Welcome to the Last Movie Outpost Behind the Scenes column. We hope to cover the most interesting and timeless movies with some pics and factoids you might already know, but if you don’t, even better! Feel free to recommend or contribute images or articles in the comments below.
“You Know What To Do, Feed The French And Shoot The Germans!”
The Dirty Dozen author E.M. Nathanson may have gotten the idea for the title of his best-selling novel from a real-life group of World War II 101st Airborne Division paratroopers nicknamed “The Filthy Thirteen.”
These men, demolitionists in Headquarters Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st, supposedly earned their nickname by not bathing or shaving for a long period of time during training prior to the Normandy invasion.
Members of “The Thirteen” can be seen in famous vintage film footage and still photos, their faces painted with Indian “war paint,” before boarding their planes for the D-Day jump. Director Robert Aldrich intended the film as an anti-war allegory for what was happening in Vietnam.
Donald Sutherland was a late casting decision, replacing an actor who dropped out because he thought the role was beneath him. Jack Palance turned down the Telly Savalas role because he disapproved of the character’s racist overtones.
John Wayne was first offered the part of Maj. John Reisman, but he declined. The part was then offered to Lee Marvin, who took it. Wayne’s refusal was due to his disapproval of the original script, in which Reisman has a brief affair with a married woman whose husband is fighting overseas.
The cast included many World War II US veterans, including Marvin, Robert Webber and Robert Ryan (US Marines), Savalas (US Army) and Bronson (Army Air Forces), Ernest Borgnine (Navy), and Clint Walker (Merchant Marine).
The character of Reisman (Marvin) was based on John Miara of Malden, Massachusetts, who was a close personal friend of Marvin’s while both were serving in the Marine Corps during WW II.
Marvin served as a private first class in the Marines in the Pacific War and provided technical assistance with uniforms and weapons to create realistic portrayals of combat, yet bitterly complained about the falsity of some scenes. Marvin thought Reisman’s wrestling the knife from the enraged Posey to be particularly phony.
Aldrich replied that the plot was preposterous and that by the time the audience had left the cinema, they would have been so overwhelmed by action, explosions and killing, that they would have forgotten the lapses.
George Kennedy, Walker, Borgnine and Jim Brown were reunited to play the voices of the soldiers some thirty-one years later in Small Soldiers.
“You’ve Seen A General Inspecting Troops Before Haven’t You? Just Walk Slow, Act Dumb And Look Stupid!
The French Château that appears in the film was constructed especially for the production by art director William Hutchinson and his crew of 85. One of the largest sets ever built, it stood 240 feet across and 50 feet high. Gardeners surrounded the building with 5400 square yards of heather, 400 ferns, 450 shrubs, 30 spruce trees, and 6 full-grown weeping willows.
The script called for it to be blown up, but the construction was so solid that 70 tons of explosives would have been needed to achieve the effect. For that scene, a section was rebuilt from cork and plastic.
Marvin referred to this movie as “junk” and “just a dummy moneymaker”, although he enjoyed the film. The movie has nothing to do with war, he stressed, and he was very pleased that he got to do The Big Red One (1980), which mirrored his own wartime experiences.
Production on the film ran for so long that Jim Brown was in danger of missing training camp for the up-coming 1967-68 football season. As training camp and the NFL season approached, the NFL threatened to fine and suspend Brown if he did not leave filming and report to camp immediately.
Not one to take threats, Brown simply held a press conference to announce his retirement from football. At the time of his retirement, Brown was considered to be one of the best in the game and even today is considered to be one of the NFL’s all-time greats. Brown’s character is credited as ‘Napoleon Jefferson’ in the original US trailer.
Bronson’s character says his father was a coal miner from Silesia (an area of Poland known for its coal mining). In real life, this is true. Bronson’s (real name: Charles Buchinski) father was a coal miner from Lithuania, and Bronson himself worked in the mines as a boy in Pennsylvania.
As film production ran over-schedule, Frank Sinatra advised Trini López to quit so that his recording career wouldn’t lose its momentum or popularity. So López took Sinatra’s advice and quit. Originally, López’s character, Jiminez, was supposed to be one of the heroes. He was to be the one to ignite all of the dynamite that would destroy the entire Château. But with López’s abrupt departure, his character was written off as being killed during the parachute jump.
“It’s Judgment Day, Sinners! Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are!”
During the “Last Supper” scene, Maggot (Savalas) is in the Judas position of the Leonardo Da Vinci painting, before betraying the team during its mission.
The scene where one of the dozen pretends to be a general inspecting Robert Ryan’s troops was initially written for Walker’s character. However, Walker was uncomfortable with this scene, so Aldrich decided to use Sutherland instead. The scene was directly responsible for Sutherland being cast in M.A.S.H. (1970), which made him an international star.
Bronson was so angry with Marvin for constantly turning up dead drunk that he threatened to punch the star.
When Marvin and Bronson ring the doorbell at the castle, the bell rings da da da dah (…-) 3 times in rapid succession. In Morse code, this is the letter V (Victory) and the 4 notes represented by the code are the first notes of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “5th Symphony”, but again, even though by the German Beethoven, it was an Allied anthem signifying victory.
The Dirty Dozen was a massive commercial success. Produced on a budget of $5.4 million, it grossed $45.3 million. It was the fifth-highest-grossing film of 1967 and MGM’s highest-grossing film of the year. The film was controversial when it was released, as it depicted Allied soldiers as being no different from their Nazi counterparts.
Aldrich was told that he could be in line for an Oscar as Best Director for the film if he cut out the scene of Brown dropping hand grenades into the bomb shelter. The scene was considered controversial because the Germans (including women) were locked inside the bunker and had no chance to survive. Aldrich considered it but elected to leave the scene in to show that “war is hell”.
This was the first commercially produced Hollywood film to open the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 1967 (the festival began in 1947 under the name of the First International Festival of Documentary Films).
The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning in the category for Best Sound Effects.
We’ll finish this off with some images of Muhammad Ali visiting the film set of The Dirty Dozen at Markyate, Bedfordshire, Aug. 5, 1966.
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