Blog 12/06/2020 - MHT Movie Reviews - Men-on-a-Mission

MHT Blog December 6, 2020 - Movie Reviews – Men-on-a-Mission
The Dirty Dozen and Where Eagles Dare

Quentin Tarantino tried to make the ultimate "men-on-a-mission-movie" with his “Inglourious Basterds.” MHT reviews two movies that influenced his film with the classics “The Dirty Dozen” and “Where Eagles dare.”

MHT Movie Review of 1967’s “The Dirty Dozen” is one of the first anti-hero WWII films but also remains quintessential men-on-a-mission now 53 years old. Greatly influenced by the Vietnam War where audiences would except anti-establishment message where senior officers are idiots (except Ernest Borgnine fresh from his role of LCDR McHale on TV and push him back onto big screen) and criminals can be the heroes in an unrealistic WWII adventure movie. It still ranks high as a guy’s favorite with its impressive collection of tough guys and excellent actors is really hard to beat. Director Aldrich has not only established movie stars Lee Marvin & Robert Ryan but a host of future stars John Cassavetes, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas, Charles Bronson, George Kennedy, Clint Walker and Richard Jaeckel plus two famous newbies, singer Trini Lopez & recently retired football legend Jim Brown. The 12 U.S. Army prisoners volunteering for a suicide mission to be led by Marvin behind enemy lines count five due to be hung by the neck until dead and seven with sentences of 20-30 years of hard labor.

It isn’t very PC for today as this scene establishes: 
Marvin: Any questions?
Savalas as the unforgettable southern religious psychopath Maggott: Suh? Do we have to eat with niggahs?
Brown jumps on Savalas and they begin fighting as everyone else jumps in.
Jaeckel as Marvin’s number two: [as Marvin exits the room shutting the door with screaming from inside]: What's going on, sir?
Marvin: Oh, the gentleman from the South had a question about the dining arrangements. He and his comrades are discussing place settings now. 
As we now know he should have had a round table discussion with everyone having a chance to express their feelings but it would slow down the making these dregs of society into the heroes of the piece.
The big hole in the plot is the Dirty Dozen, well 14 when Marvin and Jaeckel are added, are going to attack Senior Wehrmacht Staff officers and their female companions in a chateau near Reims, France. The hoped-for result would be the loss of officers would disrupt the German Command and Control just before Operation Overlord in Normandy. It would seem more efficient to just send a few 8th U.S. Army Air Force Bomb Groups on a raid to reduce the building to a huge hole in the ground, reference the air effort against the much more solid Benedictine Abbey at Monte Cassino in Italy but that wouldn’t do for the plot line.

Most interesting is the almost exclusive use of M3 .45-caliber submachine gun adopted for U.S. Army service in 1942. The M3 was commonly referred to as the "Grease Gun", “Burp Gun”, or simply "the Greaser", owing to its visual similarity to the mechanic's grease application tool. The M3 was intended as a cheaper replacement for the venerable M1921 Thompson sub-machine and began to enter front line service in mid-1944 about the time of the movie just prior to D-Day at Normandy in June 1944. You will get a laugh when Marvin fires it twice near friendly soldiers as he probably would have killed many of them with the M3’s inaccuracy.

My favorite line is Marvin’s in the Reims Chateau to one of his guys guarding two Germans and a dozen French waiters and maids: “You know what to do, feed the French and shoot the Germans!” I just wonder if the line was flubbed and should have been “Free the French and shoot the Germans” as that makes more sense than taking the servants into the kitchen. Despite the 60’s counterculture anti-military slant it still gets a 4-Star rating.

Our second men-on-a-mission film comes a year later as a team of elite covert agents working for the British Intelligence Special Operation Executive (SOE) are sent to infiltrate a huge Nazi fortress in “Where Eagles Dare.” Their mission: evacuate a captured Allied General who has detailed knowledge of the Normandy invasion. Parachuting into the Alps is a seven-man team which soon becomes six as one of them is murdered revealing there is a Nazi traitor in their midst. From opening to final scene adventure/spy novel author Alistair MacLean's screenplay is a masterpiece of the action genre with a fast moving and involving plot that unfolds with twists at every turn. Interestingly MacLean wrote the screenplay and then created the bestselling book from it in the reverse of the usual book to film manner. 

Both the book and movie are excellent, but if you haven’t seen the film read the book first. Director Hutton laid out blueprint for many studio-budget action film-making. The film is long at 158 minutes but the real-time action of many scenes makes for terrific suspense. The best example is the final 45 minutes shot in real-time as our heroes’ breakout of the Schloss Adler, the Castle of Eagles. Consisting of shootouts, fights, chases, explosions and vehicles and planes destroyed crashing it is probably one of the best action sequences on film. The scenery in Austria is marvelous and the Hohenwerfen Castle that plays the German’s mountain fortress is perfect.

The stars don’t hurt, Richard Burton is the SOE Major leading the covert operation and he is at full power as this is the last of his final 20 movies that made big Hollywood money. He comes back as a double agent from Italy and brings along Mary Ure as a partner maybe in both operations and beyond. Burton looks perhaps a little too old for this kind of leading man role, but he manages to pull it off with his fierce determination and calm disposition. Elizabeth Taylor was on set for the filming in Austria as the luminous Scottish blonde, Ure had been in a romantic film with Burton, just saying.

His trusted American Army Lieutenant is Clint Eastwood meaning a uniformed departure from his spaghetti western poncho, Navy Colt Revolver & cowboy hat from his day with Sergio Leone. He is still playing his Man-With-No-Name character and is still killing loads of Germans while looking suitably cool & reserved, the only difference is the era - from the Wild West to WWII. Together they are a terrific, fearless, sub-machine gun totting duo. The classic corridor shootout as Eastwood fends off soldiers in the castle is brilliant and ridiculous at the same time with a submachine gun in each hand! I would be remiss to not mention Ingrid Pitt as Heidi, the Werfen Gasthaus beer maid a SOE plant to introduce Ure as her cousin and get her a job up in the Schloss Adler. If you have seen many Hammer Gothic Horror films she is recognizable as one of their best looking vampires. Make no mistake, this movie is wholly improbable, but if you find an action film with multiple double-agent intrigue that is entertaining and suspenseful, along with being pure fun to watch.

If the M3 was the weapon of choice in the Dirty Dozen then you will enjoy the plethora of Hollywood’s favorite German weapon in this film, the iconic MP40, a German submachine gun that the media has falsely made appear as the Werhmacht’s primary weapon. 
We give it 4 Stars and always check your weapon before you board an aircraft.