Kelly's Heroes

Year 1970

Clint Eastwood as  Pvt. Kelly
Telly Savalas as Master Sgt. Big Joe
Don Rickles as Staff Sgt. Crapgame
Carroll O'Connor as  Major General Colt
Donald Sutherland as Sgt. Oddball
Gavin MacLeod as Moriarty
Stuart Margolin as  Pvt. Little Joe
Tom Troupe as Cpl. Job
Harry Dean Stanton   as Pvt. Willard
Gene Collins as  Pvt. Babra
Len Lesser as Platoon Sgt. Bellamy
George Savalas as 1st Sgt. Mulligan
Karl Otto Alberty as German Tank Commander  
Director - Brian G. Hutton
Screenwriter - Troy Kennedy-Martin

Kelly's Heroes was the first "truly guys'" film that I ever saw. It's got tanks, explosions, and a bank robbery like no other. Plus there's no sappy love interest. In fact, there's not even a speaking part for a woman in the film. (John Landis of Animal House fame plays Sister Rosa Stigmata who I don't remember. But, you get my point. It's about guys and stuff guys do.)

And with nearly two-and-half hours to show it (the running time is 144 minutes), they do quite a lot. During a dark and stormy World War II night, Kelly (Eastwood) gets a German prisoner drunk and finds out that there's a bank filled with gold behind German lines. After this, the opening credits roll to the scene of their bivouac being destroyed by friendly artillery fire as it's being overrun with German soldiers.

The next part of the movie focuses on Kelly, an ex-officer, recruiting his company mates to join him in the endeavor to pull a bank heist. Big Joe (Telly Savalas), the official leader of them has to be convinced and he doesn't want to risk his neck, or his men's, for anybody. But as Little Joe tells him, "Listen to Kelly, man. He's got it all worked out."

And he a point. He can get behind German lines using the help of Mulligan (George Savalas - Telly's brother) and Mulligan's artillery (the same artillery that nearly killed them earlier) to provide cover while they make their ingress. He's even got armor support in the form of three Sherman tanks under Oddball (Donald Sutherland) to help them once they're on the other side. They're also loaded out with everything they need thanks to shady quartermaster Crapgame (Don Rickles).

The trip to the town where the bank is located is no cakewalk. They lose their vehicles, fight through a mine field, destroy a train station, and have to ford a river before the prize is even in sight. It's during this last that General Colt (Carroll O'Connor) finds out where Kelly's fighting and after weeks of a stalemate with the Germans declares to his officers, "You're the guys who are supposed to be fighting this battle, and you don't even know where in the hell it is! Well I'll tell you where it is! It's 30 miles beyond where you thought it was," and decides to go to the fighting himself. Now it becomes a race against time for Kelly. Will he beat the last obstacle and get his gold? Or will General Colt show up in time to make all the effort worthless?

Kelly's final battle pits one Sherman against three Tiger tanks. The Sherman has two advantages. The first is the element of surprise. The second is the fact that the battle is to take place in a town where the smaller, nimble American tanks have a clear advantage.

After the dust clears, there's one Tiger left. It's protecting the bank and there's no way for the American's to win against it. Crapgame suggests a deal.

Big Joe: What kind of deal?
Crapgame: A deal deal. Maybe the guy's a Republican. Business is business, right?

When the movie isn't about battles, it's about humor. Sometimes it's about both, but more often than not the tragedy of warfare is not glossed over or minimized. The battles are plausible, believable, and tragic. It's an anti-war statement done subtly and effectively.

The writer, who also did the original The Italian Job does an excellent job here of fleshing out both the quirkiness of the major players and the personalities of the minor characters.

Oddball's new age approach to life is an anachronism for the time, but it works well. Especially when he's exchanging dialog with his cynical mechanic/driver Moriarty.

Oddball: Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
Moriarty: Crap!
Moriarty: Suppose the bridge ain't there?
Oddball: Don't hit me with them negative waves so early in the morning. Think the bridge will be there and it will be there. It's a mother, beautiful bridge, and it's gonna be there. Ok?
Oddball looking at the bridge: Still up!
Oddball after watching planes bomb the bridge: No it ain't. See what sending out them negative waves did, Moriarty?
Moriarty: That ain't my fault, Oddball. I've done nothing but have good thoughts about that damn bridge ever since we left.
Oddball: Always with the negative waves Moriarty. Always with the negative waves.

Oddball behind enemy lines on the phone with an American Army Engineer sergeant: You don't want in this thing, you don't get in this thing. I cut you out of everything. I don't need you. Sixty feet of bridge I can get almost anywhere. Schmuck!
Oddball on why he doen't help repair a broken tank: I only ride 'em. I don't know what makes 'em work.

Oddball after barking for no reason: That's my other dog imitation

Oddball isn't the only one with lines. Crapgame gets a few, too.

Pvt. Cowboy: You guys smell like you fell into a dung heap!
Crapgame: Kinda makes ya homesick, don't it?
Pvt. Willard to Pvt. Cowboy: You know it does, kinda. Don't it, old buddy?
Crapgame: Knock it off with them cockamamie bells.

What else is good? Why the music is great. In the scene with the tanks in the town, the music is perfect. In fact, the best part of Inglourious Basterds is the music that's being played while the soldier goes up the stairs to the projection room of the theater. That's the music from the town scene in Kelly's Heroes.

From what I can tell, the accuracy is spot on. If someone says a "Sherman tank" you can expect to see a Sherman tank. A Tiger tank is a Tiger tank and not some gussied up other kind of tank. The German tank officer is dressed in black.

The anti-war message is suble but there. From the bloody battles to the disparity between the way officers and enlisted men are sequestered, the points are stated without being belabored. I call that masterful.

What's bad? After repeated viewings over the years, there are some slow spots. It's also dated. Eastwood's appearance is more 1960s than 1940s. The dialog is peppered with expressions that would have been out of place during World War II. The "in-jokes" which would have seemed fluidly incorporated into the movie when it was released now can be a distraction. How many people remember Don Rickle's stand-up comedy tag-line of "You get a cookie"?

Brief nudity. Some blasphemy. I'd recommend watching this either alone or with a group of guys. Women won't get it and their discomfort will detract from your viewing pleasure.

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