This week's pick: "The Dirty Dozen," a 1967 war film that you've probably already seen, but could always stand to watch again. Starring Lee Marvin, Jim Brown and Ernest Borgnine, amongst many notable others, this film is emblematic of American cinema in the late '60s. It's gritty, goofy and full of blood, guts and glory. Although, the blood and guts they used in the '60s looked a lot more like hot dog links and ketchup, but the glory, man -- that stuff was real.
Did we mention it was nominated for four Academy Awards and won in the Best Sound Effects category? Well, it was and it did. Back before the Academy was an overly-bureaucratic political body that basically handed out participation trophies.
OK, OK -- I'll get off my soapbox now. Back to the movie!
What's it about, you ask?
Honestly, not sure if I could do synopsis-justice and top Armbruster's (great name) objectively pointed quote but believe it or not, there is more to the movie than just killing German officers.
First off, there's the task force: 12 army convicts, all sentenced to death or a lifetime of labor. They're unique, flawed, fated and -- most importantly -- they're dirty. When the U.S. military realized that their mission, to dismantle the German army's human functionality and leadership from the inside out, was a suicide mission, they figured there'd be no better candidates than crazies, killers and basket cases.
Then, you have the training. This particular group of misfits excels at being bad at training. They're unruly and unabashed and almost as bad at
listening to directions following orders as a group of fourth graders. And yet, their fearless leader Major Reisman (Lee Marvin) manages to whip them into semi-cohesive fighting shape.
Eventually, the cons recognize him as commander, confidant and friend and then, they head into Germany to face what will most likely be their ultimate demise.
The mission itself, well, you'll just have to watch to see how it ends.
But what makes it <i>different</i>?<div><sup>And why should I care?</sup></div>
"The Dirty Dozen" isn't really too different from many of the war films of today, and that's not because it wasn't unique for its time -- that's because so many filmmakers have used it as a template and guide since. From "Suicide Squad" (2016) to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you can see a little bit of "The Dirty Dozen" everywhere.
Upon release, "The Dirty Dozen" was heavily criticized for its violence, which is definitely food for thought because it pales in comparison to the TV, movies and video games of today. In a sense, you could argue that it paved the way for violence in media today. Do with that what you will.
Historical importance -- that's why you should care about "The Dirty Dozen." And because it's just a good dose of ol' fashioned fun and we can all use a little bit of that every now and then.
If you're still on the fence...
- Read this hilarious Roger Ebert review from 1967.
- Call up your old man and ask him if you should watch it. (He'll say "yes.")
- Cancel the rest of the meeting you have scheduled for the day. Perfect! Now you have time.
- Think about how much better the next war movie you see will be with a historical understanding of how this specific cinematic medium came to be.
- JUST WATCH IT.
- Watch the first 15 minutes because it's on Netflix and you can always back out and watch "The Office" instead.
- Watch the trailer below and see if it hooks you.