- Directed by Brian G. Hutton
- June 23, 1970 (US)
A group of American GIs during World War II go AWOL to rob a French bank behind enemy lines.
Kelly’s Heroes is an early 70s war comedy heist drama (I think I covered it all) film with an all-star cast placed in roles that are very nearly perfect for them. All the major performers are in top form here playing a group of screwballs and oddities thrown together out of comic greed.
We have a stacked cast of talent for the time that you might recall from so much other stuff or just because they have transcended into entertainment legends. We have such talent as Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Carroll O’Connor, Donald Sutherland, Harry Dean Stanton, Gavin MacLeod, and Stuart Margolin to name a few. You may recognize them from stuff of the time or from later works.
Clint Eastwood is the titular Kelly who assembles the ‘heroes’ of the story. Eastwood is, well, Eastwood in this. He is the straight man of the scenario coming up against absurdity and bureaucracy that makes a rather simple theft plot all the more difficult to pull off. He has no real jokes other than perhaps a jab at a character over some trait that defines them.
Donald Sutherland as tank driver Oddball is a standout here. It’s almost as if he’s in another film. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but his character is so unattached to events that he’s just having a relaxing time while everyone else is trying to engage in a heist. He is almost in a world of his own.
I have trouble believing Gavin MacLeod is in this. Here he plays a character named Moriarty. It’s not that he’s so different in what he does here but rather to me he’s physically unrecognizable. While I am not that familiar with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I am familiar with The Love Boat and the image I have of the famous Captain Stubing is how I picture him. Given his dress and the mannerisms, it’s hard to see Gavin McLeod as Gavin MacLeod here.
It’s always a pleasant surprise to see Don Rickles in a movie. I can’t say I’ve seen him in too much. In fact, the only other thing I can recall seeing him in was quite possibly Innocent Blood (which is an underrated vampire film). I know I am woefully underinformed on his career. He gives a certain charm to his character of Crapgame. Not a likeable guy but somebody you would enjoy being around.
While a comedy there are no big “Ha! Ha!” moments. Rather it’s just silly and quirky. There is a level of absurdity to the situation that just builds during the story but never becomes overwhelming in the story. One major hindrance to our heroes in the narrative is General Colt (Carroll O’Connor) who seeks to bask in the glory of a military unit advancing against all apparent odds.
The treat is seeing how the cast goes about overcoming each issue and how the plan slowly gets out of hand. They can’t really steal it without risking serious consequences. After all they are in the army. The threat in all this is not the German army but rather getting out before they are seen. The absurdity of what’s going on isn’t pushed to the point of ridiculousness. It’s just pushed to a point that it’s believably frustrating.
The movie’s song ‘Burning Bridges’ is very clearly an example of its time yet somehow works well with Kelly’s Heroes. Perhaps it’s because of the lighter tone of the movie as this is not a serious war film. It’s just lyrical and gentle nature meshes well with this film and only serves to highlight things.
The dialogue is witty and the characters are each unique and entertaining in their own way. From minor to major, they each bring something special to the screen. And there is just creativity galore in this movie. That includes the resolution of the story because honestly a heist film where the characters don’t succeed in some way is a major disappointment and the characters do get to succeed here.
Kelly’s Heroes is nothing too deep. It has great action and some scene stealing performances. It is a fun film which will certainly garner multiple watches. This is certainly something you should check out!
2 thoughts on “Kelly’s Heroes”
Always loved this film, ever since watching it on the telly over Christmas growing up. Its just so much fun. Watching it years later, some of that wears a bit thin (war is hell, not an adventure for grown-up boys, but I suppose its just how war films were made/presented back then pre-Platoon/Saving Private Ryan etc), in just the same way as I find it hard watching any John Wayne Western. Never bought this on disc, but I can always give this a watch whenever its on the telly.
Making this a war as adventure is forgivable in my opinion since this is a comedy.
And you are shortchanging yourself by not watching such Wayne greats as True Grit, The Sons of Katie Elder, The Cowboys, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and The War Wagon.