Look, you little bastard, you either march or Judge Ryan Keefer will beat your brains in.
What better way to summarize The Dirty Dozen than Tom Hanks and Victor Garber's "conversation" in Sleepless in Seattle…
Hanks: "Although I cried at the end of The Dirty Dozen."
The amazing thing about The Dirty Dozen is that for all the talk about it being one of the best war films out there, many people seem to forget that it was made with a little bit of anti-war sentiment in mind. Director Robert Aldrich (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) felt this needed to be done, and his galaxy of stars all seemed to come through. After a recent upgrade on standard definition, this Warner staple comes to high definition and all its glory. So how's it do?
Facts of the Case
From the novel by E.M. Nathanson, Major John Reisman (Oscar winner Lee Marvin, Cat Ballou, Gorky Park) is ordered by General Worden (Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine, Marty, Ice Station Zebra) to train a group of convicted military prisoners for a mission, despite Reisman's having to report to Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan, The Wild Bunch). Reisman's mission is one where the odds are stacked, and most of whom he'll lead into battle will probably not return. The prisoners Reisman has to help train are:
• Robert Jefferson (Jim Brown, Any Given Sunday), another killer, but of a white soldier.
• Samson Posey (Clint Walker, The Great Bank Robbery), a gentle giant who killed a soldier who teased him.
• Joseph Wladislaw (Charles Bronson, Death Wish), who is sentenced to death for killing a perceived "fleeing" officer.
• Archer Maggott (Telly Savalas, Kojak), a born-again religious zealot who raped and murdered a woman.
Rounding out this motley crew are Pedro Jimenez (Trini Lopez, Antonio), Milo Vladek (Tom Busby, Heavenly Pursuits), Glenn Gilpin (Ben Carruthers, Universal Soldier), Seth Sawyer (Colin Maitland, Lolita), Roscoe Lever (Stuart Cooper, Subterfuge) and Tassos Bravos (Al Mancini, Miller's Crossing). With the help of military police Sergeant Clyde Bowren (Richard Jaeckel, Starman) and Major Armbruster (Oscar winner George Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke), Reisman's merry band of outsiders train for the mission. And for the handful of you that haven't seen the film, go see it and see who lives and who doesn't.
Okay, before I get a lot of flogging for mentioning the whole anti-war message that The Dirty Dozen may convey, allow me to bring up a couple of things for you to ponder. It's without a doubt that The Dirty Dozen has a lot of things with which the military man can identify. But if you take a look at war movies up to this point, they weren't allowed, for one reason or another, to show the gore that is associated with it. The Longest Day wanted to, but couldn't. Everyone resorted to saying something dramatic or poignant before collapsing in a heap, like they were in a Joel Silver film or something. The star power in The Dirty Dozen (made all the more brighter after Marvin's Oscar win, which was achieved during this film's production) gave the chance to show when people got hit with a bullet, they might have gotten a little bloody. Even if they didn't, the viewer has already spent 90 minutes building up a bunch of emotional investment in the prisoners. You know that the mission they go on is probably a suicide mission, but it still hurts to watch them get shot.
One other thing I'd like to mention; for those that are skeptical about the military or Defense Department's tactics, you could make the case that because they're reducing themselves to using convicted military criminals (or those sent to death row) to get a job done, that should be saying something about them, right? That's not to say that I don't love The Dirty Dozen. I do, very much. John Cassavetes rocks, the prisoners' transformation (or return) to the area of a serviceable serviceman is reference material for anyone that even thinks about joining the armed forces. It shows you how potential can level any playing field.
The big boasting point when this special edition was released was that there was a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. This Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack ups the ante a little bit more, with a little more pronounced action in the low end, making for more robust bullet hits and explosions. The video was a little bit on the disappointing side. The opening titles look a little blown out (much like the HD version of The Perfect Storm), but I was expected a little more detail on this 1080p version, and it just wasn't there for me. But hey, at least I get to save some space on my shelf for not having to get the larger two-disc standard definition version.
The extras are ported over from the two-disc special edition that was released earlier this year. I was personally looking forward to the commentary track with Brown, Lopez, Cooper, Maitland, Nathanson, producer Kenneth Hyman, historian David J. Schow and longtime military advisor Dale Dye. Sadly, the commentary doesn't have a lot of contributions from the cast. In fact, Dye and Schow are virtually the only voices on the first 40 minutes of the feature. Clearly, this could have been handled better. Aside from Borgnine's introduction to the feature, where he says hello and welcome to the disc for several minutes, following that is a fairly informative making of look at the film. "Armed and Deadly" recounts the film from novel to finished film, discussing the war films that had been released before this one. The surviving members recall the times on the production, both before it (John Wayne was offered the role of Reisman, and Kennedy wanted to secure the Savalas part) and during it (Bronson almost physically confronted Marvin during filming because Marvin's drinking was becoming a detriment to the production). Even after some cast members left, they were in for surprises. Lopez left the film at Frank Sinatra's suggestion and then reconsidered, but he had already been killed off for the film. Production ran so long that Brown retired from football during it, and Sutherland secured a role in another war film (you may have heard of it, called M*A*S*H) for his work in the inspection line. All in all, it provides a decent look at the film. The other long piece, entitled "The Filthy Thirteen," focuses on the real-life group that helped provide support in a mission in World War II, and the surviving members discuss their time as part of the group (much like the surviving cast does in "Armed and Deadly"). A more dated look at the film's production follows, along with the film's trailer. For kitsch value, Marvin hosted a Marine Corps training film on leadership in combat, and it's an interesting look at why recruits are trained the way they are, and many wartime Marines discuss what it was like from a leadership perspective. All the while Marvin (who fought as a Marine in the World War II Pacific theater) drives a jeep, watches a helicopter land, and otherwise helps to transition from one segment to the next. It may be a bit tiring to watch if you've never been in the military, but from a war history buff's point of view, it's worth watching once.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
What a shame that such a great film has to be accompanied by such dreck as The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission. The made for TV film, despite being directed by Andrew McLagen (who did McLintock!, Hellfighters and other John Wayne films in the '60s and '70s), really falls flat on its rear. Jaeckel returns, as does Borgnine, but this film features stars of the era that have long since been forgotten, like Larry Wilcox (CHIPS), Ken Wahl (Wiseguy) and Sonny Landham (Predator). The first one presumably was during D-Day, so what other gold was left to mine?
This will probably be as good as it gets went it comes to the next-generation version of The Dirty Dozen goes. I continually enjoy the approach Warner is taking with their older catalog releases, with a mix of old and new titles, and this is one that either way is one to get if you've got a HD player.
Not guilty, and no execution of sentence to worry about here.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Introduction by Ernest Borgnine
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