The Dirty Dozen

The Theatregoer

The way to see if you're grown-up is to go to a war movie and see if you jump under the seat. Clutching Bosley Crowther's condemnation to my polka-dotted dress. I rushed right over to The Dirty Dozen. I wanted to see if I could watch every last machine-gun fire, every last sock in the eye. Age doesn't make you callous, just confused about what's Right and Wrong. So when relief--a play or a novel or a movie with straight black and white characters--comes, you run to it. And since Mr. Crowther took such a tut-tut attitude toward the violence, I figured there'd be lots of it. That meant a simple simpatico bunch of heroes because, as any director knows, you can add brutality and blood baths only if the audience feels sufficiently gung-ho about the heroes.

Think how simple and simpatico James Bond is (he eats, sleeps, kills, drives a car). And how much sadism his movies get away with. The sadism could be even more serious if Bond weren't amoral. Nobody can entrust his heart, even for a picayune 90 minutes, to a man who doesn't give a damn. So the camera can't linger over the agony he creates (a knife in the back) or escapes (poison in the tea). Bond has our sympathy only in limited amounts.

But the dirty dozen have it completely -- from the moment one of them gives their officer (Lee Marvin) a little lip and gets a fist in the mouth. We're for Marvin too: he's the one who puts the twelve convicts in fighting shape and communicates to them the we-row-together-or-we're-sunk notion. Their mission is blowing up a chateau-load of German generals, but the main problem is getting the convicts to work as a team. They're of course restless under authority. Still, Marvin--no convict, but not a sweet-talking guy--gives the officers in charge of him a little hell too.

Director Robert Aldrich has the knack of making all-men movies. (He made that fantastic tribute to the male sex, The Flight of the Phoenix.) He assembles a motley crew--runts, Spics, ex pro-football players--and creates a spirit of brotherhood without resorting to Glenn Ford, Good Guy characters. A crisply edited, nicely acted little mass murder flick.