Lee Marvin’s Honest Revelations: Explaining Why He Hated the Dirty Dozen

Lee Marvin’s Candid Revelations: Why He Hated the Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Dozen, released in 1967, is widely celebrated as one of the most thrilling and iconic war films ever made. With its gripping action sequences and a star-studded cast, it has captivated audiences for decades. However, behind its success lies a lesser-known story of discontent from its leading man, Lee Marvin. A decorated Marine veteran, Marvin harbored a deep disdain for the film, criticizing its unrealistic portrayal of war and the superficiality of its characters. Despite its box office triumph, Marvin’s scorn for The Dirty Dozen highlights a complex relationship between cinematic entertainment and the harsh realities of combat.

Marvin Disliked the Film’s Unrealistic Portrayal

Lee Marvin’s main issue with The Dirty Dozen was its exaggerated and inaccurate depiction of war, which didn’t reflect the true nature of combat and military life. As a decorated Marine veteran who fought in the Pacific theater during World War II, Marvin had direct experience with the realities of warfare. Despite acknowledging the film’s entertainment value, he bluntly labeled it as “crap,” stating that it had no resemblance to actual war.

While The Dirty Dozen used dramatic elements to heighten the excitement and action, Marvin emphasized that real warfare involved long periods of boredom interrupted by moments of extreme fear. He was critical of the film’s adventurous tone, arguing that it did not honor the harsh realities faced by soldiers in combat.

Marvin also felt that the characters in The Dirty Dozen were superficial and relied too much on war movie stereotypes. He humorously pointed out that the actors were too old to convincingly portray special operations soldiers, saying they seemed more suited for retirement than for battle.

In contrast, Marvin greatly admired the war film The Big Red One, which he considered a more accurate depiction of war. Written by Samuel Fuller, who had firsthand experience as an infantryman in WWII, the film reflected Marvin’s own views on the authenticity needed in war movies. It showed the mundane and terrifying aspects of war and highlighted the futility of conflict.

Ultimately, Marvin’s main complaint about The Dirty Dozen was that it prioritized making money over providing a meaningful commentary on war. While the film’s escapism was commercially successful, it failed to portray the brutal reality of battle that Marvin believed was necessary. Despite his strong performance, Marvin viewed the film as a “dummy money-maker” that relied on spectacle instead of substance.

Behind-the-Scenes Struggles

Marvin’s well-documented struggles with alcoholism created significant challenges during the production of The Dirty Dozen. His unpredictable behavior and drunken escapades tested the patience of both director Robert Aldrich and his fellow cast members. Marvin’s substance abuse issues stemmed from his traumatic experiences in the war.

His heavy drinking often disrupted the filming schedule, as he would disappear for extended periods to drink in local bars. Crew members frequently had to search for Marvin and bring him back to the set. One notable incident involved Marvin being missing when he was supposed to drive a military truck with Charles Bronson’s character. After a frustrated Aldrich sent staff to retrieve him, Marvin was brought back to the studio in a drunken state and had to be sobered up with black coffee.

Upon Marvin’s return, Bronson, fed up with the delays, confronted him and issued a blunt threat. Although likely not serious, it highlighted the growing frustration among the cast due to Marvin’s drinking. Marvin’s frequent absences caused major delays in filming, and his co-stars and director often had to cover for him.

Despite understanding that Marvin’s alcohol abuse was a coping mechanism for his war-related trauma, his inability to control his addiction nearly derailed the production. While his acting skills were highly respected, his reckless behavior strained the admiration of his colleagues.

Military Service Shaped Marvin’s Views

Marvin’s military service played a crucial role in shaping his views on war and his criticisms of The Dirty Dozen. He had an impressive real-world background, having served with the Marine Corps in the Pacific theater during WWII. Marvin enlisted in 1942 and trained as a scout sniper, a role that involved intense combat.

He participated in several key campaigns and witnessed the horrors of war firsthand during battles such as Saipan and Mount Tapochau. Marvin was seriously wounded in action and received a Purple Heart for his bravery. These experiences gave him a deep understanding of the true nature of war.

After the war, Marvin transitioned to acting but retained a critical view of Hollywood’s glamorized portrayals of combat. He scoffed at films that depicted war in a simplified or glorified manner, believing they failed to honor the sacrifices of soldiers.

Marvin’s admiration for The Big Red One was due in large part to its authenticity, which aligned with his own wartime experiences. The film’s realistic portrayal of the mundane and horrific aspects of war resonated with Marvin, reinforcing his belief in the importance of accurate war films.

Marvin’s unique perspective as a decorated combat veteran gave him an authoritative voice in critiquing war films. His disdain for The Dirty Dozen stemmed from its failure to capture the essence of his own military service and the sacrifices of his comrades.

Mixed Feelings About Success

When The Dirty Dozen was released in 1967, it received positive reviews from critics and became a major box office success, one of the highest-grossing films of the decade. This commercial triumph contrasted sharply with Marvin’s persistent criticism of the film. Critics praised it as a bold and exciting spectacle, with renowned film critic Roger Ebert calling it “unusually good.” The film’s aggressive style and straightforward depiction of masculinity were also well-received.

Over the years, The Dirty Dozen has maintained its status as a landmark in the action-oriented war genre, known for its explosive violence and dark humor. Its all-star cast delivered memorable tough-guy performances that have cemented the film’s place in pop culture. However, Marvin’s detached scorn for the project stood in stark contrast to its widespread acclaim.

While The Dirty Dozen became a massive hit, grossing $45 million in 1967 (an astronomical sum for the time), Marvin remained critical. He dismissed the film as a “dummy money-maker,” unimpressed by its commercial success. Despite leading a blockbuster hit, Marvin was not swayed by its popularity, focusing instead on its lack of substance.

In later years, Marvin would jokingly complain about fans seeking his autograph for The Dirty Dozen rather than for his other films, like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which he valued more highly. This dichotomy between professional success and personal disdain highlighted Marvin’s complex relationship with the film.

Legacy and Influence

More than 50 years after its release, The Dirty Dozen remains a beloved fan favorite, though it retains Marvin’s criticism over its inaccuracies. The film’s template for ensemble tough-guy movies and its normalization of violence continue to influence modern war films and pop culture. Despite its iconic status, Marvin would likely still dismiss its legacy.

There is no denying the significant impact The Dirty Dozen had on the war genre and Marvin’s career. Iconic scenes, like the film’s climax, have become cultural touchpoints for cinematic excess and male fantasy fulfillment. Marvin’s powerful performance solidified his reputation as one of Hollywood’s great tough guys.

Ironically, the death of John “Jack” Agnew, one of the original members of the Filthy Thirteen unit that inspired The Dirty Dozen, in 2010, renewed appreciation for the film. Agnew’s real-life heroics blurred the line between fact and fiction, reinforcing Marvin’s belief that the film distorted the dedication of real-life soldiers for commercial gain.

Marvin’s preference for the more realistic The Big Red One suggested he would always have reservations about The Dirty Dozen’s legacy. While the film’s influence is undeniable, Marvin’s harsh critique of its authenticity underscores the complexity of its reception. Despite being a classic, The Dirty Dozen faced dissent from its leading man over its portrayal of war.

Marvin’s main concern was honoring the true realities of combat. He believed that The Dirty Dozen, while entertaining, fell short of this responsibility, focusing more on box office success than on faithfully capturing the experiences of soldiers. For Marvin, the film’s value as entertainment was overshadowed by its failure to authentically represent war.

Leave a Reply

Translate »