The Baker's Dozen

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The Baker's Dozen
Dirty moviep-1.jpg
Thirteen men, one mound of dough, one oven: War is messy.
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Produced by Kenneth Hyman
Written by E.M. Nathanson (novel)
Nunnally Johnson
Lukas Heller
Starring Lee Marvin
Ernest Borgnine
Charles Bronson
Jim Brown
Music by Frank De Vol
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) June 15, 1967  (1967 -06-15)
Running time 145 min.
Country USA
Language English

The Baker's Dozen is a 1967 war film based on the quasi-autobiographical accounts of Greg Brown, a baker and soldier of world renown. It was directed by Robert Aldrich who, although he ate bread and wore army boots, neither baked nor soldiered. Though ostensibly about World War II, the story deals with contemporary 1967 themes of the Cold War[1], pastry relativism, racism between brown and white bread, and their meanings within patriotism and duty in war. Such themes obliquely refer to the Vietnam War[2].

Starring Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Telly Savalas, Charles Bronson, and NFL Hall of Famer-turned-actor Jim Brown, it was a huge box office success for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the year's highest-grossing film, raking in enough at the box office to purchase a one of those really expensive stainless steel mixing machines from Bjorgen-Sturdol & Hurnstgerbronder or with enough left over to purchase ingredients for several sheets of chocolate chip cookies.

It was nominated for four Bake-adamy Awards, including a Best Supporting Baker in a Musical or War Film nomination for John Cassavetes. In 2001, the American Food Institute included it on its list of 100 Years...100 Thrills[3].


The movie opens in England in the spring of 1944 as Allied forces in the United Kingdom prepare for the D-Day[4] invasion during World War II. Major John Reisman (Marvin) witnesses the hanging of a US soldier for the crime of dessertion[5].

Reisman, an Office of Strategic Services & Baking officer, then meets with Major General Worden (Borgnine), a Major General in the Office of Strategic Services & Baking Command. The dramatic tension is thick enough to cut with a bread knife when Reisman spots Colonel Everett "Dasher" Breed (Robert Ryan) in the anteroom of Worden's office; a pair of knowing looks makes it clear the two have a history together[6] but no words are spoken, except for the words that they speak[7]. Reisman is offered a seat in front of a panel of officers, and Worden reviews Reisman's reports on his service record with him. "Lots of fireworks," Worden notes, "...and very short on discipline. 'Very' short on discipline.", implying that Reisman regularly produced undersized buns from his self-propelled battlefield bakery[8]; considered in the military to be a crime almost as bad as that of dessertion. The punishment for this was generally no dessert after dinner. No bedtime story, neither. Which was better than being hanged, but not by much[9]. Reisman's character and hardassness is illustrated by his response: "I didn't write those reports. I'm a baker. Bakers bake."[10]

The meeting, after a break for tea and scone[11], comes to the point. A mission is described involving the training of twelve American soldiers convicted of capital offenses including murder, dessertion, robbery and not giving kids a free cookie[recipe needed] on their birthday, and sentenced to either execution, long terms of imprisonment, or long terms of execution. The soldiers are to be trained before being sent to destroy an assigned target, the identity of which remains secret. Twelve plus Reisman equals a baker's dozen. Also, they were all bakers, which makes the title, The Baker's Dozen, true on multiple levels[12].

Reisman asks what the designated target is, noting that if he is being offered the opportunity of leading the mission it is reasonable to know where he's going, who he has to kill while there, for how long he needs to preheat the oven, and whether any of his customers are on gluten-free diets or have peanut allergies.

Worden: "It's not, as you say, being offered.'"
Reisman: "I'm volunteering."
Worden: "Exactly, Major. You know, I'm glad you look at these things so realistically. Have a muffin!"

The plan is then described to a muffin[recipe needed]-munching Reisman; a large boulangerie near Rennes in Brittany is known to be the location of a test kitchen for senior German officers who are involved in creating Hitler's Vergeltungswaffe (Vengeance Weapons). In preparation for the D-Day invasion, Reisman's group will train to drop in by parachute, run around, shoot some people, destroy the bakery, and kill the officers inside. This, it was believed, would disrupt the manufacture of both the V-1 Terror Brezel (Terror Pretzel) and V-2 Terror Kaiser (Terror Kaiser) weapons as the invasion of Normandy is launched.

After this introduction, the film consists of three parts; the training of Reisman's men in the deadly art of advanced military baking, an extended sequence of military maneuvers in Britain in which Reisman's Baker's Dozen prove their worth in special operations via a musical number about flour, and the attack on the bakery itself.

