Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Dirty Dozen


There is a select handful of World War II movies that never show a battle and still manage to be really great. There are based-on-fact ones like The Great Escape, and there are made-up ones like Operation Crossbow, The Guns of Navarone, and The Eagle Has Landed. They operate like heist movies, which I love, and in fact are the military equivalent. These are among my favorites. They have a long build-up, planning, training, scouting and so forth, and when the final payoff happens it is riveting. This is one of the best ones, starring Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland, Clint Walker, Telly Savalas, Robert Ryan, and Ernest Borgnine. All of them deliver great performances. It is the story of twelve Army convicts who are offered the possibility of commutation of their sentences, which range from twenty years hard labor to execution by hanging. They are murderers and misfits, incompetents and fuck-ups, a couple of wrongly convicted men, and one genuine sexual psychopath. Their goal is to blow up a luxury retreat for SS bigwigs and generals and, if possible, kill them all. There’s not much I enjoy more in films than seeing SS soldiers die, preferably painfully, so the idea of them getting incinerated in a basement had me from the git-go. The operation comes at a cost, of course. Fourteen go in, three come out, all badly injured. This is by action director Robert Aldrich, and it’s one of his best.