It is exceedingly strange to me that in this unprecedented age of media availability, movies on demand and theaters in our very own homes, more and more men have not seen those movies that were a staple of manhood for so many years. Movies like Bullitt, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and even The Godfather are less and less familiar to male audiences than ever. There is a reason that these films were so popular amongst men. They are movies about tough guys who weren’t afraid to rearrange some fac…s to get the job done. Heavy drinking and hard living men. With more and more of these films being released in Special Edition DVD packages, this is a prime time to see these films, and reacquaint yourself with your male heritage. For the women that may be reading this, I’ll just tell you now, you might as well stop reading. This is not a film for you.
The Dirty Dozen is a film filled with true tough guys. Lee Marvin. Telly Savalas. Jim Brown… Charles Bronson, for goodness sake! The biggest tough guys in the movies these days are Vin Diesel, Bruce Willis and The Rock. Willis is cut from the old mold, but he is truly the last of his breed. Somewhere along the way, Hollywood turned its back on the man’s man. I feel that the male population in this country is the worse for it.
Set during World War II, this is the story of twelve prisoners of war who are handpicked to man an extremely risky mission that will take them behind enemy lines. Rather than face their prescribed punishments (ranging from life in prison to death), these soldiers “volunteer” to work themselves into an elite fighting unit prepared to pull of a mission that could turn the tide of the war.
The two-and-a-half hour running time, while lengthy, is entirely justified. The film follows these men from prison, through extensive training, war games, into the mission and through the story’s conclusion. This is a film that is enriched by the time it spends with these characters. Instead of slowing the film down, the added length creates lasting bonds between the viewer and the characters on the screen. A bond that proves vital by the time the film reaches its moving conclusion.
I am almost always pleased with the results when a classic film’s audio track is re-mastered to 5.1. Sure, there are some nagging side effects that arise when a track is made to do something different than it was originally intended to do, but generally speaking, the results are almost always favorable. This disc is the unfortunate exception to that rule. Surrounds and bass tones sound unnatural, and are clearly out of place. The result is a track that is dynamic in one scene, flat in the next. Unfortunately, the overwhelming bass tones guarantee that viewers are in for a night filled with frequent volume adjustments. It’s a great movie, and the audio is decent, but it’s not the slick soundtrack that I was hoping to find.
While the video quality here is undoubtedly an improvement over the previous release of this film on DVD, the quality is still not up to the high standards set by other Special Editions, such as that of The Great Escape that came out last year. This transfer lacks the sharpness and clarity that I was hoping to find. It also has a nagging problem with grain. Not the big annoying grain that is on most films, but the kind of small specks that create a blurring effect in the background of many scenes.
I may be able to find some flaws with the audio and video quality, but the extras are beyond reproach. In addition to the usual theatrical trailer (which was much more involved in the 60’s), this disc also includes a special introduction by Ernest Borgnine that was recorded exclusively for this DVD release. The standard commentary is stepped up a notch as well. Instead of the usual 2 or 3 person affair, this disc showcases something of a cast and crew reunion, including cast members Jim Brown, Trini Lopez, Stuart Cooper, and Colin Maitland, producer Kenneth Hyman, original novelist E.M. Nathanson, film historian David Schlow, and veteran military adviser Capt. Dale Dye . Now that’s a commentary track that I can get behind. With that many experts on the bill, it is impossible to get bored.
There are also two new documentaries here. One is a modern making-of featurette, and the other features the true stories of soldiers operating behind enemy lines. There is also a vintage featurette that works as a precursor to the modern electronic press kit. For my money, the most entertaining of the featurettes is a vintage Marine recruitment film hosted by Lee Marvin. Only the military would think it it is a good idea to show themselves as a disorganized band of incompetent fools that can be bested by a band of hardened criminals, and try to use that stance as a recruiting tool.
Most amazing of all, of course, is that in addition to this perfectly respectable offering of extras, this set also includes the film’s 1985 made-for-TV sequel film in its entirety. While certainly nowhere close to the quality of the original film, it is still a really nice touch to include the film here.
While I would have liked to have seen better quality in the audio and video options of the disc, I really couldn’t ask for more from the extra features. This is a great package to re-introduce the era of the guy movie to a generation that has curiously done without. This is not just a explosions-and-special-effects action flick, this is a true film, with drama, emotion, courage and a real sense of heart. It is a film that makes subtle (and not so subtle) commentaries on war, politics and what it really means to follow orders. It is a film about crime and punishment, guilt and forgiveness. Sure, this may be the first modern action movie, but it is also the model of what these films should still be. I enjoy watching stuff blow up as much as the next guy, but the true essence of a great film is how well it conveys human emotion, and not how big an explosion can be.
Special Features List
- Cast and Crew Commentary
- Introduction by Ernest Borgnine
- Bonus 1985 made-for-TV sequel The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission
- New documentary: “Armed and Deadly: The Making of The Dirty Dozen“
- New documentary: “The Filthy Thirteen: Real Stories from Behind the Lines”
- Vintage featurette: “Operation Dirty Dozen“
- “Marine Corps Combat Leadership Skills”: vintage recruitment documentary featuring Lee Marvin
- Theatrical Trailer