FF23 - The Dirty Dozen

Intro by John Roderick

One of the most resilient Hollywood action movie tropes is that when you've got a tough job, a dirty job, you call it a loose cannon. He may not play by the rules, but he gets results. Hell, I think of myself as the loose cannon of this podcast, with Ben as the frustrated police chief and Adam as the hapless rookie detective. You want to see my results? Here they are, punk! The trope isn't reserved for cop movies and it's not a recent invention. It is born out of the American identity of the rugged individualists and some of our best known literary heroes are cut from this cloth, from Captain Ahab to Nancy Drew.

In the case of war movies, there's almost always at least one protagonist who dances to the beat of his own drummer. Sometimes he's a disruption, occasionally he gets his comeuppance, but more often than not his unorthodox practices save the day. You're all clear kid, now let's blow this thing and go home! Even so, it's not every day we meet a character like Lee Marvin's Major Reisman, hard bitten, battle tested.

All business but with a swagger like a Bengal tiger, he is despised by his former commanders for his insolence and offered a suicide mission no one else would take: Stage an assault on a French chateau full of Wehrmacht officers on the eve of D-day, using a team of commanders made up of condemned men who have no special training and no reason to co-operate. Reisman recruits a team of 12 reprobates, sentenced to death or life in prison and promises them a full pardon if they survive.

Here we have the loose cannon multiplier where the loose cannon gets results puts the fate of his mission in the hands of even a looser cannons. It's loose cannons all the way down. Fortunately for Reisman, at least half of his team are made up of big Hollywood stars, so at some point he can count on everyone having a big scene showing off what a nut job they are.

The groundwork for this mission is impeccable: The film's first half is a boot camp story, one of the great boot camp stories of all of war cinema, following Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, Gitari Trini López, and Donald Sutherland among others, as they are molded from a rabble of psychos into a crack commando squad. The major breaks them down to build them up. He provides liquor and prostitutes as a reward and despite repeated conflicts with his nemesis, the straight laced Colonel Breed, the team coalesces and proves themselves by winning the war game exercises through deceit and cunning.

With that set piece behind them, the unit parachutes into France, executing their careful plan massacring high ranking Germans while getting picked off one by one by the overwhelming opposition, climaxing in a last-stand scene of Nazi immolation that would play really well on Twitter if it happened today. Only Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and Richard Jaeckel escape with their lives, but the unit's valiance leads to official clemency for their criminal pasts. In order to inspect this film, we had to learn to walk slow, act dumb, and look stupid. Today on friendly fire: The Dirty Dozen.

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