There is an old saying that “fortune favors the bold”. That certainly proves to be a true statement for Private Kelly and his “partners in crime”.
Kelly’s Heroes may take place during World War II, but it certainly isn’t a glimpse at the horrors of war. If anything it’s a comedy heist movie that utilizes World War II as a backdrop. Kelly and his gang boldly go forth “into the breach” to prove the adage, “to the victors go the spoils”.
Its 1944, in Nazi-occupied France, and four months have passed since the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach. A U.S. Army platoon, under the command of a Master Sergeant named “Big Joe”, has captured a Nazi Colonel. Private Kelly begins interrogating the Colonel and rifles though his belongings looking for pertinent intel.
While going through the colonel’s briefcase, Pvt. Kelly discovers something that he considers more valuable than intel – he finds a few gold bars painted to look like lead.
Pvt. Kelly gets the Colonel a few drinks (quite a few) and begins questioning him about the gold only to find that the few bars the Colonel was carrying came from a cache of 14,000 gold bars that are being stored at a bank in the French town of Clermont.
The entire time Kelly is trying to get the Colonel to divulge all the information about the gold cache, the German army has been advancing on their position. Big Joe, Pvt. Kelly, and the rest of the platoon realize it’s time to high tail it out of there if they want to live to fight another day.
As everybody is hastily retreating, the Nazi Colonel is killed in the crossfire.
After just barely making it out of danger by the skin of their teeth, “Big Joe” and his boys get three days of R&R from their Captain. During this down time, Kelly has plans to go after that gold. He spreads the word amongst the men in his platoon, as he tries to enlist them for his own little “mission”.
When “Big Joe” gets wind of his scheme he initially threatens to bounce Kelly out of the Army, but a convincing argument, a well drawn up plan, and a bit of greed brings Joe around.
Just for good measure, Kelly also enlists an inept mortar commander, a “hustler” posing as a supply sergeant, and a band of misfits with their own column of three Sherman tanks. With that kind of support, how could this little “mission” go wrong?
This is one of my favorite Clint Eastwood movies of all time.
It definitely does not project any semblance of pro-war attitude. This movie came out during a time when anti-Vietnam war sentiments were running at an all time high. So the humorous tone of Kelly’s Heroes is meant to blow a big raspberry at the concept of war.
Clint Eastwood, as Private Kelly, displays the perpetually stoic and steely demeanor Eastwood is famous for. This effectively makes him a perfect straight man to the gaggle of humorous characters in his platoon. He does tend, at times, to have his own flashes of incidental humor as well.
Big Joe, played by Telly Savalas, is the platoon Sergeant with a short temper and a big chip on his shoulder. He’s loud, angry and funny all at the same time. His fiery attitude is the perfect compliment to Eastwood’s cool and steely persona, as they fight for control of a band of miscreants who just happen to be the soldiers that comprise their platoon.
Don Rickles is…well, Don Rickles. As “Crapgame”, Rickles doesn’t really have to do much acting. All he really has to do is lend his sharp, caustic, brand of sarcasm to the role, and he does it beautifully. Rickles never misses a beat with the rapier like sarcastic whit, which has helped to make him a comedy legend.
Donald Sutherland is hilarious as “Oddball”, the leader of a Sherman tank group full of misfits, who lend their support to Kelly and his platoon. Sutherland brings a zany hippie style vibe to the role. He’s a man who’s not quite all there, which is OK since the rest of the guys in the tank group are kind of “out there” as well.
Oddball can find goodness in most things and sees everyday as sunshiny or beautiful, just so long as nobody harshes his gig with their “negative waves”.
The supporting cast is made up of an equally funny group of fellows which includes: Carol O’Connor, Harry Dean Stanton, Gavin MacLeod, George Savalas, Len Lesser, Gene Collins, Jeff Morris, and Stuart Margolin.
The filmmakers definitely did their homework when it came down to their accurate depiction of the war-torn French countryside, even though it was actually filmed in Yugoslavia.
Great attention to detail also went into the appearance of uniforms, the weapons of the period, the vehicles used, and the artillery.
Director Brian G. Hutton had directed Where Eagles Dare just two years before, so such details were definitely still familiar too him. He was able to parlay his past experience with that film into this production, which likely proved beneficial when it came to directing the action sequences for this film.
Hutton commanded great performances from a cast that includes some actors who have become legends in Hollywood. Where the comedic performances are concerned, he was fortuitous to have been furnished with a cast that was so comically gifted and plated well off of each other.
It also didn’t hurt that Hutton was working from a well written script. Kelly’s Heroes was written by Troy Kennedy-Martin, who had previously written a little action comedy involving a heist entitled The Italian Job. So he was proved to be a good choice based on his ability to create a story that deftly balances the elements of action and comedy.
Now given the fact that it takes place during wartime, they obviously have to include sequences of war related action. The battle sequences were very well choreographed and also well shot.
These sequences added just the right amount of tension to lend excitement to the film without completely overshadowing the comedic element and causing the movie to get too heavy. The pyrotechnics and various other special effects may seem antiquated by today’s standards, but for the time period they were superbly done.
People who are fans of Clint Eastwood, but have not seen this movie are doing themselves a great disservice. Actually anyone who likes action comedies should give this movie a watch at least once, because frankly – it’s a classic.
This movie hits on all cylinders and does not fail to entertain all the way to the end – as some movies can and will do. I have seen this movie many times, and will probably see it many more.
Kelly’s Heroes can currently be found for purchase on DVD and Blu-ray and also by mail through Netflix.