one of my favourite
based on true story...
In England, in the spring of 1944, Allied forces are preparing for the D-Day invasion. Among them are Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin), an OSS officer; his commander, Regular Army Major General Worden (Ernest Borgnine), and his former commander Colonel Everett Dasher Breed (Robert Ryan). Early in the film the personalities of the three men are shown to clash and the characters of the individualistic Reisman and the domineering Breed are established.
Major Reisman is assigned an unusual and top-secret pre-invasion mission: take twelve American criminals convicted of capital offenses, either serving sentences of hard labor or awaiting execution, and whip them into a unit capable of carrying out a specific task. They are asked to infiltrate a château near Rennes, in Brittany, used as a retreat for senior Wehrmacht officers, on the eve of the invasion. Without having complete intelligence as to the identity of the guests, it was felt that the elimination of officers in the German high command or senior staff could cripple or confuse the German military's ability to respond at the time of crisis. It is quickly established that both Reisman and the generals with whom he frequently clashes consider the mission to be a suicidal long shot.
The film unfolds in three major acts; the first act identifies and "recruits" the prisoners, depicts the unit in training and highlights the interpersonal conflict between the men, some of whom see the mission as a chance for redemption and others as a chance for escape.
The second act places the mission, and the characters, in jeopardy when a breach of military regulations on Reisman's part forces General Worden, at Breed's urging, to have the men - now dubbed the Dirty Dozen by Sergeant Bowren (Richard Jaeckel) because of their refusal to shave or bathe as a protest against their living conditions - prove their worth as soldiers.
The final act, which was a mere footnote in the novel, is a set piece action sequence detailing the attack on the chateau.Characters
Reisman interviews the dozen convicts chosen for the mission: they include a gangster (John Cassavetes), a psychopath (Telly Savalas), a cynical ex-officer (Charles Bronson) and a black activist (Jim Brown). They are taken to an isolated part of the country under the guard of a squad of military police led by Sergeant Bowren, who proves an able second-in-command to Reisman.
* Joseph Wladislaw (Charles Bronson) - Sentenced to death by hanging for shooting a deserting officer
* Robert Jefferson (Jim Brown) - Sentenced to death by hanging for killing a 'white' officer in self defense
* Victor Franko (John Cassavetes) - Sentenced to death by hanging for killing a civilian in a botched armed robbery
* Pedro Jiminez (Trini López) - Sentenced to 20 years hard labor
* Archer Maggott (Telly Savalas) - Sentenced to death by hanging for rape and murder of an English woman
* Vernon Pinkley (Donald Sutherland) - Sentenced to 30 years imprisonment
* Samson Posey (Clint Walker) - Sentenced to death by hanging for the accidental killing of a G.I. in a bar room brawl
* Milo Vladek (Tom Busby) - Sentenced to 30 years hard labor
* Glenn Gilpin (Ben Carruthers) - Sentenced to 30 years hard labor
* Roscoe Lever (Stuart Cooper) - Sentenced to 20 years imprisonment
* Tassos Bravos (Al Mancini) - Sentenced to 20 years hard labor
* Seth Sawyer (Colin Maitland) - Sentenced to 20 years hard labor
The individualists who are the dozen convicts are shown to mature, grow and coalesce in to a team, at one point resolving to not shave or bathe until given hot water, hence, becoming The Dirty Dozen. Later, they prove their regained military value in a field training exercise that suits Major Reisman's professional and personal goals in his feud with Colonel Breed.
The team demonstrates its unity with the operational count-off: "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."
Sergeant Bowren is also part of the mission. Landing in France, they discover themselves short one man; Jiménez broke his neck in the parachute jump. They approach the château gate in German uniform, shooting (with silenced pistols) and knifing the guards, commando-style. Wladislaw, who speaks rudimentary German, and Reisman enter the château as guests, spill ink on the guest register so they do not have to sign in blackletter script (used for formal purposes in German society), and go to their room, beginning to sneak in several of their men.
The plan goes awry when a German woman walks into the room where Maggot is hiding. He pokes his bayonet to her throat and pushes her out into the hallway. Yielding to his sadism, he urges her to scream, then stabs her to death just when she thinks he will not kill her because she's done as he wished. Downstairs, the Wehrmacht officers mistake her death scream for passion; only Maggot's subsequent gunfire alerts them of the attack. Gilpin was to blow up the rooftop radio-telephone antenna but becomes stuck when his leg breaches rotting roof slats on the roof. Unable to free himself, he still blows up the antenna and is killed in the explosion. Panic ensues and the Germans flee to an underground bomb shelter; Wladislaw and Reisman lock them in.
Resorting to plan-B, they seed the shelter's air vents with hand grenades, then pour gasoline/petrol down the vent shafts; Jefferson is assigned to run to each vent, drop a live grenade, and escape.
Meanwhile, most of the Dirty Dozen are killed by snipers and German soldiers counter-attacking from the main road. Fighting their way out, Maj. Reisman, Wladislaw, Sgt. Bowren and Franko escape in a German heavy half-tracked transport (hot wired by the criminally-resourceful Franko); Reisman, Bowren and one of the Dirty Dozen, Wladislaw, survive the suicide mission after Franko, having boasted that they've made it, gets shot in the back by a surviving German soldier.
The film concludes in a hospital room where Sgt Bowren on crutches is shown visiting Reisman and Wladislaw who are bedridden with broken bones and other serious wounds received in the battle. They are visited by the general officers, their former tormentors who sent them on this suicide mission who now have nothing but smiles and praise for the survivors. Wladislaw is heard to mutter "Oh boy... killing generals could get to be a habit with me".