The Dirty Dozen: Special Edition (1967)

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Released 9-Aug-2006

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Main Menu Audio
Introduction-By Ernest Borgnine
Audio Commentary-By E.M. Nathanson, David J. Schow
Audio Commentary-Capt. Dale Dye With Jim Brown, Trini Lopez, Kenneth Hyman
Audio Commentary-Stuart Cooper and Colin Maitland
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Theatrical Trailer
Featurette-Making Of-"Armed And Deadly"
Bonus Episode-The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission
Featurette-Marine Corps Combat Leadership Skills
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1967
Running Time 143:29
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (79:58)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 2,3,4 Directed By Robert Aldrich
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Lee Marvin
Ernest Borgnine
Charles Bronson
Jim Brown
John Cassavetes
Richard Jaeckel
George Kennedy
Trini López
Ralph Meeker
Robert Ryan
Telly Savalas
Donald Sutherland
Clint Walker
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Frank De Vol


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Russian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Russian
Spanish
English for the Hearing Impaired
Spanish for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Every now and then in the history of American cinema there is a period where there is a flowering of the art, and a range of unusual movies are made which buck against the usual trend of bland entertainment. Once such period was from the mid-1920s to about 1934, which resulted from an influx of new talent from Europe and, when sound arrived, new talent from Broadway and vaudeville, and which was stifled by the enforcement of the Production Code. Another occurred in the second half of the 1960s and continued to the mid-1970s. The industry was then in a downturn. The vogue was for large-budget extravaganzas, often war films top-heavy with stars, or biblical or sword and sandal epics. And low budget teenage exploitationers. The studios were in something of a crisis, and into this flux came a group of new film-makers who were given virtual carte blanche to make the sort of films they wanted to make. The first major films of this period were probably Bonnie and Clyde and The Dirty Dozen, both released in 1967.

    Few of the older directors were able to prosper or even continue in this environment. One who did was Robert Aldrich, whose cynical, left-leaning views coincided with the mood of the period. While The Dirty Dozen might seem to be another of those big-budget war movies of the 1960s, top-heavy with stars and full of gritty action, it is really nothing like the John Wayne or Henry Fonda films of the same era. The film takes a cynical view of the army, a cynical view of authority and a cynical view of the mission the dozen are asked to take on. The fact that the mission seems pointless and suicidal is deliberate, as Aldrich's main target was military stupidity. Along the way he takes swipes at the death penalty, race relations and even Vietnam.

    Major Reisman (Lee Marvin) is given a ridiculous assignment: recruit and train twelve army prisoners, including some on death row, for a mission to kill a bunch of German officers in a French chateau. The reason is to cripple the German response to the impending D-Day invasion. Why they don't just bomb the chateau isn't explained. Perhaps it is because the military is really just stupid.

    Reisman recruits a dozen hard-bitten killers, thugs and rapists of all varieties. They range from the woman-hating religious nutter Maggott (Telly Savalas) to the quiet killer Wladislaw (Charles Bronson), to the insubordinate Chicago mobster Franko (John Cassavetes), to the gentle-giant-roused-to-anger Indian Posey (Clint Walker). Throw in the simple Pinkley (Donald Sutherland) and the "token" black (Jim Brown), who turns out not to be a token character after all, plus someone who can sing the Germans to death (Trini Lopez) and you have the nucleus of a very dirty dozen indeed.

    The story starts with the scenes of recruitment, as first Reisman and then the dozen are selected for the mission. Then most of the film is taken up with the training of the prisoners and them proving themselves in the field of simulated combat. The last part of the film deals with the mission itself, which involves a purpose-built chateau set which apparently took up most of the budget of the film.

    The Dirty Dozen is a very entertaining film merely in terms of a war film. On the level of exposing the horrors and madness of war it isn't quite so successful, at least not as successful as some of Aldrich's earlier war films, notably Attack!. I think that part of the reason is the size of the ensemble cast makes it harder to concentrate on any particular thread of subtext in the film, especially when the concluding sequences are so exciting that the audience forgets about what has gone before. Even so, the parallels between what happens to the Germans and the real-life gas chambers that were used on the Jews and other undesirables during the war must have been obvious to audiences at the time. This doesn't seem quite so obvious to more recent reviewers of the movie.

