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"The Dirty Dozen" (Old Movie Watch)


Old Movie Watch…How did I miss it: the Great American Movie about the All-American tuff guy: the 1967 film “Dirty Dozen” with the amazing performance by Lee Marvin. In 1967, I was a sophomore at the University Of Arkansas, involved in the Peace Movement, Civil Rights, the small poetry scene, and trying not to let my classes interfere with my education at one of the best party schools in the country. If I went to a movie, it would have been one of the underground art flicks making the rounds. Plus I was working out the knots in my own masculinity. The institutional violence of death by hanging in the very first scene would have been a huge turn-off for me. The high testosterone American tuff guy of the mid-20th Century was very effective against Hitler and the Nazis in Europe but was a disaster when we used to take sides in Viet Nam’s Civil War. The USA was on the brink of a foreign policy disaster and seemed there was nothing we could do to stop it. From the perspective of the 1960’s, the hyperactive, macho guy attitude (and it’s relation to authority) seem to be a big part of the problem. That is what this movie is about. And why in 1967, I would have seen it as part of the problem. Fast forward over 50 years and I found it fascinating. Sort of like going to a museum of cultural history. American military strategy failed in Viet Nam largely because the American High Command failed to listen to their own advisors who warned against using the strong arm tactics of WWII against a population of rural farmers who were more interested in getting all foreign armies out of their country than international politics. As a result the rural farmers came to hate us as much as the French and Japanese. They threw us out of their country. Can’t say that I blame them. Remember, we threw both the French and the English out of North America. The big question is: is this a true story? No. The attack on the Nazi occupied Chateau is historical fiction. And if such a commando raid had happened, I suspect it would have been so top secret, no one would ever have heard about it. Except, there were rumors and stories going around WWII vets that such a raid had happened. The author of the novel, E.M. Nathanson, spent two years trying to verify the rumors with no luck. What can be verified is the army had behind the lines demolition units to blow up bridges and rail roads. There is no record of them blowing up a chateau of Nazi generals…so Nathanson wrote the novel that became the movie. Now as far as WWII movies go, this is not “The Longest Day” or “Saving Private Ryan,” but it is definitely worth the watch.



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