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Warner Home Video presents
The Dirty Dozen HD-DVD (1967)

Armbruster: The idea is simply that our men are dropped by parachute, they enter the chateau and kill as many of the senior officers as possible in the time available. Naturally, the place is fortified and heavily guarded.
Major Reisman: Naturally.

- George Kennedy, Lee Marvin

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: September 28, 2006

Stars: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine
Other Stars: Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Richard Jaeckel, George Kennedy, Trini Lopez, Ralph Meeker, Robert Ryan, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Clint Walker, Robert Webber
Director: Robert Aldrich

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, mild language)
Run Time: 02h:29m:52s
Release Date: September 26, 2006
UPC: 012569792050
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

After the close of World War II, Hollywood war pictures began to evolve back into antiwar pictures. But because of the Cold War terrorism of the right wing, it was both unwise and unsafe to make the antiwar message front and center. The message needed to be kept under the surface so that the presentation could still be depicted as a tale of heroism during wartime in a plausible manner. One of the masterful combinations of these two antagonistic goals was one of the most popular war films of the 1960s, Robert Aldrich's The Dirty Dozen. A prime example of male bonding in wartime (women exist only for sex and to be killed here), it's also a gratifyingly watchable suspense picture.

Irritable Major Reisman (Lee Marvin) is directed by General Worden (Ernest Borgnine) to take a group of twelve misfit prisoners sentenced to death or life in prison and assemble them into a fighting force. And not just any fighting force, but a group of paratroopers destined to drop into France and attack a heavily-guarded chateau that houses many members of the German High Command in the days just before D-Day. As a carrot, the Dozen are promised an amnesty, if they survive their mission. The prisoners are angry at the world and take it out on Reisman, but he brings them together to face their greatest and deadliest challenge.

The first two-thirds of the film is devoted to the setup, and the last third to the mission proper. It's a classical structure that belies the anti-establishment undercurrent of the movie. After a brief shocking introduction, Marvin is brought before his superior officers (none of whom seem to think much of him) and he resentfully agrees to accept his orders. Even when the Dozen are convinced to accept the amnesty deal, they treat him as the enemy. The evolution of their relationship is a fascinating progression, as Reisman earns the grudging respect and affection of the Dozen. But it's a progression not without a struggle, mostly personified in the rebellious character of Victor Franko (John Cassavetes), an unrelenting smartass with a chip on his shoulder. What makes the progression work is that both Reisman and the Dozen hate the authority figures above them that have put them into this situation. That's most clearly seen in by-the-book, white-glove prissy Col. Everett Dasher Breed (Robert Ryan), who takes it upon himself to try to thwart the mission. But the Dozen manage to give him a deserving comeuppance that moves the Dozen into a new bonding relationship that makes possible their assault on the Nazis.

While the setup has some entertaining aspects, regardless of its implausibility, the last 45 to 50 minutes of the picture is a masterpiece of suspense. The timing and cutting are almost excruciating as the group tries to make their attack without being discovered. When they are finally brought into action, then all hell breaks loose, with nonstop action and plenty of war violence to gratify the most bloodthirsty. The finale makes some clear parallels with the use of napalm in Southeast Asia, a matter of some controversy that led to director Robert Aldrich not being supported for a Best Director Oscar. Regardless of the political message, it's a nail-biting exercise that comes at the viewer like a steamroller. It's an extended sequence worthy of Hitchcock and Aldrich makes the most of it, combining character and action and the omniscient camera to fulfill the promise of the script.