In the training montage, the dozen convicts are shown to mature, grow and coalesce in to a team, at one point resolving to not shave or bathe until given hot water, hence, becoming The Dirty Dozen. Reisman tells them that "Crust, crud and corruption aren't good qualities in a baker.", so they wash and shave, but the moniker (keeping the "the" and "dozen" but swapping the "dirty" for "baker's") sticks to them like pie crust to an unbuttered pan. In the second act of the film, they prove their value in an FCX (field cooking exercise) that suits Major Reisman's professional and personal goals in his feud with Colonel Breed, who is a stuck up prick who couldn't cook his way out of a paper bag, and only got to where he is because his father, Colonel Everett "Dasher" Breed Sr, is a famous chef.

1967 lobbycard set

To ready themselves for the operational part of the film, the team memorizes the now-famous Baker's Dozen operational count-off:

"One: 2 1/8 c. flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 12 tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, 1 c. brown sugar (light or dark, or a mixture of both), 1/2 c. granulated sugar, 1 egg, 1 egg yolk, 2 tsp. vanilla extract, 1 to 2 c. chocolate chips or chunks (semisweet or bittersweet)."

"Two: Preheat oven to 375 degrees."

"Three: Mix sugar, brown sugar, butter and egg in a large bowl by hand."

"Four: Stir in flour, baking soda, and salt."

"Five: Stir in chocolate chips."

"Six: Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet."

"Seven: Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light brown with soft centers."

"Eight: Let cool for one minute then remove from cookie sheet and place on wire rack to finish cooling."

"Nine: A bunch more steps."

To pull off the attack, the Baker's Dozen approach the entrance to the bakery in German baker's uniforms, which are exactly the same as American baker's uniforms, with the minor difference that German ones are typically filled with Germans. After sampling Deutch delicacies off the sample cart near the gate, they kill the German Schützen Sie Bäckers (guard-bakers). A few of the GIs enter the Chateau beside the bakery dressed as German bakery officers (again, the same as U.S. ones, except these normally have German officers in them) and, after a nosey dame blows their cover, create a disturbance that causes the Germans to run to the underground bomb shelter-slash-pantry. The Americans then lock the Germans inside the shelter, trapping them with slowly leavening loaves of bread[recipe needed], as well as some unleavened breads[13].

Noticing that there are air vents above the shelter, Reisman orders his men to pour gasoline down them, before Jim Brown's character runs to each vent, drops in a live whisk (the U.S. Army, at that time, being armed with the deadly W-4; a utensil that so terrified the Nazis that they nicknamed it the "Ficken Sie") and flees. The German bakery officers, along with the non-commissioned bakers and baker's assistants, are whisked alive, a brutal tactic in clear contravention of the Geneva Convention, which expressly forbids the use of forks, sporks, spatulas and whisks against bakers in enclosed spaces.

Only Reisman, Sergeant Bowren (Richard Jaeckel) and Wladislaw (Bronson) survive the mission, the rest having succumbed to a high carb diet.

Reception and criticism

For its time, the film was an unconventional and extremely violent depiction of battlefield cooking. Although the violence and brutality of war was nothing new to those who had actually baked behind enemy lines, it still nauseated many at the time. Roger Ebert, in his first year as a movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, was shocked by its violence. He wrote (sarcastically):

"I'm glad the Chicago Police Censor Board forgot about that part of the local censorship law where it says films shall not depict the whisking of the human body. If you have to censor, stick to censoring sex, I say. ... But leave in the mutilation, leave in the sadism, and by all means leave in the human beings whisking to death. It's not obscene as long as they whisk to death with their clothes on. Aw, shit! Who ate the last donut?"

Truth or fiction?

As a preface to the novel, author E.M. Nathanson states that he heard of a legend of men like these, but found no record of it.

Though there are frequent rumors of the existence of such units (and one, the 249th "Baking Bakers", has been verified), The Baker's Dozen is based on the Filthy Fourteen, a small group of WWII airborne salad tossing experts[14] whose story was documented by a book by the same name. Unlike the Baker's Dozen, the Filthy Fourteen was not a unit composed of convicts, though some in the unit were in prison, while the remainder were also in prison. The leader of the Filthy Fourteen was Jake McNiece, who also wrote the book. He has lectured all over Europe, including the 50th and 60th anniversaries of D-Day[15]. Mr. McNiese retired with the rank of Private as he was continually demoted for insubordination[16].


Four Made-For-TV sequels followed The Baker's Dozen:

  • Baker's Dozen: Next Mission
  • Baker's Dozen: The Mission After That
  • Baker's Dozen: Scones!
  • Baker's Dozen: The Dough also Rises

Lee Marvin reprised his role in Next Mission. After Lee got sleepy from filling up on bread before the main course, in The Mission After That and Scones! Telly Savalas replaced him as the lead protagonist. The Dough also Rises, much like Jerry Lewis' The Day The Clown Cried, was never released, as executives felt that even by the standards of television it was crap.