    Most of the actors in the film were not major stars at the time. Marvin of course was a big star at the peak of his career and he gives a superb performance in the leading role. The role was initially offered to John Wayne, who fortunately declined. Bronson was on the verge of international stardom, and here in a relatively less showy role he acquits himself very well. Savalas was a well-known character actor but would find his greatest success in the 1970s in the TV series Kojak. Cassavetes gives perhaps the best performance in the film and was Oscar-nominated for it, while Walker and Lopez don't really stand out from the rest of the cast - Lopez disappears midway through the film as he left the production which had severely overrun its schedule. Jim Brown, who is regarded by many as the best NFL footballer of all time, became perhaps the first no-holds-barred black action star in this film, a change from the intellectual and accommodating black heroes usually played by Sidney Poitier. And Donald Sutherland made himself noticed as the weak-minded Pinkley, which he says won him his breakthrough role in M*A*S*H.

    Also in the cast is Ernest Borgnine as the General who sends Reisman on the mission, Aldrich stalwart Ralph Meeker as an army psychiatrist, George Kennedy as the General's adjutant, Robert Ryan as the by-the-numbers army man Dasher Breed (who loathes Reisman), and various actors in small parts like Robert Webber and an uncredited Lionel Murton. Richard Jaeckel is effective as the drill sergeant, a role he would reprise in the first of the sequels to this film made many years later. Borgnine would appear in all three sequels, while Savalas returned from the dead to appear in two. There was also a short-lived TV series in 1988. And in the spirit of never letting sleeping dogs lie, a project is said to be on the cards for a remake, due in 2008 and to be produced by Joel Silver. Naturally he has to finish his Logan's Run remake first, as well as the Wonder Woman movie and the House on Haunted Hill sequel. Sheesh!

    This film is a perennial favourite action film, and while much of it is now clichéd it was the big hit of 1967. It was also controversial for the violence and bad language, both of which seem very tame today. This new release is a Special Edition, which means a remastering of the video and audio and a few more extras than the original Region 4 disc, extending to a second disc.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (the original aspect ratio was 1.85:1) and is 16x9 enhanced. Some sources indicate that the original aspect ratio was 2.20:1, but this is not correct. The film was shot flat and it was blown up to 70mm for some screenings after the initial run, and this has led to the confusion about the aspect ratio. It's a pity that we don't get the exact original aspect ratio.

    This is a good transfer in most respects. It is clear and clean, though it is not as detailed as it should have been. Background details tend to look noisy and grainy, and even in close-up some detail is surrounded by Gibb Effect. Take note of the insignia on the collars of the actors in the early scene in the General's office. Greens and browns are well rendered, but flesh tones look a little too brown to be realistic. Reds are quite vivid. Shadow detail is adequate.

    Apart from the Gibb Effect there are few film to video artefacts. The main one of these is edge enhancement, which is clearly visible in some scenes and not at all in others. Film artefacts are present in the form of occasional flecks and dirt.

    Optional subtitles are available in English and are in a clear white font. The text is easy to read and appears to transcribe the dialogue well.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted with the layer change placed at 79:58. It appears at a cut in the middle of a scene and is a little disruptive as a result.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    While the original soundtrack would probably have been a mono one, the 70mm release had a multichannel soundtrack and so the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio supplied on this release is not as inauthentic as it might first seem. I would like to have had the mono soundtrack as well, but we can't have everything.

    The soundtrack sounds very good in this transfer. The LFE channel gets a considerable workout, with the many explosions causing the walls to shake if the volume is turned up. The music is also emphasised in the bass department. Most of the remainder of the audio is spread across the front channels. There is little in the way of rear effects.

    Dialogue is very clear and I had no trouble understanding any of it. Marvin's gruff voice comes across well, and it was quite a shock to hear his voice 18 years later in the sequel included as an extra on disc two, as it sounds thin in comparison. I don't think this is an audio glitch, more likely it was caused by excessive consumption of whiskey. Audio sync is exemplary.

    A suitably martial score is supplied by Aldrich's regular composer Frank DeVol, and it sounds very good in this transfer. Trini Lopez manages to squeeze a song in, but fortunately only one.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Unless stated otherwise the extras are in 1.78:1 and are 16x9 enhanced. All feature subtitles.

Disc One:

Main Menu Audio

    The static main menu has some of the score, which is a well-known marching song whose name I forget but I think is by Sousa.

