Greatest Film Scenes
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The Dirty Dozen (1967)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

In this popular action-war film from director Robert Aldrich, the ultimate WWII 'guy's' movie - with its exciting sequences of the training and then the behind-the-lines suicidal mission and assault (named "Operation Amnesty" composed of 16 separate steps) on a Nazi-filled French chateau by a group of a dozen undisciplined, convicted, anti-social, death-row military convicts and murderers and other criminals, known as "The Dirty Dozen." The nihilistic film's premise was built on the anti-Establishment premise that rapists, murderers, and sadistic misfits could be trained to become kill-crazy, "dirty" commandos for a suicidal mission behind enemy lines against the Nazis.

It was released during the summer of '67 - coinciding with a series of race riots in numerous American cities, and increasing protests against the Vietnam War. Reviewers labeled the film as irresponsible, unrestrained, and revolting since it appeared to celebrate war and erase the line between "good guys" and "bad guys," particularly in the finale.

In the mid-80s, the film was revived with various made-for-TV movies, including The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission (1985), The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission (1987), and The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission (1988). Two other films duplicated the main plot: Play Dirty (1969, UK), and The Inglorious Bastards (1977, It.). It also inspired the plots of later films, such as Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Suicide Squad (2016).

The film can be regarded as historical fiction, although it was partly based, with great Hollywood embellishment, on a real-life, elite but disruptive group of demolition commandos known as "The Filthy Thirteen" (from the 101st Airborne Division) who didn't conform to the Army's grooming standards and basic hygiene, and sported Mohawk haircuts and faces with war paint. They were not murderers, rapists, and criminals on Death Row. Their original mission was only to destroy strategic bridges, not to assassinate German officers on a vacation retreat in a French chateau. They were the ones who truly inspired E. M. Nathanson's novel The Dirty Dozen published in 1965, and subsequently the film's adaptation by Nunnally Johnson and Lukas Heller.

It was similar to other films at the time with large ensemble casts of mostly male stars brought together, such as The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), The Magnificent Seven (1960), How the West Was Won (1962), The Longest Day (1962), The Great Escape (1963), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and The Professionals (1966) - in this one, the stars included Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Charles Bronson, Robert Ryan, George Kennedy and more. The war film was extremely popular - it became MGM's highest grossing film of the year, with domestic revenue of $45.3 million on a budget of $5.4 million.

  • the premise of the three part plot structure: select a dozen anti-social, convicted, murderers (some on death row) for a behind-the-lines assault ("Operation Amnesty"), train them, and send them on the suicidal mission
  • in 1944 in England (prior to the Allied invasions of D-Day), tough, pugnacious rogue commander Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin), known for being "short on discipline" and a 'loose cannon' was called into a meeting with top military brass to be briefed; he was surprised when he was undeniably pressured by Major General Sam Worden (Ernest Borgnine) to lead a top secret mission to train military prisoners (some on Death Row) to participate in a dangerous mission into NW France, with the goal of parachuting into the area, assaulting and blowing up a lavish château near Rennes, and thereby killing vacationing top Nazi Germany officers to disrupt the enemy's military command
Top Military Officers

Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin)

Major Max Armbruster (George Kennedy)

Major General Sam Worden (Ernest Borgnine)

Brigadier General Denton (Robert Webber)

Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan)

Sergeant Clyde Bowren (Richard Jaeckel)
  • Brigadier General Denton (Robert Webber) described the personnel for the mission designed by a "lunatic": "Project Amnesty: You will select 12 general prisoners convicted and sentenced to death or long-terms of imprisonment for murder, rape, robbery, and/or other crimes of violence and so forth. Train and qualify these prisoners in as much of the business of behind-the-lines operations as they can absorb in a brief but unspecified time. You will then deliver them secretly into the European mainland and just prior to the invasion attack and destroy the target specified"
  • Major Max Armbruster (George Kennedy) then succinctly described the target: "The Germans are using a large chateau near Rennes in Brittany as a rest center and a conference place for general staff officers. The target has no real military value in itself but what with these conferences, discussion groups, and the like going on all the time, there's hardly a day when there aren't a considerable number of important general officers in residence, usually with the benefit of female companionship. Eliminating a sufficient number of senior officers couldn't help but have the effect of disrupting their chain of command. So, the idea is simply that our men are dropped by parachute. They enter the chateau and they kill as many senior officers as is possible in the time available. Naturally, the place is fortified and - heavily guarded"; in exchange for the mens' service, Reisman negotiated for the commutation of the sentences of those who distinguished themselves
  • Reisman was "unhappy" that his rival - the pompous, by-the-book Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan) was appointed to be his superior officer, but wouldn't be directly involved, except for heading up the parachute training school-camp where Reisman's men would be trained as paratroopers
  • in London, Reisman drove to the US Army's Marston-Tyne Military Prison exercise yard where he briefly spoke to second-in-command Sergeant Clyde Bowren (Richard Jaeckel); the twelve members of the selected group to be interviewed by Major Reisman were lined up - under the title credits; their names were read outloud, specifying which ones were on Death Row ("death by hanging"), and those who had lengthy "hard labor" or "imprisonment" prison terms; afterwards, the Major interviewed each one of them in their cells to find out their backgrounds, skills, and personalities
On Death Row (5)






