American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Remember a couple of years ago when some kids out East thought up a great game? They'd go down to the nearest Skid Row, find some wino sleeping off his drunk, pour gasoline on him and set him afire. The police finally caught the kids and ended the fun. But they were only 11 or 12 years old anyway -- small-time operators. Now you can see "The Dirty Dozen" and thrill to hundreds of men and women burned to death at once.
Here's how they do it. The U. S. Army singles out 12 really tough guys, murderers and rapists and men like that, and assigns them to wipe out a chateau where a lot of German officers spend their holidays. Before the big mission, the "dirty dozen" train under the leadership of Lee Marvin. There are some nice, amusing scenes, especially when one of the dozen (Donald Sutherland) pretends to be a general and inspects some troops. In fact, right up to the last scene the movie is amusing, well paced, intelligent.
Everything just leads up to the really big party, however. The tough guys trap all the German officers and their concubines in the bomb shelter of the chateau, see. Then they screw off the tops of the air vents and drop unexploded grenades down into the shelter. But the Germans grab the grenades and get them away from the airshaft. There's some great footage of all these Germans going berserk and grabbing the grenades while the women run around screaming.
Now you might ask why not pull the pin on one grenade and lob it down the airshaft? The explosion would clear away the Germans near the shaft, and then you could drop in more grenades without any trouble. Naw, too simple. Instead, they pour gallons of gasoline down the airshaft and THEN toss in a grenade.
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