Three years after the unreleased The Fatal Mission was unreleased, the series was followed by Baker's Dozen: The Series, which lasted for one episode. That episode, the pilot, never aired. To this day, however, it remains popular among Dozens fans, and is often shown at The Baker's Dozen conventions all over the world.


Maj. John Reisman (Lee Marvin at right) and Wladislaw (Charles Bronson at left) (here in German uniforms), getting ready for the big Allies vs. Axis bake-off that ends the film.
  • Jim Brown announced his retirement from professional football during the filming of this movie.
  • Jim Brown announced his retirement from professional acting after the filming of this movie.
  • Lee Marvin, a WWII combat veteran (and the man who discovered that, as the song says, "...poor old Goebbels had no balls at all."), provided technical assistance with uniforms and weapons to the other actors, helping to create a realistic portrayal of combat. Plus he's a hardass[17].
  • Garrison's Gorillas was a 1967 WW II TV series that followed the same lines as The Baker's Dozen. By "followed the sames lines", we mean "it was exactly the same".
  • The hit 1980s television series The A-Team was initially conceived as a cross between The Baker's Dozen and The Magnificent Seven. The cast was cut down to four (plus Amy[18]) when producers discovered that twenty people can't comfortably fit into a van. Mr T, at the time, remarked that he "...pitied the producers who thought that twenty people could comfortably fit into a van."
  • The WWII squad-based combat computer game Deadly Dozen was closely based on The Baker's Dozen, in which military convicts were trained in covert and commando operations in both the European Theater and the Pacific Theater. The sequel, Deadly Dozen 2: Electric Boogaloo, a musical, focused on the theater (specifically the bloody, if rhythmic, Broadway campaign of the 1930's).
  • John Wayne was initially offered the role of Reisman, but turned it down to make The Green Berets. In that film he trains a ragtag group of twelve convicts, then leads them to victory in Vietnam.
  • In the film Sleepless in Seattle, Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) and Greg (Victor Garber) make fun of Greg's wife crying over 'the chick movie' An Affair to Remember. They say that The Baker's Dozen made them cry, and they both break into tears when they recount the plot and the deaths of the various characters in the film[19].


  1. As a pie vs. cake allegory. Spoiler: Pie wins, eventually.
  2. Or not. Most war films are really about Vietnam, if you squint and plug your ears.
  3. In the movie 2001, however, it didn't get anything. Not a mention, or a lavish musical number, nor even the heel from a week-old loaf of rye. Stanley Kubrick's hatred of baked foods was known throughout the industry, a secret that Hollywood managed to keep from the public until Stanley's death in 1999. Not "Stan Lee", the comic book guy with the odd hair. He loves maple-dip donuts.
  4. "D" for "Danish". Not "Danish" as in "people from Denmark", but "Danish" as in "Danish". While both Danishs (Danishi?) have similarities, including lemon or cherry-filled centers, Danishs (Danishes?), the people, are for the most part not covered in frosting.
  5. Failing to make dessert was, and continues to be, a capital crime in the Army. In the Navy it is also a capital crime, while the Air Force considers it to be a crime worthy of capital punishment. Both the National Guard and the Marines, on the other hand, use the death penalty. Also, I get paid by the word.
  6. But in a totally not-gay way. Well, except for the mansex. But that was in the heat of battle. You don't understand, man. You can't judge battlefield mansex until you've been on the battlefield having mansex. War is hell. But I digress.
  7. Those are spoken.
  8. Plus he set the oven too high, so the buns were burned on the outside while being undercooked inside. The region in between, however, was heavenly. Details like this were present in the book, and indeed proved critical to its plot, but were cut from the screenplay early in the film's production.
  9. Especially if the story that night was going to be And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Seuss rocks harder than the black bread in field rations. The Butter Battle Book is good too, if a bit on the nose.
  10. But it's Lee friggin' Marvin saying that, so it sounds tough. 'Cause he's tough. Tough like dough that's been kneaded too long.
  11. Just the one. There was a war on.
  12. Two.
  13. For the Jewish Nazis. Obviously.
  14. Yes, experts. You try tossing a salad while airborne! The difference in wind resistance between the lettuce and radishes alone has been enough to drive stronger people than you quite mad. Mad!
  15. He also moonlights as a stripper.
  16. He was too hot to handle. Also, too cold to hold. Later he was called a Ghostbuster, by which time he was in control.
  17. While other men use churchkeys to open bottles of beer, Mr. Marvin just bites the top right off. True story.
  18. *Swoon*
  19. ...and that's the best part of the film. On the plus side, my girlfriend first let me touch her boobs while watching it.

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