Introduction-By Ernest Borgnine (3:30)

    A brief and recent introduction to the film by Borgnine, who continues to make movies in his 90th year. It is in widescreen but is not 16x9 enhanced.

Audio Commentary-By E.M. Nathanson, David J. Schow, Capt. Dale Dye With Jim Brown, Trini Lopez, Kenneth Hyman, Stuart Cooper and Colin Maitland

    Nathanson is the author of the book on which the film was based, while Schow is an author who contributes readings from some of the memos written by Aldrich during the film. Dye is an actor and former marine who is a self-styled "military adviser to the stars". His direct talking about the shortcomings of the actors (apart from Marvin, who was also a marine) and the historical inaccuracies in the film gets a bit grating after a while. There are separately recorded snippets from several of the surviving actors and the producer.

Featurette-Behind The Scenes-"Operation Dirty Dozen" (9:14)

    This is an at times unintentionally funny promotional featurette made at the time of the filming, where we see some behind the scenes footage of the shoot, and the macho actors head into London for some of that Swinging Sixties action. This is in 1.33:1.

Theatrical Trailer (3:21)

    An original trailer in 1.78:1.

Disc Two:

The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission (91:38)

    This is a 1985 made for TV movie that is a sequel to the original film. From the original cast Marvin, Borgnine and Jaeckel reprise their roles. Though 18 years had passed both Borgnine and Jaeckel look not much older than they did in 1967. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Marvin, who looks sadly old and sounds even older. This was the second last movie he made before his death two years later and apart from a couple of bursts he seems tired and uninterested in the material. Borgnine gives a good account of himself though he is only in the film briefly.

    The dozen this time are a bunch of forgotten no-names aside from Ken Wahl, and their characters are no more than sketched. The film is dismal and not worth watching, with a terrible script that lifts dialogue from the original and one golf gag from Goldfinger. It is not at all exciting and is actually plain boring most of the time. The plot deals with a mission into France to kill an SS General in order to stop him from killing Hitler, if you can believe that. What is even more unbelievable is that this was followed by two more sequels.

    It looks like it was shot on film as there are some vertical scratches and flecks, but it also is a little soft suggesting that this comes from a video master. The transfer is pretty good, being bright and detailed despite the slight softness. It is in the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

Featurette-The Filthy Thirteen (47:14)

    This documentary is about one of the inspirations for the movie, an elite paratrooper unit in World War Two which was led by a misfit but highly effective soldier named Jake McLeish. It includes interviews with the softly-spoken McLeish and some of his comrades. While the actual link to the movie is tenuous, the story of these soldiers is quite remarkable and this is worth watching. It is interesting to hear the author state that the initial inspiration came from his army buddy Russ Meyer. The mind boggles as to what the film would have been like had Meyer directed it; certainly the Germans would have been faced with a different set of deadly weapons and an even dirtier dozen undoubtedly led by Tura Satana.

Featurette-Making Of-"Armed And Deadly" (30:56)

    A new featurette about the making of the movie, which features interviews with the producer Kenneth Hyman and all six of the surviving dozen, being Lopez, Walker, Sutherland, Brown, Stuart Cooper and Colin Maitland, plus Borgnine, Kennedy, the author of the book and other talking heads. Pretty interesting material and all of the interviewees seem to have genuine respect for the director.

Featurette-Marine Corps Combat Leadership Skills (29:42)

    A 1986 training film for the promotion of leadership skills in the marines, which features Lee Marvin as presenter and interviews with veterans of Vietnam, Korea and both world wars. There's nothing especially revealing here, although it isn't quite as jingoistic as you might expect. It is in 1.33:1.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    It seems that the Region 1 Special Edition is identical to the new Region 4 aside from the video format.

    The old Region 4 was not 16x9 enhanced, was NTSC and had a lot of film artefacts as well as problematic colour. The new Special Edition is worth the upgrade on those counts alone, but you also get a bunch of extras into the bargain.

Summary

    One of those war movies that can be called "quintessential". Very enjoyable and with a message as well.

    The video quality is very good, but should have been better.

    The audio quality is very good.

    A very good selection of extras, though the sequel is not one of them.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Monday, July 31, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS9100ES, using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-HS60 LCD Projector projected to 80" screen. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES for surrounds, Elektra Reference power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

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