The Dirty Dozen | 1967
Robert Aldrich’s classic 60s actioner has twelve convicted GIs in WWII Britain given a chance to avoid the death sentence or a life stretch by undertaking a suicide mission behind enemy lines.
It was filmed in the UK, based at the, now-gone, MGM Studios in Borehamwood, using locations conveniently close at hand in Hertfordshire.
The fictitious ‘Marston-Tyne Military Prison’, where Major Reisman (Lee Marvin) chooses his recruits, is Ashridge House, which now houses Ashridge Business School. Once a Tudor manor house (and supposedly home to the young Elizabeth I), it’s been greatly added to over the years and is now a huge Victorian Gothic complex. It’s down a toll road from the village of Little Gaddesden, about six miles northeast of Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire (rail: Tring).
Bogus ‘Major’ Vernon Pinkley (Donald Sutherland) seriously pisses off Col. Breed (Robert Ryan) while inspecting troops at a military airbase, which is Hendon Aerodrome, about fifteen miles north of London.
Also in Hertfordshire is the ‘Devon’ village, Red Force Division 1 HQ, where the Dozen disrupt military manoeuvres and capture the commanding officers.
It’s the historic village of Aldbury, with its duckpond, stocks and whipping post on the village green, a couple of miles to the west of Little Gaddesden. This popular location can also be seen in Gainsborough’s colourful 1947 period melodrama Jassy and in the Swinging Sixties comedy thriller Crossplot.
You won’t, however, be able to visit the ‘French chateau’ which is the target of the mission. Solid and imposing as it looks, the entire building was no more than a giant set, 240 feet across and 50 feet high, built on the old MGM Borehamwood backlot.