Lee Marvin referred to this movie as "crap" 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. Marvin also said many of the actors in this film were too old to play soldiers.
Production on the film ran for so long that Jim Brown was in danger of missing training camp for the up-coming 1965-1966 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.
Charles 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 Buchinsky) father was a coal miner from Lithuania, and Bronson himself worked in the mines as a boy in Pennsylvania.
The scene where one of the dozen pretends to be a general inspecting Robert Ryan's troops was initially written for Clint Walker's character. However, Walker was uncomfortable with this scene, so Robert Aldrich decided to use Donald Sutherland instead. The scene was directly responsible for Sutherland being cast in MASH (1970), which made him an international star.
Lee Marvin provided technical assistance with uniforms and weapons to create realistic portrayals of combat, yet bitterly complained about the falsity of some scenes. He thought Reisman's wrestling the bayonet from the enraged Posey to be particularly phony. Robert 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.
Jim Brown later recalled: "I loved my part. I was one of the Dozen, a quiet leader and my own man, at a time when Hollywood wasn't giving those roles to blacks . . . I've never had more fun making a movie. The male cast was incredible. I worked with some of the strongest, craziest guys in the business."
Lee Marvin later recalled how Robert Aldrich instructed his cast to get their contemporary hair styles changed to ones more fitting for the time and setting. Marvin immediately got a crew cut, but many of the others merely got trims to their existing styles. After telling them twice their looks weren't acceptable, Aldrich finally told them they needed either to come in with their hair cut correctly or else call their lawyers.
Construction of the faux chateau proved *too* good. 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! Instead, a section was rebuilt from cork and plastic.
According to Ernest Borgnine in his autobiography, during the shooting Lee Marvin once talked about the black actor Jim Brown with much disrespect - in Brown's absence - because of his skin color. Borgnine wrote Marvin was lucky that Brown was not there to hear it.
"The Dirty Dozen" author E.M. Nathanson may have gotten the idea for the title (if not the plot) 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 Filthy 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. Another idea source for Nathanson's book may have come from future director Russ Meyer, who was at the time a combat cameraman. He had shot some footage of a group of American soldiers--inmates at a military prison who were under death sentence for such crimes as murder, rape and mutiny--who were training at a secret location for the D-Day invasion, for which they would be parachuted behind German lines to commit acts of sabotage and assassinations. Prison authorities told Meyer that the men, who volunteered, were told that if they survived and returned their sentences would be set aside, their records expunged and they would be set free. Guards told him that the group was called "the dirty dozen" because they refused to bathe or shave. After the invasion Meyer made inquiries as to these men's fates, and was told that none of them came back. After the war he related this story to Nathanson, who was a friend of his.
During World War II, the American forces did indeed "borrow" a prison in the UK for housing U.S. servicemen convicted of criminal acts. This was Shepton Mallett prison in Somerset, which operated as a prison from 1625 to 2013. During the war nine U.S. military personnel were executed there--three by firing squad, six by hanging. The hangman used was the British Albert Pierrepoint, who in his career hanged approximately 450 people, including some 200 Nazis convicted is the Nuremburg war crimes trials.
Lee Marvin related a joke Robert Aldrich pulled on Charles Bronson, who was only about 5'9" and wore low boxing shoes during rehearsal. When it came time to set up the first inspection scene, he placed Bronson between the 6'6" 'Clint Walker' and the 6'4" Donald Sutherland. According to Marvin, Aldrich laughed for about ten minutes over Bronson's perturbed reaction.
John Wayne was first offered the part of Major 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. Other sources say Wayne turned the film down because he did not want to be making a movie in the UK when his third wife Pilar was due to give birth in February 1966.
Lee Marvin had high praise for all the men in the film, commenting that everyone was ideally cast "and even when they ad-libbed a scene, invariably it was in character, so all it could do was to help the film."
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 six full-grown weeping willows.
Lee Marvin had worked with Robert Aldrich before, on Attack (1956). He found the director "a tremendous man to work with. You knew when you went to work with him you were both going for the same object--a good final print."
