Directed By: Brian G. Hutton
Produced by: Sidney Beckerman
Written By: Troy Kennedy-Martin
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cinematography by: Gabriel Figueroa
Aspect Ratio: 2.20 : 1
Running Time: 149 Minutes
The text below is part of a series of articles originally published May 25th – June 6, 1999.
Though popular with me, 1970s star studded Kelly’s Heroes was hardly popular with the critics. It was the recipient of lukewarm reviews at a time when America was deeply embroiled and distracted by the Vietnam War. We were a nation not too interested in the mix of comedy and war. Kelly’s Heroes won no awards, nor did it win any box office races. Brian G. Hutton’s goal to show the more comical and quirky side of the military didn’t quite take on. Despite this, Kelly’s Heroes has aged well with time, and viewed in the right frame of mind is a great alternative to traditional WW II movies.
This is the only film in my Top 10 Favorite War Films list that was written and directed to be a comedy. Lt. Kelly (Clint Eastwood) discovers that there’s $16 million worth of German military payroll gold just lounging innocently in an empty bank just waiting to be plundered by someone with initiative and a plan. But there’s a catch . . . it’s behind enemy lines. Since Kelly is in a war zone he finds he can’t retrieve it without the help of some like minded, greedy, and quirky friends.
An upcoming three day pass provides the perfect opportunity and cover for them to make a dash for the gold. Some of his compatriots in greed include: Big Joe (Telly Savalas), a humorless, hard-as-nails sergeant that has his price; Crapgame (Don Rickles), a conniving supply sergeant with the goods Kelly needs to complete his mission; Oddball (Donald Sutherland), a laid back, beatnik tank commander who blares country music during battles; and General Colt (Carroll O’Connor), a higher-up who starts taking credit for all the havoc Kelly and gang create behind enemy lines while going for the gold . . . even though he has no idea what’s going on! Typical management behavior. The last of his partners in crime is the German officer guarding the gold itself. Kelly needs to get into the heavily fortified bank, and the German has a Tiger tank parked outside . . . you do the math. This story goes way beyond war, this is padding one’s pocket before the war comes to an abrupt end and soldiers are sent home with little to show but discharge papers and mental/physical scars.
In addition to many eccentric characters, Kelly’s Heroes also delivers plenty of action. Retrieving the stash will not be a simple matter. Kelly and his motley band run into plenty of resistance and firefights along the way . . . even losing some friends and comrades. The combat scenes are convincing enough, but interspersed among the bullets is plenty of wit and comic relief to lighten the mood.
If you take this movie too seriously, you’ll probably think it’s somewhat corny. But if you view it as a fast paced comedic treasure hunt across the battlefields of WW II you’ll probably enjoy it as much as I do. It is definitely my favorite WW II comedy.
Note: I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant. These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.