An all-star cast energizes Robert Aldrich's classic World War II action drama about a group of 12 American military prisoners assembled by tacticians and ordered to perform a suicide mission: infiltrate a well-guarded château and kill the Nazi officials vacationing there. The incarcerated soldiers, most of whom are facing death sentences for a variety of violent crimes, jump at the chance to redeem themselves. Major Reisman (Lee Marvin), the noncriminal in charge of the group, whips the men into a crack unit, uses them to best the troops of his by-the-book superior officer, Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan), in war games, then leads the steely antiheroes on their perilous assault.The film is studded with standout performances, including Telly Savalas as a religious psychopath with a febrile animosity toward Germans and John Cassavetes in an Oscar-nominated portrayal as an insubordinate, poison-tongued hothead. Ernest Borgnine, Donald Sutherland, Charles Bronson, and football legend Jim Brown further round out the impressive collection of talent. Aldrich, who by the time of THE DIRTY DOZEN had been fathoming the darker side of life onscreen for more than a decade (KISS ME DEADLY, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?), scored a huge hit with this rousing thriller laced with a stinging cynicism perfectly in tune with the increasingly skeptical tenor of the times.
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"It's a relentless work -- violent, funny and deeply cynical."
Uncut - Danny Leigh (08/01/2004)
Sight and Sound - Geoffrey Macnab (09/01/2004)
4 stars out of 5 -- "Robert Aldrich's gleefully nasty, willfully daft action adventure is ageing well."
Total Film - Ceri Thomas (07/01/2006)
3 stars out of 5 -- "A new twist -- in its time -- on the war movie....It's a good cast..."
Ultimate DVD - Jan Vincent-Rudzki (07/01/2006)
"...Brimming with excitement and humour, yet also staying resolutely honourable to its storytelling..." -- 4 out of 5 stars
Total Film - Darren Vaughan (07/01/2000)
"Any movie with Telly Savalas as a psychotic named A.J. Maggott is already halfway home....A red-meat classic..."
USA Today - Mike Clark (06/05/1998)