The Dirty Dozen appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The DVD offered an erratic transfer with a mix of highs and lows.
Sharpness varied. Especially during the movie’s first half, definition could be rather lackluster. Matters improved as they progressed, though, and the film’s second half demonstrated mostly positive delineation. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but moderate edge enhancement was apparent through the film. Again, this was more prominent during the first hour or so of the flick, as were source flaws. Grain could be heavy at times, and I also noticed a mix of specks, marks and other defects. These dropped substantially during the second half of the movie.
Though I expected a low-key palette from Dozen, I thought the colors seemed awfully drab nonetheless. A few bright tones appeared – particularly during the Dozen’s brief tryst with some British birds – but flat, bland greens and grays dominated this dull color scheme. Blacks were acceptably dense and dark, and shadows seemed decent to good. Low-light shots suffered from only a little thickness and usually appeared acceptable. I’m glad the transfer got better as it went on, but this remained too inconsistent a presentation to merit anything over a “C+”.
While also erratic, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Dirty Dozen fared better than the visuals. The score easily worked the best. The music showed good stereo imaging and sounded just great. The score was always bright and dynamic.
Other parts of the mix were less successful. Effects tended to lack clarity and the louder elements seemed a bit distorted. Bass response was too strong for those aspects of the track. Low-end overwhelmed everything else during explosions, and bass was awfully boomy. At least the effects boasted a decent soundstage. They cropped up on the sides in a reasonably involving way, and the surrounds contributed minor but useful reinforcement of the battle sequences.
Speech tended to be flat and dull. I always thought the lines remained intelligible and without edginess, but they came across as rather limp. Overall, the audio was good when compared to other efforts of the film’s era, but the mix of flaws left it with a “B”.
This new two-disc special edition of The Dirty Dozen packs in many extras. On DVD One, we start with an Introduction by Ernest Borgnine. In this three-minute and 28-second piece, the actor offers a few notes about the flick, its participants, its setting and sets, its reception and its legacy. It includes some minor spoilers, which seems odd for an introduction. Borgnine provides a general overview of things in this fairly superfluous piece.
DVD One also offers an audio commentary with actors Jim Brown, Trini Lopez, Stuart Cooper and Colin Maitland, producer Kenneth Hyman, original novelist EM Nathanson, film historian David J. Schow, and veteran military advisor Captain Dale Dye. It should come as no surprise to learn that all of them were recorded separately for this edited piece. Dye starts the show with notes about his work in Hollywood as well as the military credentials enjoyed by Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine and how their backgrounds help their performances. Dye also pops up later in the piece to discuss the reality of how the movie uses prisoners and depicts the military, connections to the “Filthy Thirteen”, and general thoughts about the movie’s details.
After Dye, we hear from Schow as he provides historical notes. For the first parts, he reads from memos written by director Robert Aldrich. Among other subjects, these discuss efforts to update the story and make it fit with the attitudes of the mid-Sixties. The memos also cover topics like rough-cuts and shooting challenges. Later Schow chats with Nathanson as the pair discuss research and writing as well as his military experiences, the adaptation of the story and changes from the novel, and other related work by Nathanson.
Schow also acts as moderator to introduce comments from the four actors and Hyman. These get into things such as experiences on the set and interactions with the other actors. They offer a general view of the shoot from the various perspectives.
Because of all the different sources, the commentary can get choppy at times. However, it provides a nice mix of information and digs into the subjects well. At times it can feel a little promotional; Nathanson advertises his books and Dye touts his consulting services. Nonetheless, we receive a strong feel for the production and its related concerns through this well-constructed piece.
In addition to the film’s trailer, a “vintage featurette” entitled Operation Dirty Dozen finishes the first disc. It runs nine minutes, 12 seconds, as it shows aspects of the production. “Operation” mostly focuses on actor Lee Marvin as it shows aspects of his “rugged” life. It tells us little about the production, but some of the behind the scenes bits are fun to see. This is clearly a promotional piece, though, so don’t expect much from it.
Over on DVD Two, one big attraction comes from a bonus movie. 1985’s The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission runs 95 minutes, 25 seconds and features Borgnine, Marvin, and Richard Jaeckel in the same roles they played in the original. It presents a new “Dirty Dozen” on a mission to kill a German general (Wolf Kahler). Why? He may attempt to assassinate Hitler, and the Allies think this will actually elongate the war. Reisman trains his new group and leads them on their mission.
