The Dirty Dozen is a 1967 war film directed by Robert Aldrich and released by MGM. It was filmed in England and features an ensemble cast, including Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas and Robert Webber. The film is based on E. M. Nathanson's novel of the same name that was potentially inspired by a real life group called the "Filthy Thirteen". In 2001, the American Film Institute placed the film number 65 on their 100 Years... 100 Thrills list.
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 Sam 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. Reisman is aided by his friend, the mild-mannered Major Max Armbruster (George Kennedy)
Major Reisman is assigned an unusual and top-secret pre-invasion mission: take a small unit of soldiers convicted of felonies and turn them into a commando squad to be sent on a special mission, an airborne infiltration and assault on a chateau near Rennes in Brittany. The chateau will be hosting a meeting of dozens of high-ranking German officers, the elimination of which will presumably hamper the German military's ability to respond to D-Day. Those felons who survive the mission will have their sentences commuted. It quickly becomes clear that both Reisman and his superiors regard the operation as a near-suicide mission and expect that few, if any of the felons will return.
Reisman is assigned twelve convicts, all either serving lengthy sentences or destined to be executed. Notable members include slow-witted Vernon Pinkley (Donald Sutherland); Robert Jefferson (Jim Brown), an African American soldier convicted of killing a man in a racial brawl; Samson Posey (Clint Walker), a gentle giant who becomes enraged when pushed; Joseph Wladislaw (Charles Bronson) a taciturn coal miner recruited for his ability to speak German, convicted of shooting his squad's medic; A.J. Maggott (Telly Savalas), a misogynist and religious fanatic; and Victor Franko (John Cassavetes), a former member of the Chicago organized-crime Syndicate who has extreme problems with authority. Under the supervision of Reisman and military police Sergeant Bowren (Richard Jaeckel), the group begin training. After being forced to construct their own living quarters, the twelve individuals are trained in combat by Reisman and gradually learn how to operate as a group. For parachute training they are sent to the base operated by Colonel Breed. Under strict orders to keep their mission secret, Reisman's men run afoul of Breed and his troops, especially after Pinkley poses as a general and inspects Breed's troops. Angered at the usurpation of his authority, Breed attempts to discover Reisman's mission and then attempts to get the program shut down. Major Armbruster suggests a test of whether Reisman's men are ready: during practice maneuvers which Breed will be taking part in, the "Dirty Dozen" will attempt to capture the Colonel's headquarters. During the maneuvers, the men use various unorthodox tactics, including theft, impersonation, and rule-breaking, to infiltrate Breed's headquarters and hold him and his men at gunpoint. This proves to the General that Reisman's men are ready.
The night of the raid, the men are flown to France, and practise a rhyme they have learned which details their roles in the operation. There is a slight snag when upon landing in a tree one of the Dozen, Jiminez (Trini Lopez) breaks his neck and dies, but the others proceed with the mission. Wladislaw and Reisman infiltrate the meeting disguised as German officers while Jefferson and Maggott sneak onto the top floor of the building. The others set up in various locations around the chateau. The plan falls apart when Maggott sees one of the women who had accompanied the officers, abducts her at knifepoint, and orders her to scream. The German officers downstairs ignore her, thinking she is just having sex. Maggott stabs her and begins shooting, alerting the German officers. As the officers and their companions retreat to an underground bomb shelter, a general firefight ensues between the Dozen and the German troops. After Wladislaw and Reisman lock the Germans in the bomb shelter, the Dozen pry open the ventilation ducts to the shelter and drop unprimed grenades down, then pour gasoline inside. Jefferson throws a primed grenade down each shaft and sprints for their vehicle, but is shot down as the grenades explode. Reisman, Bowren, Wladislaw, and Franko, the last remaining survivors of the assault team, are making their escape on a German half-track when Franko, shouting triumphantly that he has survived, is shot by a stray round. Back in England only Reisman, Bowren and Wladislaw have managed to get out alive.