Father’s Day looming just around the corner, one of the classic roles
of tough-guy favorite Lee Marvin gets a superlative special edition DVD
release from Warner Bros. Often imitated but rarely convincingly
duplicated, 1967’s The Dirty Dozen is an indisputable action genre gem.
stars as John Reisman, a sturdy, square-jawed and cynical Army Major
assigned by General Warden (Ernest Borgnine) to train and command a
squad of 12 hardened convict misfits on a suicide mission against top,
on-leave Nazi brass on the eve of D-Day in occupied France. Among the
jailbirds who will earn their freedom, if they survive, are Telly
Savalas, Jim Brown, Charles Bronson, Trini Lopez, Donald Sutherland,
Clint Walker and John Cassavetes, the latter an Oscar nominee for Best
Supporting Actor for his work in the film. Neatly divided between its
introduction of the men, their training and fitful regimentation, their
participation in a series of war games and the final raid itself, The Dirty Dozen is naturally clichéd in some instances, but tugged along capably by the personalities on display.
What additionally helps separate The Dirty Dozen from its genre brethren is its script, by Nunnally Johnson and Lukas Heller, and Flight of the Phoenix and The Longest Yard
director Robert Aldrich’s unflinching, sleeves-rolled-up orchestration
of the gritty material (the film takes its name from an incident
wherein the prisoners-turned-soldiers refuse the indignity of cold
water, only to then be told that they won’t shave or shower from there
on). For both fans of war drama and ensemble action flicks, it doesn’t
get much better than The Dirty Dozen.
Spread out over two discs and housed in a regular Amray case with a snap tray insert, this special-edition release of The Dirty Dozen
is presented in a 1.77 anamorphic transfer with a re-mastered Dolby
digital 5.1 audio track that makes superlative use of its front-channel
stereo spread. Interestingly, three made-for-television sequels to the
movie followed two decades later, in the 1980s, and the first of those,
1985’s The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission is also included here.
(The other two are being re-released as a double-feature DVD this month
by Sony.) A four-minute introduction to the film by Borgnine kicks off
the release, and he fondly and candidly touches on the movie’s English
location filming and the fact that Marvin’s role was originally offered
to John Wayne, who chose instead to make The Green Berets.
Saddled with an amusingly overblown and tersely self-serious narration, the vintage featurette Operation Dirty Dozen
is notable for its almost stream-of-consciousness collection of on-set
footage, including bits that would be unfathomable today, such as the
ensemble cast eating at a King’s Road establishment on their day off
(Sutherland scoops cantaloupe!) and Marvin enjoying a rural, dirt-track
motocross race. Cast members Brown, Lopez, Stuart Cooper and Colin
Maitland anchor a robust audio commentary track that includes film
historian David Schow, screen military advisor Dale Dye, producer
Kenneth Hyman and others, but this is advisable only if you’ve already
seen the movie several times, as ahead-glancing spoilers are rampant.
Two new featurettes nicely complement the release. Chock full of
anecdotal reminiscences from the cast (Sutherland is especially
charming), Armed and Deadly: The Making of The Dirty Dozen lasts a half hour, while a second documentary, running over 45 minutes,
details the real-life airborne division that inspired author E.M.
Nathanson to pen his fictional work upon which the film is based.
There’s also a 30-minute recruitment documentary on Marine Corps combat
leadership skills, the ostensible tie-in being Marvin’s narration. B+ (Movie) A- (Disc)