'The Dirty Dozen Double Feature'
(Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Telly Savalas, Erik Estrada, et al / 2-Disc DVD / NR / 2006 / MGM - SonyPictures)
Overview: A model for dozens of action films to follow, 'The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission' (1967) refined a die-hard formula that has become overly familiar, but it's rarely been handled better than it was in this action-packed World War II thriller. Lee Marvin is perfectly cast as a down-but-not-out army major who is offered a shot at personal and professional redemption. If he can successfully train and discipline a squad of army rejects, misfits, killers, prisoners, and psychopaths into a first-rate unit of specialized soldiers, they'll earn a second chance to make up for their woeful misdeeds. Of course, there's a catch: to obtain their pardons, Marvin's band of badmen must agree to a suicide mission that will parachute them into the danger zone of Nazi-occupied France. In 'The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission', twelve top Nazis are ordered to the Middle East where they're to organize a Fourth Reich, and only Major Wright (Savalas) and his convict commando squad can stop them!
DVD Verdict: 'The Dirty Dozen' became one of the biggest hits of 1967, placing behind only 'The Graduate,' 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner,' and 'Bonnie and Clyde.' Its success was well-deserved and unsurprising given how enjoyable and stirring it is. Lee Marvin stars as a Major during WWII who is disliked by many of his superiors. He's assigned to lead a suicide style mission behind Nazi enemy lines. He's disinclined to do so, particularly after he meets his "troop" comprised of a dozen murderers and other criminals - the titular "dirty dozen." Despite his misgivings, Marvin eventually agrees to train and lead this rag-tag group, as a shot of redemption for all concerned. The story is constructed brilliantly, beginning with an introduction to the assignment and the dirty dozen, detailing their training, showing their first "mock" operation, and climaxing with their final mission. The cast is a superior mix of established stars and then-newcomers, including Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Charles Bronson, Trini Lopez, Jim Brown, Clint Walker, Telly Savalas, and Donald Sutherland. Special cudos go to Lee Marvin, who is terrific as the renegade Major, and John Cassavetes as the rebellious Franco; Cassavetes received his first Oscar nomination for the role (he later received one for writing and one for directing his own films). Director Robert Aldrich does his best-ever work (he was nominated for best director by the Director's Guild of America), building on such earlier hits as 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?' and 'Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte.' His skillful direction manages to make us care deeply and root for a collection of violent offenders. There are no Special Features on this movie though. 'The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission' followed on from the original, but in many ways did not feature the heart and soul of the soldiers and the battles they encountered. And sure a story such as the one where top Nazis are ordered to the Middle East to organize a Fourth Reich could easily have ended up being all-action-and-minimal-plot; and boring, but it was neither! And the reason was again the cast. Telly Savalas was back and perfect as the hard-as-nails major, wanting to salvage his career. Again, in this film, the dozen convicts are not seeking glory; they just want a possibility at freedom. They are not seeking redemption, as I think they are beyond that, and I think they know they are beyond that. I think they are seeking the freedom, and possibly one moment of knowing they can be, and could have been, better men than who they had been. And keep your eyes open for a pre-Chips Erik Estrada in what has to be his meaniest, dirtist undertaken role ever! Again though there are no Special Features. These are both Full Screen Presentations (1.33:1) and both come with Subtitles in English and French.