Men On A Mission Film Theater: Kelly’s Heroes (1970)

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Bringing our Men On A Mission films full circle, KELLY’S HEROES is a comedic counterpoint to WHERE EAGLES DARE, as both feature Clint Eastwood and were directed by Brian G. Hutton. Two more stars of THE DIRTY DOZEN also appear here, Telly Savalas as a barking Sergeant instead of a mad rapist, and Donald Sutherland as the infamous first hippie of World War Deuce. To round out the jaunty action-adventure, throw in Don Rickles, Carrol O’Connor, with able guest support from Stuart Margolin, Gavin MacLeod, Harry Dean Stanton (even John Landis is in there as a nun and doing stunts — this Euro-trip led to him writing AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON). All this in 70mm Panavision Stereophonic Sound. The simple story deals with military rebel Private Kelly (Eastwood) discovering a 16 million dollar cache of German gold heavily guarded in an occupied French town. He convinces a platoon of quirky dogfaces and their reluctant Sergeant Big Joe (Savalas) to move in and steal the treasure. War wackiness ensues albeit of the killing kind.

75383870fs8Intended by Eastwood to be his statement on the insanity of Vietnam — yes, he was very opposed to the war but kept his politics close to his vest — KELLY’S HEROES turned out to be one of those 1960’s super-productions that took months to film in Yugoslavia and went way over budget. The script by Troy Kennedy Martin focuses on the quirky characters amid life or death action sequences. True to form, Eastwood plays his usual laconic self, a more humorous variation of his Sergio Leone persona. Co-star Savalas has the more rote part, usually yelling at one person or another. The main pleasure of the film is the varied cast such as Don Rickles as Crapgame and Carroll O’Connor as the clueless Major trying to figure out what his troops are up to. Of course, the movie belongs to Donald Sutherland as Oddball, the war’s first hippie. His anachronistic language (“Oh man, again with the negative waves.”) and unique battle method — playing music from his tank while they attack — provides the best comedy. Sutherland is just great here, becoming a star in 1970 thanks to this along with his other cinematic war doppleganger, MASH. The platoon’s reactions to his counter-culture warrior ways add to the humor. He’s kinda unforgettable in this. It’s also nice to see Harry Dean Stanton on his long road to character actor acclaim as the mincing Private Willard. This is a real boy’s adventure tale movie; I don’t think there’s one speaking female part.

kellys_heroes_ver3Unlike the more efficient and cold-blooded WHERE EAGLES DARE, director Brian G. Hutton has a bigger budget and playing field, so the action spectacle overwhelms the tiny story. The mixture of comedy and violence isn’t as jarring as it sounds, but like Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (which re-uses a Lalo Schifrin cue from the score) , the shifting tone keeps the audience off-balance, as you don’t know who’s going to make it to the pot of gold at the end. If anything, KELLY’S HEROES is too damn long and the battle scenes don’t have enough vigor to sustain interest. There are some great moments, particularly the confrontation with the lone German soldier at the end who must decide whether to give up the gold or share in the spoils of war (the most emotional scene). Hutton can’t be blamed for the film’s wonky length, as James Aubrey, the head of MGM, demanded many cuts before its release, all to the exclusion of character and highlighting hi-jinks. Eastwood was upset over these edits as he felt the film lost some of his best scenes, ones that augumented the anti-war nature of the original script. This experience led to him producing and directing his own material in the next decade and beyond. I would love to see the original cut of KELLY’S HEROES but alas, the footage is probably gone forever. Brian Hutton later dropped out of Hollywood to become a plumber. Seriously. Quentin Tarantino told us at QT III.

1970 was THE year for disparate war films of the decade, with PATTON; MASH; DARLING LILI; CATCH-22; TORA! TORA! TORA! as examples of Hollywood’s conflicting POV on the subject. KELLY’S HEROES was a hit, but not as big as the studio hoped and it was clear these production behemoths were on their way out at the end of the 60’s. Still, KELLY’S HEROES is a fun movie to watch on a Sunday afternoon with bong, beer and pizza, and the ridiculous hit theme song by the prolific, notorious Mike Curb will stay in your head long after the credits roll. Sic Transit Gloria, baby.

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7 Responses to “Men On A Mission Film Theater: Kelly’s Heroes (1970)”

  1. christian Says:

    cool and great movie

  2. christian Says:

    ilke cowboy and kelly and crapgame in it

  3. Clint was an anti-war pinko pacifist pussy?!! No way!

  4. […] great clip of WMAR-TV reporter turning the tables on Don Rickles during the Yugoslavian shooting of KELLY’S HEROES (1970) — although she identifies it here as being called WARRIORS — and this is the only time […]

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