There is one odd moment, namely as a Last Supper tableau of the Dozen with Reisman in the Jesus role; one could read that as symbolic of his redemption of the men that surround him, which is particularly appropriate if one considers Jesus to be an antiestablishment troublemaker like the Pharisees did. It's the only noticeable over-the-top symbolism here, though, which makes it stick out all the more. What really works here are the characters. Marvin, who had served in the Marine Corps, is all toughness in one of his best tough-guy roles. Jim Brown, in his first major film role, is smoldering intensity as convict Robert Jefferson; the racial undertones of the story are effective without being preachy. Cassavetes just leaps off the screen in his Oscar-nominated role as Franko, giving a brisk improvisatory air to the character that suits it well. Telly Savalas makes an impression as a religious fanatic, and Clint Walker's resentful but peaceful Native American character Samson Posey reminds one of the doomed Ira Hayes. Donald Sutherland's career really took off here, with his nebbishy Vernon Pinkley providing much of the comic relief. It's a superb ensemble, and they do a fine job of bringing this popular bestseller to life.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.75:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The widescreen presentation looks reasonably good, with excellent color, especially in the gradations of green in the uniforms. Posterization is hardly present, in part because there is quite heavy grain visible throughout. The grain is rendered pretty well, and doesn't sparkle excessively unless you're looking for it. The picture is a little on the soft side, especially when opticals are involved, whether due to subtitles for the German speakers or dissolves. The source print otherwise is in reasonably good shape, besides a few minor nicks, and is a huge improvement over the original release. The improvement over the more recent edition is less prominent, but still significant.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital+ English track sounds quite good, with very little hiss or noise. The klaxons at the Nazi chateau are piercing and have a blaring immediacy. The climactic explosions have excellent room-shaking bass that makes an impression, with plenty of subsonics.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 37 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by author E.M. Nathanson, commentator David J. Schow, motion picture military advisor Captain Dale Dye, producer Kenneth Hyman and actors Jim Brown, Clint Walker, Trini Lopez, Stuart Cooper and Colin Maitland
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Ernest Borgnine intro
  2. The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission
Extras Review: All the extras of the SE are here on a single disc. First up is the television-movie sequel to the original, The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission (1985), running 01h:35m:27s, featuring Marvin, Borgnine and Jaeckel reprising their original roles. It's a blatant retread that takes too long to get to the point (even though it's an hour shorter than the original). This time the mission is to kill a German general who intends to assassinate Hitler, on the theory that the war may last longer if headed by competent generals instead of the führer. The production values are low and there's plenty of padding, but Marvin is pretty much watchable in anything. The Dozen in this outing is even more unsavory and incorrigible than in the original. But the main utility of this supplement is proving just how well done the original film is and how hard it is to duplicate. Just don't go expecting a good movie.

The main feature includes a full-length commentary edited together from a variety of sources. Some of the more interesting remarks come from Captain Dale Dye, who points out what's authentic and what's Hollywood foolishness (starting with the very concept of recruiting incorrigible criminals for a vital mission), and David Schow, who reads from selected Aldrich correspondence about the formative months of the film. The novel's author, E.M. Nathanson, makes an appearance, as do some of the actors and the producer. There's very little dead time with this abundance of participants, and few segments are unnecessary. Much of the same ground is covered in Armed and Deadly: The Making of The Dirty Dozen (30m:54s), a very solid documentary that looks at issues with the studio, casting and the final cut. Donald Sutherland also offers an appreciation of Aldrich for getting his career launched, and Trini Lopez reveals why his character is abruptly eliminated from the picture. Another Making-of, the period short Operation Dirty Dozen (9m:13s) is more of a fluff piece, but it does provide some valuable behind-the-scenes footage of Aldrich directing the picture.

The Filthy Thirteen: Real Stories from Behind the Lines (47m:10s) presents some true-life characters who offer an antiestablishment air similar to that in the movie, hosted by author E.M. Nathanson. The focus is on the 506th Parachute Infantry, led by Jake McNiece into suicide missions behind the lines. Lee Marvin also narrates a Marine Corps combat leadership training film (29m:39s) made just before his death. Finally, there's an anamorphic widescreen trailer. It's hard to imagine more in the package other than the increasingly dispensable television sequels that followed. This'll do.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

The ultimate male bonding movie hits HD DVD with a splash, larded with all the extras of the two-disc special edition standard DVD. The video source has some issues, but it looks pretty good overall.


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