Long Prison Terms (7)






  • Death Row (5 members)
    • Robert Jefferson (Jim Brown - football star), African-American (his opinion of war against Hitler: "That's your war, man, not mine. You don't like the krauts, Major, you fight them. Me, I'll pick my own enemies"); he was incarcerated for killing some “cracker bastards” who were trying to castrate him
    • Archer Maggott (Telly Savalas), a religious, Bible-quoting, psychopathic and maniacal madman and sex degenerate rapist, very racist and anti-black
    • Joseph T. Wladsilaw (Charles Bronson), a stoic, German-speaking Pole, and coal-miner; his crime was shooting another cowardly officer in the back who panicked under fire and ran with the medical supplies
    • Victor Franko (John Cassavetes), a rebellious and outspoken but petty Chicago ex-gangster
    • Samson Posey (Clint Walker), a giant of a man, quiet, Native-American, with an aversion to being 'pushed'
  • Long Prison Terms (7 members)
    • Vernon Pinkley (Donald Sutherland), mentally dim-witted, imbecilic and clownish
    • Glenn Gilpin (Ben Carruthers)
    • Roscoe Lever (Stuart Cooper)
    • Milo Vladek (Tom Busby)
    • Seth Sawyer (Colin Maitland)
    • Pedro Jiminez (Trini López) - guitar-player
    • Tassos Bravos (Al Mancini)
  • after interviewing all the men, Reisman met with the twelve in a room without guards; he set the ground rules when he threatened the twelve about the consequences of any one of them trying to escape: "You've all volunteered for a mission which gives you just three ways to go: you can foul up in training and be sent back here for immediate execution of sentence, or you can foul up in combat in which case I'll personally blow your brains out, or you can do as you're told, in which case you might just get by. You must not attempt to escape. There will be no excuses, there will be no appeal. Any breach of either of these conditions by any one of you, means that you will all be shipped right back here for immediate execution of sentence. You are therefore dependent upon each other. Any one of you try anything smart and the 12 of you get it right in the head"
  • the entire contingent was driven to a remote, rural woodsy encampment, where they were ordered to construct the officers' and prisoners' living quarters and buildings within the next month, and participate in exercises and training with Sergeant Bowren; it was a comedy of errors - the undisciplined and disunited group was entirely unprepared for any kind of under-cover mission
  • one night, Jefferson, Posey and Wladsilaw prevented Franko from using stolen wire cutters to make a foolish escape attempt (Wladsilaw: "You trying to get us all hung?"), and forcefully stopped him by beating him up; afterwards, Wladsilaw gave Reisman a well-worn excuse: "He slipped on a bar of soap"
  • Capt. Stuart Kinder (Ralph Meeker) psychoanalyzed each of the group's twelve anti-authoritarian members in Reisman's new troop during their training and described them to Reisman as "the most twisted, anti-social bunch of psychopathic deformities I have ever run into! And the worst, the most dangerous of the bunch, is Maggott. You've got one religious maniac, one malignant dwarf, two near-idiots, and the rest I don't even wanna think about!" Reisman retorted: "Well, I can't think of a better way to fight a war"; Kinder surmised: "These guys think the United States Army is their enemy, not the Germans," although Reisman countered: "Well, they know the United States Army. But the Krauts haven't done anything to 'em yet"
  • Reisman revealed his two biggest challenges - he was their number one target, and he felt they weren't functioning as a unit or group: "They've gotta function as a team. And that's what's lacking"
  • during training in the remote camp under Sgt. Bowren, Franko (and then everyone else) were deliberately uncooperative and insubordinate when they refused the Sergeant's order to shave in cold water; Major Reisman ruled on their decision: "So you wanna stink, huh? And maybe itch too? Well, that's okay with me because I don't have to smell ya. All right, Sergeant, there will be no further issue of shaving equipment or the use of soap. And there will be no more hot meals. Just K rations. Courtesy of Mr. Franko. At ease" - henceforth, Sgt. Bowren called the dirty, unkempt and filthy group by their new nickname: The Dirty Dozen
  • the Dirty Dozen were driven from their remote camp to the US Army's parachute training school-camp, led by Major Reisman's rival - the pompous, West Point, by-the-book Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan); they were greeted by a marching band and two rows of platoon soldiers; as a prank, Pinkley was ordered by Reisman to pose as a commanding General ("Just a plain ordinary, everyday, home-loving American general") who was traveling incognito with them, to inspect the facility and the attending platoons; during the inspection, Pinkley pointedly asked Breed: "Very pretty, Colonel, very pretty. But can they fight?”; he also asked one soldier where he was from, and after the answer, "Madison City, Missouri, sir!," Pinkley dismissively responded: "Never heard of it"
  • when Reisman's superior officer Breed realized that a "stunt" had been pulled on him, he lashed out at Major Reisman - threatening to run him out of the Army and calling him "a disorganized, undisciplined clown"; Reisman responded with an insult of his own: "I owe you an apology, Colonel. I always thought that you were a cold, unimaginative, tight-lipped officer. But you're really quite emotional, aren't you?"
  • Major Reisman's miffed nemesis Col. Breed instructed two of his officers, Staff Sergeants Alistair Clayton (Gerry Crampton) and McIntosh Blake (Terry Richards), to assault one of Reisman's men in a 'latrine' before they departed - Wladsilaw (without his dog tags) was beaten up in the brawl but refused to identify himself (except as # 9) or reveal what his top-secret mission was all about, before Jefferson and Posey saved him
