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Kelly's Heroes is an offbeat 1970 war film about a group of World War II soldiers who go AWOL to rob a bank behind enemy lines. Directed by Brian G. Hutton, who also directed the 1968 World War II drama Where Eagles Dare, the film stars Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, and Carroll O'Connor, with lesser roles played by Harry Dean Stanton, Gavin MacLeod, and Stuart Margolin. The screenplay was written by Britishmarker film and television writer Troy Kennedy Martin.


The film opens in World War II France in early September 1944. Units of the U.S. Army's 35th Infantry Division are nearing the town of Nancymarker when one of the division's platoons receives orders to pull out while under attack from the Germans (much to the chagrin of the men, who are eager to get into Nancy in order to find a decent place to get some rest).

Kelly (Clint Eastwood), a former lieutenant demoted to private as a scapegoat, captures Colonel Dankhopf (David Hurst) of German Intelligence. When Kelly notices his prisoner has a gold bar, he gets him drunk to try to get information. Before he is accidentally killed by an attacking German Tiger tank, the drunken Dankhopf blurts out that there is a cache of 14,000 gold bars (worth $16,000,000 USD on the Paris market) stored in a bank vault 30 miles behind enemy lines in the town of Clermont.

Kelly recruits the rest of his platoon, including skeptical Master Sergeant "Big Joe" (Telly Savalas), to sneak off and steal it. Eventually, others have to be recruited (or invite themselves) into the scheme, such as an opportunistic supply sergeant "Crapgame" (Don Rickles); a proto-hippie Sherman tank commander, "Oddball" (Donald Sutherland); and a number of stereotypical G.I. presented as competent, but war-weary veterans.

The obvious antagonists are the Germans. However, it quickly becomes clear that the motley band's own side is just as much an obstacle. An Allied fighter plane mistakes them for Germans and shoots up much of their equipment. When intercepted radio messages of the unauthorized private enterprise raid are brought to the attention of gung-ho American Major General Colt (O'Connor), he misinterprets them as patriotic soldiers pushing forward; Colt rushes to the front line to exploit the "breakthrough".

Kelly's men race to reach the French town before their own army. There, they find it defended by three formidable Tiger tanks with infantry support. The Americans are able to handle all but one Tiger, which camps out in front of the bank itself. Powerless to defeat the armored behemoth, Kelly, Oddball and Big Joe offer the German tank commander's (Karl-Otto Alberty) and his crew a share of the loot. They divide up the gold ($875,000 per share) and go their separate ways, just in time to avoid meeting the still-clueless Colt who is welcomed by the locals as a liberator.



The movie was filmed in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslaviamarker, in regions which are now the independent countries of Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker, Croatiamarker, and Serbiamarker. This was done mostly because earnings from previous showings of movies in Yugoslavia could not be taken out of the country, but could be used to fund the production.Also the Yugoslav army had in its inventory U.S. Sherman tanks (part of the military aid packages received when Colonel Tito split ways with Stalin and the U.S. feared a Red Army intervention through Hungary).

Several years after the film was released, Eastwood claimed that the movie studio (MGM) made additional cuts to Hutton's final version of the film, eliminating scenes that gave depth to the main characters. The resulting edits, Eastwood said, made the characters look like "a bunch of goof-offs from World War Two."

There is a nod to Eastwood's spaghetti westerns in the standoff with the Tiger tank — a virtual remake of the ending of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, right down to the musical score.

It has been proposed that the story was inspired by the story of a French Resistance ambush on a German truck convoy of gold bars in Oradour-sur-Glane in World War Two or by the story of the German Reichsbank gold which was moved out of Berlin in the month before the end of World World Two, and subsequently vanished. It was an inspiration for the film Inside Out released in 1975.

This film was produced and released during the Vietnam War, and in the same political and cultural climate as M*A*S*H — the war-weary soldiers who "don't even know what this war's all about" (Big Joe's words to the German tank commander), the Liberation of Europe being the least of their problems as they set out to line their own pockets.

The U.S. troops wear the insignia of the US 35th Infantry Division. The division actually was in action around Nancymarker in Francemarker in September 1944. The film also uses authentic M4 Sherman tanks (from Yugoslav Army's reserves), while most other contemporary war films, for example Patton, employed too-modern M48 tanks. Such technical details as machine guns and entrenching tools are also remarkably accurate. The three Tiger I Tanks used in the film were actually ex-Soviet Army T-34 tanks, converted in great detail by specialists of the Yugoslav army for the 1969 movie The Battle of Neretva.

The movie inspired the 1975 movie Inside Out, about ex-Americanmarker World War II veterans who team up with ex-Nazi war criminals to con a former Nazi party leader into revealing the location of a secret shipment of gold.

Although he does not appear in the credits, future director John Landis worked as a production assistant. He also appeared in the movie, dressed as a nun. During the shooting of the picture in Yugoslavia, he wrote the first draft of what would eventually become An American Werewolf in London.

The film was voted at number 34 in Channel 4's 100 Greatest war films of all time.

Musical score and soundtrack

The main musical theme of the movie (at both beginning and end) is "Burning Bridges," sung by The Mike Curb Congregation with music by Lalo Schifrin. There is also a casual rendition of the music in the background near the middle of the movie. The Mike Curb Congregation's recording of "Burning Bridges" reached number 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on March 6, 1971.

The soundtrack to the film also contains the song, "All For the Love of Sunshine," which became the first No. 1 country hit for Hank Williams, Jr.. The inclusion of the song is one of the film's many anachronisms since it was not released until 1970, 25 years after the end of the war.

The soundtrack was released on LP, as well a subsequent CD featuring the LP tracks, by Chapter III Records. This album was mostly re-recordings. A CD containing the full score as well as the alternate LP tracks was released by Film Score Monthly.

The track, entitled "Tiger Tank", of Schifrin's score appears in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.

See also


  1. channel 4 - 100 greatest war films of all time

External links

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