June 24, 2023



The legend behind its creation begins with, of all people, legendary sexploitation pioneer Russ Meyer. During the war, Meyer was a combat photographer and as such, took pictures of military prisoners in Europe he was told were trained for a suicide mission. He told their story years later to his neighbor, freelance journalist, E.M. Nathanson. The inspiration may have also come from a unit of the 101st Airborne nicknamed "The Filthy Fifteen" for its unsanitary habits and rowdy ways. However, following over two years of research and being unable to discover anything about the actual prisoners, Nathanson believed Meyer's tale was a 'latrine rumor' and chose to fictionalize the account of the men and their mission. When The Dirty Dozen was published in 1965, it would eventually become a massive international bestseller.

The journey to the screen was thus set in motion. Prior to its publication, director Robert Aldrich attempted to buy the film rights but was outbid by MGM executives who purchased the rights in 1963 for the sum of $80,0000. Harry Denker was assigned to write the script for producing partners William Perlberg and George Seaton, who also planned to direct the project. Perlberg left the project first and was replaced by Kenneth Hyman, looking to follow up his similarly themed The Hill (1965). Seaton eventually dropped out as well due to scheduling conflicts. Nathanson consequently was appalled by Denker's script and offered his own version. His script was also turned down. Oscar-nominated screenwriter Nunnally Johnson was assigned the task and the wheels were set in motion.

Almost simultaneously, Hyman went about casting the film, considering such actors as John Wayne, Aldo Ray, and Burt Lancaster for the lead role of Reisman. Other roles were mentioned for the likes of George Chakiris, Nick Adams, Jack Palance, and Sidney Poitier. Director Robert Aldrich came aboard to help with casting and brought in Lukas Heller to revise Johnson's script. When John Wayne turned the part down for several reasons, Aldrich's original choice of Lee Marvin was approved by MGM. One of the more interesting casting choices was actor/director John Cassavetes as prisoner Victor Franko. Cassavetes, who hated the script, had been blacklisted by producer Stanley Kramer and needed money to finish his current project. He eventually relented to Hyman's demands resulting in a renaissance of the maverick filmmaker's career.

Filming began in April of 1966 with cast and crew set to go to England for what was believed to be a few months of production. However, from the start, there were unforeseen problems. Costar Charles Bronson was mourning the recent death of his mother as well as the break-up of his marriage as he pursued Jill Ireland, wife of his good friend, actor David McCallum. His sullen demeanor earned him the nickname "Charlie Sunshine." Leading man Lee Marvin was also in the midst of ending his marriage to Betty Marvin during the tumultuous relationship with Michele Triola, both of whom came to visit him on the location. The all-British crew frustrated director Aldrich for their slow way of working. The weather also proved to be a hindrance as constant rainfall held up the shooting schedule. Also not helping was the few days Marvin took off to go to California for the Academy Awards where he won the Oscar for Cat Ballou (1965).

Back in England, schedule and cost overruns continued, forcing the production to go into late October. In the interim, Cleveland Brown running back Jim Brown, making his second film appearance, was pressured to leave the film or risk a heavy fine from team owner, Art Modell. The ultimatum resulted in the 29-year-old Brown holding a press conference on location announcing his retirement from the NFL. The opposite took place for costar and popular singer Trini Lopez.

When he chose to take Frank Sinatra's advice and ask for more money, Aldrich had Lopez's character promptly killed off before the big finale.

Posted by at June 24, 2023 12:00 AM


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