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Monday, 21 January 2013

The dirty Dozen

Lee Marvin's drinking was at its worse, Charles Brosnan didn't even want to be there and director Robert Aldritch was shooting so much footage that the film was running way over schedule and its budget was escalating. The shooting of the 1967 classic was anything but a smooth ride and at one point one of the main actors, Trini Lopez,  deserted the production because he feared he was spending too much time away from his singing career. He did this on the advice of Frank Sinatra who told him that the public was fickle and that he may not have an audience to go back to when the film, which was already running late, was finally completed. Lopez reluctantly told director, Robert Aldrich that he had to quit but quickly realized that this was a mistake. It was too late to return to the movie though since Aldrich  killed Trini's character off with a simple line of dialogue.

The arduous shoot is well covered on the documentary, Armed and Deadly which is on the two disc DVD edition. The DVD represents great value and also contains the 1985 TV movie, The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission as a special feature. It's nice to have the TV movie there but it's not much of a movie. Far more interesting are the documentaries and the feature with surviving members of the cast and crew fondly recalling the troubled though often enjoyable shoot. There's a great vintage featurette, made to trail the film in cinemas that contains great footage of the cast walking around 1960's London on their days off. Apparently they shot in a small village outside London for six days out of every seven, and on their days off many of the cast including Lee Marvin would hit the clubs of swinging London.

The two disc special edition makes full use of the medium, offering several hours of material for the movie fan. The Dirty Dozen is, after all, an iconic movie with a remarkable cast made of up of true Hollywood legends.

Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Brosnan, George Kennedy and Robert Ryan to name but a few. The studio wanted John Wayne for the lee Marvin role, but the director fought for Marvin and won. This was probably a good thing since as good as Wayne was, The Dirty Dozen would have been a very different movie with Wayne in the lead...over the years it's been reported that Aldrich didn't want Wayne because of his politics but this is refuted on the commentary for the movie, with the reason given that Aldrich was set on Lee Marvin because he was the only actor he could possibly see in the role of the tough as nails major who leads the convict team on a suicide mission behind enemy lines.

The film is played out in three acts - forming the team, training the team and then the mission. This structure is familiar from many other war films, but it was a fresh concept when this movie was made.  In fact so influential was this movie that most war films made since owe it a little debt. There are some great character scenes for nearly of all the actors and because of the anti-authority theme of the movie it still feels as fresh as ever, and the explosive climax remains as exciting and disturbing as the first time it played.


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