  • shortly later, Col. Breed made an unauthorized visit to Reisman's camp to discover Reisman's mission and the identities of the men ("We're going to find out who's involved in this insanity, what you're doing here and why"), before Reisman arrived with a machine gun and threw them out after confiscating their weapons and humiliating them
  • Reisman's mission was threatened with cancellation of the project and his men being returned to prison for execution of sentences, due to Col. Breed's report on the "unit's level of achievement and general behavior" at the camp, especially after he broke Army regulations by rewarding the men (except for Maggott who was given sentry duty) with a drunken party ("graduation ball") and eight invited hookers
  • after all of their intense training, Major Reisman complained: "You offered those men a chance to get off the hook, and they worked damn hard at it. Now that they're just shaping up, you're gonna say, 'Sorry fellas, the deal's off?' huh?" - he took the blame for the error in judgment: "All right, so I broke an Army regulation. What are you gonna do? Kill five men and send the rest to prison for life? Because if you did that, you'd have to lock up half the United States Army, officers included. Anyway, you just said it yourself, it was my fault, not theirs. And it's not gonna affect their ability as soldiers.... Look, my men have crammed six months of intensive training into as many weeks. And as of this moment, I'd stack them up against any men in the Army...Look, they might not be pretty, but any one of mine is worth 10 of yours"
  • to prove the worth of his men, Reisman agreed to have his paratroopers compete against Breed's elite group in divisional practice maneuvers and war games, to test them - and he promised they would seize their opponents' base; during the war game trial, the 'Dirty Dozen' cheated by switching arm bands, infiltrating enemy lines, and hijacking an ambulance; they were able to decisively take over Breed's HQs and capture Breed's entire staff, who were disarmed and forced to surrender; the incident revealed the fighting spirit and abilities of the twelve men, and they were given the 'go-ahead' to proceed with the mission by Major Armbruster
  • the "Operation Amnesty" attack plan was composed of 16 separate steps, memorized and spoken in a rhyming chant by the men in the so-called Da Vinci's "Last Supper" homage sequence (all the men sat on one side of a table), as Reisman pointed to a mock-up model of the chateau:
    • One: down to the road block, we've just begun
    • Two: the guards are through
    • Three: the Major's men are on a spree
    • Four: Major and Wladislaw go through the door
    • Five: Pinkley stays out in the drive
    • Six: the Major gives the rope a fix
    • Seven: Wladislaw throws the hook to heaven
    • Eight: Jiménez has got a date
    • Nine: the other guys go up the line
    • Ten: Sawyer and Gilpin are in the pen
    • Eleven: Posey guards points Five and Seven
    • Twelve: Wladislaw and the Major go down to delve
    • Thirteen: Franko goes up without being seen
    • Fourteen: Zero-hour, Jiménez cuts the cable, Franko cuts the phone
    • Fifteen: Franko goes in where the others have been
    • Sixteen: we all come out like it's Halloween.
  • their suicide mission was to parachute behind Nazi enemy lines to destroy a Nazi-filled French chateau near Rennes in Brittany, filled with high-ranking German officers; the first casualty was Jimenez who suffered a broken neck in an apple tree during parachuting entry into France
  • the mission appeared to initially succeed when Wladislaw and Reisman were able to get through the checkpoint and infiltrate into the chateau dressed in German officer uniforms
Botched Mission: Maggott's Confrontation with German Mistress in Chateau
  • however, the plan was botched when the beserk Maggott (the 'Judas' of the group) on the second floor of the chateau attempted to assault one of the officers' mistresses/wives, who as he threatened to stab her, was ordered to begin screaming: ("Scream, bitch. Scream. Scream, you slut. Sprechen, you harlot. Scream"); when her cries alerted others, and she slumped into his arms, he began firing wildly with his machine-gun; the stealthy plan quickly disintegrated into random gunfire and exploding grenades (one of which toppled the signal tower); the German officers above the rank of lieutenant were ordered to retreat to the bomb shelter; Pinkley was shot dead in front of the chateau; in an act of justified revenge and rage, Jefferson blew Maggott away
Jefferson's Heroic Sprint to Blow Up French Chateau
  • the next strategy of the 'dirty dozen' was to sabotage the locked, underground bunker where the alerted Germans (and their wives and mistresses) had fled and retreated to, adjacent to an ammunition storage area; after throwing grenades and gasoline down air-ventilator shafts into the bunker (as those inside struggled to plug the vents, with some Holocaust-related imagery), Jefferson went on a courageous and heroic 20 second sprint (a final 'touchdown run' in fact) to ignite the four vents ("All right, blow it!"), but was gunned down before reaching the stolen half-track waiting for him at the bridge; his bravery touched off a massive explosion of the chateau during an intense fire-fight, and the resulting blasts took the lives of the Germans, their wives and consorts
  • in the aftermath of the mission - only three escaped alive -- Wladislaw (shot in the right leg), Sgt. Bowren, and Reisman (shot in the right shoulder), and the only 'Dirty Dozen' survivor Wladislaw returned to England - to be pardoned and exonerated as originally promised; the last sarcastic words of the film were delivered by Wladislaw in his hospital bed: "Killing generals could get to be a habit with me"
  • during a montage, a roll call of the faces of the 11 men who lost their lives in the line of duty was reviewed during the end credits

