Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Dirty Dozen for Children

The Dirty Dozen (1967) is one of my favorite action movies--with a great cast, a strong plot and a wonderfully choreographed action sequence at its climax. But its not a movie for kids. The psychotic actions of one character and the brutality of the violence means this is not a kid flick. The brutality is there for a reason--though the movie is largely an escapist action film, it is supposed to make you think about how nasty war is and how morally uncertain the decisions of even the good guys can often become. So it's all good--you just don't want to let your kids watch it.

Which is why it was an odd choice for Dell to produce a comic book adaptation at a time when comic books were still largely read by kids. Though, admittedly, Marvel Comics had been building up an older fan base for the medium during the 1960s. And Dell didn't necessarily shy away from violence in their stories.

All the same, remember that this is a film about 12 men who are guilty of violent crimes--including murder and rape. One of them (Maggot- played by Telly Savalas) is a fanatic who kills women because women are inherently evil temptresses. He also considers the rest of the Dozen to be sinners who deserve to be killed. 

The mission the men are assigned is essentially a mass assassination of high-ranking Wehrmacht generals. As it turns out, in order to accomplish this mission, the Americans have to blow up a bunch of women along with the generals. 

Gee whiz, that's hardly kiddie fare. So its interesting to examine how the uncredited writer and artist Jack Sparling went about it.

By the way, this post will obviously contain spoilers regarding the movie. But, if you are a grown-up and you haven't seen The Dirty Dozen, then its your own fault anyways and I simply don't have time to bother with you.

Interestingly, the violence is left largely intact. When the team is on their mission, they are casually taking out Germans with silenced pistols and knives while getting into position for the main attack. When the German officers hide out in a bomb shelter, the Americans still use grenades and gasoline dumped down air vents to turn the whole chateau into a fire bomb; and the ongoing fight with German soldiers still has an element of brutality to it. Jack Sparling, by the way, does an excellent job with the art.

What is changed (other than changes made to fit the story into 32 pages) is dropping the elements involving brutality towards women. This involves making Maggot more generically insane, rather
than giving him a definable (though psychotic) motivation for betraying the team. Interestingly, when the German generals run for the bomb shelter, we see their women going with them, so the Dozen still implicitly blow up innocents in the comic. We simply get no panels showing us the Germans inside the shelter, so this isn't emphasized.

Obviously, a scene in which prostitutes are brought to the Dozen before they go on the mission is simply skipped over.

A comparison between the movie and the comic book can actually form an interesting discussion about what is appropriate for a child to watch or read and what isn't. I personally think that a level of violence in children's stories is perfectly fine--violence can be a legitimate part of drama in stories for all ages. But that in turn can lead to discussions involving how much violence can be desensitizing or otherwise make violence appear fun or harmless. These are both legitimate concerns that are often readily dismissed today without sufficient consideration. If you're interested, I do talk about this a little more in my ebook 99 films Your Children Must See Before Growing Up; or They'll Turn Out to Be Axe Murderers. In the end, of course, parents are best qualified to each make these decisions for their own kids. Parents simply need to be aware that they should be giving thought to the issue. (The Dirty Dozen, by the way, is NOT included as an essential film in my 99 Films ebook. Your kid can skip it and he won't turn out to be an ax murderer. Oh, and yes, I do realize this was a pretty shameless plug for one of my books.)

In terms of storytelling, a fan of the movie can be a little annoyed that so many cool bits have been
left out and condensing the story does leave it feeling a little choppy. The comic book picks up with the Dozen already in their training camp, with the officious Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan's role in the film) working to get the project shut down. The Dozen are still shown cheating in a war game maneuver to prove they can be an effective commando unit, then its off to the real mission. The need to condense means the action isn't anywhere near as well-choreographed as in the movie, but the writer and Jack Sparling do a fine job in the space they have.

It's probably the lack of time to show characterizations that hurt the comic book the most. We never really get to know any of the Dozen (other than realizing Maggot is just plain nuts), so the deaths of guys like Jefferson, Pinkley and Franco don't come with the same emotional impact.

There's also a few things that remind us the comic book guys were using the script rather than the final film to create the adaptation. In the movie, one of the Dozen dies off screen in a parachute accident at the start of the mission. This is because the actor was having differences with the filmmakers, who just tossed up their hands when it was time to film the battle and said "Let's just kill him off." In the comic book, this character sticks around for the actual fighting.

Also, there's a scene in which Sgt. Bowren (the M.P. in charge of the guards at the training camp) is found on the plane flying them to France--he stowed away to come on the mission himself. This is a scene edited out of the final film (or not filmed at all--I actually have no idea), so that Bowren is simply there on the mission without explanation.  So I suppose in this one point, the comic book improves a little on the story.

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