Through the film’s first half, it borders on remake territory. Those scenes greatly resemble ones found in the first flick; indeed, Next Mission includes much of the same dialogue and even lifts some shots from its predecessor! The second half manages to deviate from the formula, though not wildly so.
Although Next Mission isn’t painful to watch, it also fails to become a good film or a worthy follow-up to the original. The casting of Marvin, Borgnine and Jaeckel seems asinine. I understand the desire to have actors continue in their roles, but Next Mission takes place three months after Dirty Dozen. Doesn’t it look odd that three actors have aged 18 years in that span?
It sure doesn’t help that Marvin looks very weary here. He manages a little rugged toughness on a couple of occasions, but he doesn’t seem like the same vicious threat of the original movie. In 1967, Marvin was a force with which to be reckoned, while here he seems more like a tired old man.
The lack of creativity dooms the film, as does the loose sense of history. The characters are cartoony and dull, and the scenarios feel contrived and silly. The movie movies through its 95 minutes without becoming a chore, but it never turns into anything very entertaining.
Two new documentaries come next. Armed and Deadly: The Making of The Dirty Dozen lasts 30 minutes, 45 seconds and includes remarks from Borgnine, Brown, Nathanson, Hyman, Maitland, Cooper, Lopez, Great Film Directors author Leo Braudy, Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich? co-authors James Ursini and Alain Silver, Guts & Glory: Great American War Movies author Lawrence Suid, dialogue director Peter Katz, script supervisor Angela Allen, set designer Ty Hutchinson, and actors George Kennedy, Donald Sutherland, Clint Walker, and Al Mancini.
The show covers the status of war films in the mid-Sixties, the development of the Dirty Dozen novel and its path to the screen, and reflections on director Aldrich. From there we hear about changes made to the script, casting and the actors, rehearsals, training and work on the set and various problems during the shoot. We then zip through Aldrich’s filming style and related delays, the chateau set and connected issues, the film’s reception, and a mix of valedictory thoughts about the flick and its director.
Not much fat appears in this tight show. Even when movie clips pop up, they fly by quickly and don’t waste our time. “Armed” cranks through a mix of good material in a quick way but develops the subjects in a satisfactory manner. This turns out to be a solid documentary packed with many fine anecdotes from the shoot.
In the 47-minute and five-second The Filthy Thirteen: Real Stories from Behind the Lines, we learn about true war tales. This program features Nathanson, Dye, military historians John Keegan and Richard Killblane, US Army Center of Military History’s Dr. David W. Hogan Jr., University of Central Oklahoma Professor of History Herb Ham, and former soldiers Jake McNiece and Jack Agnew.
The piece looks at real-life inspirations for Dozen with a particular emphasis on the members of “The Filthy Thirteen”. We learn McNiece’s story and his parachute regiment. We hear about their training, their attitude, and how they became known as “filthy”. We find out a lot about their activities during World War II, with a particular emphasis on D-Day and subsequent events.
This terrific documentary tells a great tale. We get a fine look at what made McNiece’s group different and what they went through during the War. It hits on the similarities between the Thirteen and the Dirty Dozen and views the differences as well. McNiece is a fascinating character and this is a consistently riveting piece.
One unusual element pops up with Combat Leadership: The Ultimate Challenge. Apparently created in the mid-Eighties, this 29-minute and 38-second Marine “vintage recruitment documentary” features Lee Marvin as the host. We hear from Sgt. Major Leo Robert, Brigadier General Michael Sullivan, Staff Sergeant Gene Bailey, Lt. Colonel Wesley Fox, Lt. Colonel Ray Smith, Colonel (Retired) William Lee, Major General (Retired) Jonas Platt, 2nd Lt. Daniel Cowdrey, Lt. Colonel John Cummings, and World War II veterans Joe Foss and Dr. EB Sledge.
Although it clearly acts as propaganda, the show isn’t as rah-rah as I assumed. In addition to notes about bonding and loyalty, it reflects on fears during war and what Marines can expect in combat. Of course, it reassures the recruits that they’ll do just fine and tells them their anxiety is natural, but the tone still surprised me. This program wouldn’t appear here without Marvin’s participation, but it’s an interesting piece of history.
Gritty and exciting, The Dirty Dozen provides an enduring action movie. Though the film rambles at times, it mostly sticks with a lively tale that works well after nearly 40 years. The DVD suffers from mediocre visuals but presents pretty good audio and a terrific roster of extras. The erratic picture quality means the disc doesn’t become consistently exceptional, but it has more than enough positive elements to earn my recommendation.