I returned to the Reel Spoilers podcast this week to talk with hosts Tom O’Keefe and Kevin Brackett about the classic World War II movie, “The Dirty Dozen.”
If you’ve never seen it, “The Dirty Dozen” starred Lee Marvin as an Army Major assigned to take 12 condemned prisoners on a suicide mission behind German lines. The platoon included Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Charles Bronson, Trini Lopez, Clint Walker, Telly Savalas, and Donald Sutherland — with a supporting cast of Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Richard Jaeckel, Robert Ryan, and Robert Webber.
Yes, it’s a Guy Movie, but — along with “The Great Escape,” “Stalag 17,” and “Kelly’s Heroes” — I consider it one of the best war movies of its era. The script was by Lukas Heller and Nunnally Johnson, who also wrote “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Three Faces Of Eve.”
“The Dirty Dozen” was directed by Robert Aldrich, who directed several other titles you may have heard of, from “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” (Bette Davis, Joan Crawford), “The Longest Yard” (Burt Reynolds), and the underrated “The Frisco Kid” (Gene Wilder, Harrison Ford). Aldrich also helmed a movie that I have a tiny connection to.
In the 1950s, my father worked for National Screen Service, which cut trailers and did promotion for major movie releases. One day, he and his colleagues were assigned an Aldrich movie starring Jack Palance, Eddie Albert, Lee Marvin, Richard Jaeckel, and Buddy Ebsen. They watched it in the screening room and decided two things: 1) the movie was okay, but not a classic; and 2) the original title was terrible. It was called “The Fragile Fox,” like the stage play it was based on.
Dad and his fellow movie mavens had a contest. They’d all try to come up with a better name, with the winner getting something like a free meal at a restaurant nearby. I don’t know what the other suggestions were, but my father chose “Attack!” (yes, with an exclamation point). That became the new title of Aldrich’s movie, and the subsequent steak dinner was Dad’s full remuneration for coming up with it.
You can download the “Dirty Dozen” episode of Reel Spoilers via your favorite podcast app, or use this link to listen online.