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KELLY’S HEROES (director: Brian G. Hutton; screenwriter: Troy Kennedy-Martin; cinematographer: Gabriel Figueroa; editor: John Jympson; music: Lalo Schifrin; cast: Clint Eastwood (Lt. Kelly), Telly Savalas (Big Joe), Don Rickles (Crapgame), Carroll O’Connor (General Colt), Donald Sutherland (Oddball), Gavin MacLeod (Moriarty), Richard Davalos (Pvt. Gutowski), Harry Dean Stanton (Pvt. Willard), Stuart Margolin (Pvt. Little Joe), David Hurst (German Colonel); Runtime: 145; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Sidney Beckerman/Gabriel Katzka; MGM; 1970)
“It was too crudely done to have much effect as satire.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Brian G. Hutton (“Sol Madrid”/”Where Eagles Dare”) dares to make a comedy like M*A*S*H and Catch-22, both released the same year. But this one comes with a labored script by Troy Kennedy-Martin and aside from being too lengthy at 145 minutes, it’s too uneven and sloppily acted. It plays out more as a caper film that uses World War II as a background than as a straight war film. It was shot in Yugoslavia; their army was hired because they still used WW II equipment. Some thought the film offered a satire on the unpopular on-going Vietnam War, but that attempt never quite flowered.

In the late stages of the war, the Americans advance from their Normandy landing to take back parts of occupied France. A maverick Lieutenant Kelly (Clint Eastwood) captures a German colonel (David Hurst) and plies him with brandy hoping to get info on the German Army’s supply of liquor and women, but instead learns that there are 14,000 bars of German gold worth $16 million being held in a nearby German bank. Kelly and his platoon decide to steal the gold, and for the heist to go off enlists the help of whiny capitalist supply sergeant Crapgame (Don Rickles), eccentric hippie tank commander Oddball (Donald Sutherland) and are inadvertently joined by loudmouth General Colt (Carroll O’Connor), who has been listening to the radio communication setting up the operation and foolishly believes the group is on a patriotic mission. Kelly’s boys fight their way through German lines with many causalities and end up robbing the bank, while General Colt gets credit for the stunning military victory.

Telly Savalas plays Big Joe, a wily, hard-nosed sergeant who reluctantly goes along with the scheme because everyone else does; also, Harry Dean Stanton manages to steal every scene he’s in. Eastwood plays it laid-back and allows the supporting characters to carry the film.

It’s basically a silly war tale that highlights a series of grunt cliches, mucho gratuitous violence, an overabundance of pyrotechnics and outrageous sitcom comedy like adventures. The only familiar character it seemed to be missing was Sergeant Bilko. It was too crudely done to have much effect as satire. The film had no chance of succeeding when MGM boss James Aubrey insisted on a number of cuts, against the protests of Eastwood and Hutton. As a result, the film’s anti-war message never got through the enemy lines.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”