The Dirty Dozen & r & & r & by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n an action movie about an improbable crew of saboteurs, you'd think that the "deep behind enemy lines" bit would be the best part. I felt a distinct letdown when the 1967 WWII hit movie, The Dirty Dozen, reached that place in the screenplay -- after a dissolve, there they were, parachuting at night into German-occupied France.
Oh yeah, the mission.
Too bad. Up to that point The Dirty Dozen had been a surprisingly engaging underdog story. A tough-as-nails major in the special services, well-played by Lee Marvin, is ordered -- excuse me, Gen. Ernest Borgnine, sir, volunteers -- to assemble a crew of murderers, rapists and assorted screw-ups from a military prison and forge them into a highly disciplined team.
Borgnine plays a cynical general who ultimately is won over by Marvin and the Dozen.
The mission is to infiltrate a chateau in France where German officers go for R & amp;R and - timed just before D-Day - assassinate as many as possible.
As a first-time viewer of this DVD -- now available in a special two-disc set -- I had a great time trying to recognize all the actors. We see a young Charles Bronson, already with the mustache he would sport for the next several decades, pre-lollipop Telly Savalas, the just-retired football great Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, who later became more famous as a director, and a gawky Donald Sutherland.
Sutherland, according to lore, was hired when another actor decided the role was too small. And you can see that the big break paid off.
Sutherland next appeared in Billion Dollar Brain playing "Scientist at computer."
The heart of the movie shows Marvin trying to shape up these dozen sociopaths. Their motivation is a promise to escape execution or life in prison in return for their service -- if they survive the crazy suicide mission, of course.
Gradually, we root for these unsavory characters as they form bonds with each other and become skillful soldiers.
The "big ending," by comparison is flat. Explosions. Plans gone awry. Characters dying nobly. And the troubling scene where they incinerate not only German officers trapped in a cellar but women and other civilians, too.