Introductory Line-Ups During The Title Credits

Reisman Speaking to the Group After Prison Interviews, Setting the Ground Rules

Construction of Training Camp Quarters and Buildings

Franko's Foolish Attempt to Escape

Training Exercises

Capt. Stuart Kinder (Ralph Meeker) - Conducting Psychoanalytical Interviews With Each Group Member

Franko Complaining to Sgt. Bowren About The Group Shaving with Cold Water

Twelve Insubordinate Men in a Line-Up

Major Reisman's Reaction: "So you wanna stink, huh?"

The Unshaven 'Dirty Dozen' Shortly Later

Pompous and Incompetent Colonel Breed Expecting a General to Inspect His # 1 Platoon

Prank: Pinkley Posing as a General, Incognito

Col. Breed Lashing Out at Major Reisman for the "Stunt"

Major Reisman's Insult Toward Rival Colonel Breed

Reisman's Hooker Party ("Graduation Ball") For Group

Reisman Halting Col. Breed's Unauthorized Visit to the Camp

Major Reisman's Defense of His Men When the Mission Was Threatened with Cancellation

Col. Breed Embarrassed When Captured During War Maneuvers

Homage to Da Vinci's 'The Last Supper'

The Chateau Mock-Up Model

Reisman and Wladislaw Posing as German Officers Inside Chateau

Jefferson's Vengeful Murder of Maggott in Upstairs Hallway

German Hands Struggling to Plug Underground Bunker's Air Vents Being Filled With Grenades

End Scrolling Credits - With Roll-Call of Faces of the 11 Men


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