The Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Dozen (1967)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland, George Kennedy, Telly Savalas
Extras: Bonus Movie, Introduction, Commentary Track, Documentaries, Featurettes, Theatrical Trailer

"The Dirty Dozen" has long been one of my favorite films, one that I can view over and over again without ever tiring of it. An action-packed comedy and drama set during World War II, this film not only boasts an amazing cast but the story to go with it. When Warner Home Video now dropped a HD-DVD version of this film in my lap, I was more than eager to revisit the film yet again.

Major Reisman (Lee Marvin) has an unenviable task. He has orders to take 12 military prisoners from death row, turn them into infiltrating killing machines and then unleash them on the NAZIs. In return, if they survive the mission, they will be pardoned and free to go home.
Trying to find the right way to deal with these insubordinate men who have reached the end of the robe and have absolutely nothing to lose, Reisman pulls out all the tricks he has been learning over his long career, and slowly the murderous bunch of misfits turns into a group of soldiers who will stop at nothing to fulfill the mission and make it home safely.

Nominated for four Academy Awards and winner of one, "The Dirty Dozen" is the penultimate story of misfits coming clean and applying themselves as they begin to see a glimmer of hope and purpose in their lives. While this is a pretty average story that has been repeated over and again in various settings, director Robert Aldrich had the magic touch with this material as he not only plotted out and paced a wonderful film but cast it with actors who perfectly fit the characters. Whether it's Telly Savalas as the nutcase bigot women-hating rapist, Charles Bronson as a quiet man with wits, Donald Sutherland as a hapless goon or John Cassavettes as the incorrigible rebel, the Dirty Dozen covers all facets of characters, meshing them together in the story. Lee Marvin is wonderful as the major who drills and grills them. Without ever coming across as sadistic he knows how to get these men's attention and cooperation even if it means reverting to violence and primal instincts.

Warner Home Video is presenting "The Dirty Dozen" in wonderful 1080p high definition on this release. The transfer has been remastered and cleaned up some time ago for the DVD version and it clearly shows. Free of defects or speckles the transfer is wonderfully clean and devoid of grain, making for a great presentation. However, the film itself has some technical issues that are ore evident in this high definition version than they were in previous releases. Occasionally the picture is slightly out of focus. Select shots have therefore a very soft look without a lot of detail. When they are suddenly cut against a focused shot that revels in detail, the effect is noticeably jarring. There are quite a number of occasions where this happens giving the film a bit of an inconsistent look. This is problem with the original film however and has nothing to do with the transfer we are observing here. There is absolutely nothing anyone could – or should – do about it.
Color reproduction is very good in this film once again with tones that are flush and rich. The film does have a color palette that squarely puts it in the 60s but as expected the HD-DVD transfer does a marvelous job restoring these warm tones with ease. Black levels are deep and solid giving the image superb visual depth and help bring out details. As mentioned above in shots that are properly focused the transfer is able to reproduce a remarkable amount of detail down to the tiniest seams in the men's uniforms.

The film offers up a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Plus audio track that has been remastered also. As a result there is not a hiss or pop to be found anywhere, making for a great presentation. The frequency response has been expanded to make sure the track sounds more naturally balanced than it was originally. Dialogues are therefore warm and pleasant, nicely bringing our Marvin's baritone voice, without clipping or harshness.
The music has also benefited from the remastering also as it has a wider sonic range to work with, making the presentation more transparent and clear.

The release contains a number of very cool extras – made possible by the use of a dual-layer HD-30 disc configuration. Leading the supplements is the movie "The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission," the sequel to the feature film. It is great that Warner included an entire second movie on the release but unfortunately, of course, it is presented in 480p standard definition and the overall presentation quality is fairly poor with a faded print presented in fullscreen and distorted sound. The film doesn't even get close to the original and suffers with an uninspired story and cast. Nonetheless, it is great to at least have the film as an addition so it may not fall through the cracks of time.

Also included is a commentary track with cast members Jim Brown, Trini Lopez, Stuart Cooper and Colin Maitland, as well as the film's producer, novelist historians. The track is edited together from interview snippets with the participants and provides a good overview over the historic background of the story as well as the making of the film in general.

Also included on the disc is an introduction by Ernest Borgnine, though curiously enough, it does not play in front of the feature presentation the way in introduction should, but has to be selected manually from the disc's menu. The introduction itself is very valuable as Borgnine discusses some of the notoriety and controversy that surrounded the film in 1967.

The release also features the featurettes and documentaries that were part of the DVD version, covering the making of the film as well as real stories from behind the lines. The vintage "Operation Dirty Dozen" promo is also included which was used to promote the movie's original theatrical release in 1967. The disc is rounded out by the movie's trailer. As expected, all of these extras and featurettes are presented in 480p standard resolution.

"The Dirty Dozen" is a film that has stood the test of time with ease. Often copied but never matched or bested, it stands out as one of Robert Aldrich's most memorable films. 149 minutes long there isn't a single wasted second in this movie as it races along to the finish. The high definition version we get to see here does a great job in improving upon the looks of the film when compared to previous incarnations, reproducing the original film version to the dot completely with its shortcomings. It shows how high definition video has brought us so much closer to the original film look of movies. There can be no doubt that "The Dirty Dozen" should be in your library if you own a HD-DVD player.