Kelly’s Heroes (1970)

Director: Brian G. Hutton
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Don Rickles, Carroll O’Connor, Gavin MacLeod, Stuart Margolin, Jeff Morris, Harry Dean Stanton, Gene Collins, Perry Lopez, Hal Buckley, Karl-Otto Alberty
Music: Lalo Schifrin

After Where Eagles Dare, Clint Eastwood had starred in two flop movies. First there was Paint Your Wagon, which was one of the failures that nearly forced Paramount pictures into bankruptcy. Then he followed it up with Two Mules For Sister Sara, which again, wasn’t quite the success that he had hoped. Naturally, he looked at making another Where Eagles Dare to get punters bums back on seats. The result was Kelly’s Heroes. But Kelly’s Heroes is a bit different – it isn’t another blood and guts, shoot ‘em up, – it’s a caper film.

The film opens during the middle of a battle. Mortar shells are raining down and buildings are exploding. Behind enemy lines, Private Kelly (Clint Eastwood) has captured himself a German Intelligence Officer. He brings him back for interrogation. Inside the German’s attaché case, Kelly finds two lead bars. When questioned, the German says if he was captured he was to throw the case in a river. The lead weights were to weigh it down. Then Kelly notices that a bit of lead has been scraped away at the bottom of one of the bars. It looks like the lead coating is to disguise the gold bar underneath. Kelly starts plying the Officer with brandy to find out more.

Trailer uploaded to Youtube by: Weduc79

The liquor eventually loosens the Officer’s tongue, and he reveals that 14,000 gold bars have been placed in a bank in the town of Claremont. Claremont is 20 miles behind enemy lines, and the town (and bank) are guarded by three Tiger Tanks.

But Kelly thinks that he has been getting shot at, mortared and bombed on for virtually no reward at all. Why not make a little extra out of it? He decides to go after the gold. Luckily, his platoon, which is under the leadership of Big Joe (Telly Savalas) has just been relieved of duties on the front line, and has three days rest. Kelly convinces them all, that they should risk their lives, behind enemy lines to rob the bank.

But Kelly needs a little bit of help from a few outsiders. The first is Crapgame (Don Rickles). Crapgame is the supply officer. Through him, Kelly arranges all the weapons, ammunition and supplies he needs for the incursion. To go up against the three Tiger tanks in Claremont, Kelly enlists the aid of a misfit named Oddball (Donald Sutherland), who is in command of three Sherman tanks. With the motley crew assembled, the men head off into the warzone, each expecting a share in a $16,000,000 payday. Of course, it isn’t all beer and skittles, and the platoon has to face quite a few hardships before reaching their objective.

The film has a great ending too. When our squad of men have reached the bank in Claremont, and overcome nearly all obstacles, there is one last little hiccup. Parked in front of the bank is a Tiger tank that steadfastly refuses to move.

Kelly’s Heroes features a top-notch ensemble cast. Of course there’s Eastwood – he plays his role fairly straight. Kelly is resourceful and brave, but he has been busted back from lieutenant to private for a mistake that was not his fault. Basically, he is now at war with the system. Eastwood didn’t carry, Where Eagles Dare (Burton was the star) but here, the film falls solely on his shoulders. Thankfully he is helped out by Savalas, who also plays it straight and tough. But you need straight guys to play opposite Donald Sutherland. Sutherland plays one of the weirdest characters to populate a World War II drama. Oddball is a sixties style hippy…and sure he maybe out of place in 1944, but his scenes are hilarious. Then you’ve got Don Rickles (for the youngsters reading this – Mr. Potato Head). Rickles is Rickles. He doesn’t really change. And Harry Dean Stanton has a small early role (cos a repo-man spends his life getting into tense situations).

The music by Lalo Schifrin is good (did you expect anything else?) but it doesn’t have the rhythmic hooks that some of his other scores do. It often falls back on staccato military drum beats, which I ‘think’ are intended to evoke Ron Goodwin’s score from Where Eagles Dare. For the showdown at the end of the movie, the score even veers into mock Morricone territory, harking back to Eastwood’s Dollars trilogy. The title song, ‘Burning Bridges’, by the Mike Curb Congregation is pleasant enough piece of early 70’s bubblegum pop, but it is not particularly memorable outside this film.

‘Burning Bridges’, by the Mike Curb Congregation uploaded by 5tealthh

Although Kelly’s Heroes is directed by Brian G. Hutton, the man behind Where Eagles Dare, the two films are very different. Where Eagles Dare is a rip-roaring adventure film, but Kelly’s Heores combines two genres – the War film and the Caper film. The idea almost works, but it does result in a little un-eveness. Sometimes the film is a very serious war drama, and shows the consequences of death in a war zone. This is amplified by the fact that Kelly’s platoon choose to go after the gold at their own personal risk. Then right beside these poignant scenes, they’ll insert Carroll O’Connor’s ham fisted cartoon antics. It doesn’t always gel. But overall, I believe that Kelly’s Heroes is a fine, and extremely entertaining film.

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