The Director Robert Aldrich managed to feature a number of my favourite actors in this film along with an intriguing angle of a World War 2 story. Lee Marvin creates the most interesting and influential character, the satirical Major John Reisman, who is detailed to bring together a number of army prisoners awaiting life sentences or the death penalty for crimes committed whilst serving in the army. The Major visits the prison to interview the twelve chosen men offering them full pardons if they agree to participate in a special commando mission without question, or stay in their cells awaiting their military penalties. Each of them has to choose, but if anyone attempts to escape from the mission, all of them will be sent back to prison.
The assignment is to attack a fortified Chateau in France where a great number of German Generals and high-ranking general staff officers stay for meetings and organising strategic battle plans. At an exclusive and concealed training ground this bunch of misfits are finally whipped into a fighting unit with help of a number of military police guards under the command of Sgt. Bowren (Richard Jaeckel) another who fits the part par excellence. Although not one of the initial Dozen, he goes on the mission with the Major. The initial aggression towards the Major and the military command slowly diminish as camaraderie of the Dirty Dozen starts to gel.
Their rebellious attitude never disappears altogether as there are a number of scenes where practical jokes, insubordination and a conflict of rules occasionally re-enters the frame. Donald Sutherland plays Vernon Pinkey a simple and amusing character, but he does get to act the village idiot in a couple of brilliant scenes, including one in which he is incorrectly passed off as a general, and requested to inspect a platoon of soldiers. The straight and thoroughly convincing tough role of Joseph Wladislaw (Charles Bronson) who speaks fluent German, is a key role to the story and he takes the mission more seriously than most. One of the most outstanding characters is Victor Franco (John Cassavetes) and he portrays the most influential performance as a rabble-rouser and a menace in carrying out orders, a person riddled with union manipulation on every occasion, swaying his pals to follow suit. For this role a number of Oscar nominations were to follow for best actor.
Then there is enormous but timid Samson Posey (Clint Walker), who has to take many a gag about his feminine name. A gentle giant you might say, until pushed too far. The strange one within this motley crew is Archer Maggott (Telly Savalas) a psychopath and a southern religious maniac, intent that the world should rid the female gender of all allure and damnations known to man. He portrays the sadistic maniac to perfection and has his one moment to perform his merciless philosophy during the assignment. Through the training phase of the operation the rebellious underdogs are challenged to prove their ability as a fighting unit to take part in Divisional Manoeuvres with the rest of the company, and lay capture to the Generals Headquarters. They accept the challenge, a task considered impossible by the top brass including Major Reismans pompous superior officer Col. Everett Dasher Breed (Robert Ryan) a role he plays to arrogant perfection. Its moments like this, which brings a great amount of humour to the film, and each character has their special moments to shine within this first period. The film relates to the aggression on and behind the war theme and the acting qualities from the entire cast remains on top throughout the entire film. A truly great film for the war lovers collection.