to death. It's not obscene as long as they burn to death with their clothes on.[10]

In another contemporary review, Bosley Crowther called it "an astonishingly wanton war film" and a "studied indulgence of sadism that is morbid and disgusting beyond words"; he also noted:

It is not simply that this violent picture of an American military venture is based on a fictional supposition that is silly and irresponsible.... But to have this bunch of felons a totally incorrigible lot, some of them psychopathic, and to try to make us believe that they would be committed by any American general to carry out an exceedingly important raid that a regular commando group could do with equal efficiency – and certainly with greater dependability – is downright preposterous.[11]

Crowther called some of the portrayals "bizarre and bold":

Marvin's taut, pugnacious playing of the major ... is tough and terrifying. John Cassavetes is wormy and noxious as a psychopath condemned to death, and Telly Savalas is swinish and maniacal as a religious fanatic and sex degenerate. Charles Bronson as an alienated murderer, Richard Jaeckel as a hard-boiled military policeman, and Jim Brown as a white-hating Negro stand out in the animalistic group.[11]

Variety was more positive, calling it an "exciting Second World War pre-D-Day drama" based on a "good screenplay" with a "ring of authenticity to it"; they drew particular attention to the performances by Marvin, Cassavetes, and Bronson.[12]

The Time Out Film Guide notes that over the years, "The Dirty Dozen has taken its place alongside that other commercial classic, The Magnificent Seven:

The violence which liberal critics found so offensive has survived intact. Aldrich sets up dispensable characters with no past and no future, as Marvin reprieves a bunch of death row prisoners, forges them into a tough fighting unit, and leads them on a suicide mission into Nazi France. Apart from the values of team spirit, cudgeled by Marvin into his dropout group, Aldrich appears to be against everything: anti-military, anti-Establishment, anti-women, anti-religion, anti-culture, anti-life. Overriding such nihilism is the super-crudity of Aldrich's energy and his humour, sufficiently cynical to suggest that the whole thing is a game anyway, a spectacle that demands an audience.[13]

The film currently holds a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 32 reviews.[14]


The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning in the category Best Sound Effects.[15]

  • Actor in a Supporting Role (John Cassavetes)
  • Film Editing (Michael Luciano)
  • Sound
  • Sound Effects (John Poyner) (won)

Box office performance

The Dirty Dozen was a massive commercial success. Produced on a budget of $5.4 million, it grossed $45.3 million, earning domestic rentals of $24.2 million in North America.[16] It was the fifth-highest grossing film of 1967 and MGM's highest grossing film of the year.

It was a hit in France, with admissions of 4,672,628.[17]

Basis in fact

The Dirty Dozen is not the story of a real unit. In the prologue to the novel, Nathanson states that, while he heard a legend that such a unit may have existed, he was unable to find any corroboration in the archives of the US Army in Europe.

However,a unit called the "Filthy Thirteen" was an airborne demolition unit documented in the eponymous book,[18] and this unit's exploits inspired the fictional account. Barbara Maloney, the daughter of John Agnew, a private in the Filthy Thirteen, told the American Valor Quarterly that her father felt that 30% of the movie's content was historically correct, including a scene where officers are captured. Unlike the Dirty Dozen, the Filthy Thirteen were not convicts; however, they were men prone to drinking and fighting and often spent time in the stockade.[19][20]

Sequels and adaptations

Three years after The Dirty Dozen was released, Too Late the Hero – a film also directed by Aldrich – was described as a "kind of sequel to The Dirty Dozen".[21] The 1969 Michael Caine film Play Dirty follows a similar theme of convicts-recruited-as-soldiers.


External links

  1. ^ Alain Silver and James Ursini, Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, Limelight, 1995 p 269
  2. ^ "The Dirty Dozen, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved March 8, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Dirty Dozen film at Beechwood - Local History Questions". Hemel Hempstead Gazette. Retrieved July 27, 2010. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ p.537 Roberts, Randy & Olsen, James Stuart John Wayne: American 1997 University of Nebraska Press
  6. ^ "Actor Jack Palance Won't Play Racist for $141,000". Jet: 59. March 10, 1966. 
  7. ^ Commentary The Dirty Dozen: 2-Disc Special Edition
  8. ^ Film The Dirty Dozen: 2-Disc Special Edition
  9. ^ Patterson, John (September 3, 2005). "Total recall". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 25, 2010. 
  10. ^  
  11. ^ a b Bosley Crowther (1967-06-16). "The Dirty Dozen (1967)". NYT Critics' Pick (The New York Times). Retrieved 2010-03-29. 
  12. ^ Variety staff (1967). "The Dirty Dozen".  
  13. ^ "The Dirty Dozen". Time Out Film Guide.  
  14. ^ The Dirty Dozen
  15. ^ "The 40th Academy Awards (1968) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-25. 
  16. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, 3 January 1968 p. 25. These figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
  17. ^ French box office results for Robert Aldrich films at Box Office Story
  18. ^ The Filthy Thirteen: From the Dustbowl to Hitler's Eagle's Nest: The True Story of the 101st Airborne's Most Legendary Squad of Combat Paratroopers: Richard Killblane, Jake McNiece: Books
  19. ^ Associated Press, April 11, 2010
  20. ^ The Filthy Thirteen: The U.S. Army's Real "Dirty Dozen" American Valor Quarterly online, Winter 2008-09. Retrieved April 10, 2010
  21. ^ "Cinema: Jungle Rot".  
  22. ^ The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission at the Internet Movie Database
  23. ^ The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission at the TCM Movie Database
  24. ^ The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission at the TCM Movie Database
  25. ^ Dirty Dozen: The Series at the Internet Movie Database


See also

The attack on the German chateau, a set-piece action sequence and the climax of the movie, is referenced in the novel in past tense, in the form of an official army report (using the technique of false document).

Differences from novel

In 2014, Warner Bros. announced that director David Ayer would be the director of a live-action adaptation of the DC Comics property Suicide Squad and Ayer has gone on to say that the film is "the Dirty Dozen with supervillains", citing the film as a form of inspiration.

[25], who played Private Leeds in eight of the show's 11 episodes.John Slattery aired a short-lived television series, among the cast was FOX In 1988, [24]