Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
Lee Marvin Wraps Up "Dirty Dozen"
Cleveland Press June 29, 1967
Lee Marvin is winning wars the way John Wayne and Errol Flynn and those fellows used to. The difference -- and it is a big one -- is that Marvin is an actor of stature, capable of holding together the most improbable of plots.
Marvin does just that in a slam-bang war adventure movie called "The Dirty Dozen," which is long on action and short on credibility.
It also is just plain long.
Marvin is a tough Army major in World War II, something of a maverick, a bit of tarnished metal among all that brass.
BRAVE BUT UNDISCIPLINED, the major is handed the task of whipping into shape 12 prisoners of war condemned either to death or long prison terms. His task is to train them for a behind-the-lines mission just before D-Day with the possibility of amnesty if they shape up and live through the assignment.
Murderers, thieves, rapists and psychopaths all; they are hardly the sort of people even the toughest man would want to deal with. Some of the best parts of the movie concern their training as Marvin masters them physically and psychologically and turns them from 12 hatred-filled individuals into a sharp fighting unit that can work together.
Their mission is to parachute into France and destroy a heavily-guarded chateau which houses a large number of high ranking Nazi officers.
Along the way there is a great deal of rivalry among American officers over the project. Ernest Borgnine is unconvincing as a general and Robert Ryan as a nasty colonel out to get Marvin is a stereotype of the worst sort.
IF AMERICAN OFFICERS were this knuckle-headed the war might have gone the other way. Only Marvin seems to have any sense but it's made plain that he's not an officer at heart.
The movie takes too long getting to the climax and then stretches the climax another interminable length. It's a rip-roaring, noisy, gutsy climax when it does come along, however.
John Cassavetes is strong as the former hoodlum Marvin must win over in order to unite the group. Telly Savalas overplays the psychopath and Richard Jaeckel is good as a sergeant.
JIM BROWN IS ADEQUATE in his role, has a chance to do some broken-field running at the end flipping grenades and unsuccessfully dodging machine gun bullets.
It is Marvin, however, who saves the picture, gets you past the improbabilities, the unexplained bits of plotting, some choppy cutting and the excessive length.
He is up to all of the exhausting physical demands of the role. And when the action lags he can still hold his own in the slower, talky moments. He registers cynicism without overdoing it, injects a sardonic note of humor in the role.