Now 65 years old and on the downside of his career, Savalas plays Major Wright in 1987's The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission. It's not so much a sequel as a reworking, just like Marvin's 1985 movie, with whole scenes duplicated albeit with a new cast and some slightly older returnees from the original. As stand alones, these sequels might be better -- there would be one more in 1988, review to come -- if you haven't seen the original. On the other hand, it's a good guilty pleasure seeing all the low-budget, scene for scene repeats of the original classic. A bad TV movie if there ever was one, but an entertaining bad movie.
It's 1944 and Major Wright (Savalas) has been recalled from a behind the lines mission in Italy to undertake a new, more important mission. General Warden (Ernest Borgnine) orders Wright to assemble a squad of 12 men sentenced to death or long terms of imprisonment and train them until they're an effective fighting force. Intelligence reports have the Germans making a new nerve gas in a rocket with the capability to reach the U.S.. The Germans are doing this work hidden away in a heavily guarded French monastery. Wright's more than a little suicidal mission is to lead his squad in -- with some help from loyal Sgt. Holt (Vince Edwards) -- and not only destroy the nerve gas but also rescue six scientists commissioned to work on the experiments.
Even with the original, the problem with a squad of 12 soldiers is that all of them can't receive equal screentime. The 1967 original at least tried to introduce all 12 convicts turned commandos. That way when they do inevitably start getting picked off, we know who it was. Well, the TV versions lose about an hour of actual movie time and a significant amount of the budget. Five or six of the 12 are even identified, the rest mostly serving as cannon fodder who are typically identified after they get killed. Of those that do stand out there's Bo Svenson channeling Savalas' Maggott character, Randall 'Tex' Cobb as Swede Wallan, Gary Graham as Stern, Paul Picerni as Pops Ferucci, and two van Patten brothers as two convict brothers (quite a stretch). Rounding out the new dozen were a handful of Yugoslavian actors who don't have more than a line or two combined.
As for the returning cast members, Savalas as Major Wright is a similar feeling to watching Marvin in 'Next Mission.' They're clearly too old to play the parts, but because it's Telly freaking Savalas you let it pass. He's Big Joe, he's Kojak! He looks like he's having some fun with the part, and some of his line deliveries provide some funny moments in an otherwise slow script. Borgnine really makes nothing more than a two-scene appearance as General Warden, the staff officer tasked with keeping tabs on Wright and coming up with these missions that will save the war. Vince Edwards steps in for Richard Jaeckel as the tough but loyal sergeant. His part requires him to squint, growl and throw a grenade now and then. Wolf Kahler plays the SS commander in the area trying to stop Wright's commando squad.
After the requisite in-fighting and then bonding as a fighting unit, the new Dozen are unleashed in France. Even with a small TV budget, director Lee Katzin handles the action-packed finale nicely. It's heavy on gunfire and short on actual blood, but it is entertaining. It is an action sequence that is aided by the monastery location and has that right blend of chaos and explosions. As with the other Dozen movies, it's only a matter of time and who will get picked off against the overwhelming odds. The ending did surprise me -- one character gets to redeem himself with a big sacrifice -- in how many of the squad survive the mission. See if you can guess which ones make it.
A made for TV movie that's probably only recommended for fans of the original Dirty Dozen or at least WWII movies. It's the type of unpretentious, cheap action flick that is best when you don't take it too seriously. Sit back and enjoy this one, watch Savalas and Co. gun down German and SS soldiers by the busload. If that fails, there's always the original. Just interested in the action? Watch THIS fan video (SPOILERS obviously) with every kill from the movie.
The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission <----trailer (1987): ** 1/2 /****