Woody Allen would join Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and Telly Savalas to play poker when filming was finished for the day. He was simultaneously filming Casino Royale (1967) in London and earning "a fat salary". Filming was so far behind schedule, that he would gladly hook up with the cast for a few hands of poker.
The film was shot in various locations in England, primarily in Hertfordshire. The major part of it (the training sequence) was shot at Hendon Aerodrome, about 7 miles north of central London, while the besieged chateau was built at MGM's British studios in Borehamwood.
Although Robert Aldrich had tried to purchase the rights to E.M. Nathanson's novel "The Dirty Dozen" while it was still in outline form, it was MGM that successfully acquired the property in May 1963. The book became a best-seller upon its publication in 1965.
The submachine guns being used by most of the Dirty Dozen is the M3, .45 ACP=cal. submachine gun known as the "Grease Gun". It came into use late in the war, replacing Thompson submachine guns (aka "Tommy guns"). It was not a general-issue weapon to infantrymen but normally used as the crew weapon on a tank. Many "found" their way to the front-line troops, however. This earlier model weapon had a charging lever on the side. Later models (M3A1) were charged by simply pulling back on the bolt by inserting your finger into a recess in the bolt. The M3A1 wire stock included a tab to help load magazines, the ends threaded to accept a cleaning brush to clean the barrel and was used as a wrench to unscrew the barrel for disassembly. The weapon, only manufactured during WWII by General Motors Headlight division, cost about $20 to produce, as opposed to the Thompson which cost several hundred.
One of the German guards killed at the checkpoint ended up with a promotion. Richard Marner is the guard saying he has leave. He went on to play Col. Kurt Von Strohm in the British sitcom 'Allo 'Allo! (1982).
On the eve of their final battle, they are eating in the guards' hut. The fact that they are 12 men plus the leader (Reisman) and the fact that they are all sitting on the same side of the table with their backs to the wall resembles the Last Supper. It's an omen for those who die.
The film was released at a time when there was considerable debate over the morality of the bombing of German cities by the RAF, and later the USAAF, from 1940 to 1945. There was also considerable reassessment of the "heroism" of Allied soldiers during World War II, particularly in view of the Vietnam War.
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).
Charles Bronson was originally chosen to play the character Col. Nick Alexander in The Delta Force (1986), but ultimately was played by his co-star Lee Marvin. Also, another co-star (George Kennedy) appeared in that film.
Telly Savalas and Donald Southerland would later appear together in another World War ll movie Kelly's Heroes (1970) . Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin would later appear together in Death Hunt (1981). Charles Bronson and Telly Savalas would later appear together in Violent City (1970).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Robert 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 Jim 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".
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. Lopez took Sinatra's advice and quit. Another account is that his agent demanded more money, which Robert Aldrich refused to grant. Originally, Lopez'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. With Lopez's abrupt departure, however, his character was written off as being killed during the parachute jump.
The operation count-off is as follows: - One: down to the road block we've just begun - Two: the guards are through - Three: the Major's men are on a spree - Four: Major and Wladislaw go through the door - Five: Pinkley stays out in the drive - Six: the Major gives the rope a fix - Seven: Wladislaw throws the hook to heaven - Eight: Jiminez has got a date - Nine: the other guys go up the line - Ten: Sawyer and Gilpin are in the pen - Eleven: Posey guards points Five and Seven - Twelve: Wladislaw and the Major go down to delve - Thirteen: Franko goes up without being seen - Fourteen: Zero hour, Jiminez cuts the cable Franko cuts the phone - Fifteen: Franko goes in where the others have been - Sixteen: we all come out like it's Halloween
Charles Bronson's character was one of the survivors and remained alive after the mission. In The Great Escape (1963), another ensemble WWII themed film, Bronson's character was one of the three characters who have managed to escape and remained alive.
The John Candy film Canadian Bacon (1995) made a reference to this film about black characters dying first. Though Jim Brown's character did die, he wasn't the first as Trini López's character was killed off screen after the parachute jump.