‘Having Our Cake and Eating It’: The Dirty Dozen (1967), the World War II Combat Film and the Vietnam War
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Films about America’s catastrophic interventionist war in Vietnam were deemed too divisive and controversial by the American film industry between the late 1960s and late 1970s. But as the defining event of the period, the conflict inevitably had a profound effect on genre film’s allegorical impulses, none more so than the Hollywood war film and its key mode, the Second World War combat movie. The Dirty Dozen (Aldrich, 1967) was the most famous and influential of the era, and is about a ‘suicidal’ mission behind German lines carried out by a group of US soldiers convicted of serious crimes. The film was a major hit delivering the spectacular violence and rugged heroics fans of action-adventure movies had come to expect. But it also flouts many of the ‘rules’ of the genre: it uses this basic generic framework to ‘smuggle’ in an exploration of the darker side of military life, which challenged the received view of the Second World War as the ‘good war’, just as the myth of American military and moral superiority was being exposed in the jungles of South East Asia.