John Wayne starred in a slew of military-themed films. However, he passed on one iconic war film for a head-scratching reason. Wayne symbolized American red-blooded patriotism in his five-decade Hollywood career. He was renowned for his westerns and also starred in a dozen World War II movies. 1967’s The Dirty Dozen seems like it would have been a slam dunk for the Duke.
Set in 1944 during World War II, this film introduces a penal military unit of twelve convicts who are trained as commandos by the Allies. Their mission? A daring suicide mission just before the Normandy landings. Led by the incomparable Lee Marvin, this all-star cast includes heavy hitters like Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland, and Jim Brown.
The film achieved tremendous success at the box office and was honored with the prestigious Academy Award for Best Sound Editing at the 40th Academy Awards in 1968. Notably, in 2001, the American Film Institute recognized its brilliance by ranking it 65th on their esteemed 100 Years… 100 Thrills list. Additionally, the film served as inspiration for several television film sequels during the 1980s, including The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission in 1985, The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission in 1987, and The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission in 1988.
Why John Wayne Passed on ‘The Dirty Dozen’
Reportedly, the Lee Marvin role was offered originally to John Wayne. However, the Duke passed on the part. As mentioned in Randy Roberts’ book, John Wayne: American, Wayne’s decision to decline the role of Major John Reisman was influenced by his desire to avoid portraying adultery on screen. Specifically, the character was depicted as engaging in an affair with an English woman.
However, he did manage to make a war picture not long after The Dirty Dozen dropped. In the 1968 film The Green Berets, Wayne aimed to shift public opinion on the Vietnam War. Co-directing the movie, Wayne took a strongly patriotic stance but faced criticism for his attempt to claim the moral high ground.
Today, The Green Berets may be subject to harsh criticism. While it may have downplayed American soldiers’ misbehavior, it shed light on the Viet Cong’s atrocities against civilians and their efforts to counter Communist expansion in Southeast Asia. The film may appear overly supportive of American intervention, but its intense battle scenes make it a captivating watch.
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