Kelly's Heroes

Kelly's Heroes is a 1970 American war film, directed by Brian G. Hutton, about a group of World War II American soldiers who go AWOL to rob a bank behind enemy lines. The film stars Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Carroll O'Connor, and Donald Sutherland, with secondary roles played by Harry Dean Stanton, Gavin MacLeod, and Stuart Margolin. The screenplay was written by British film and television writer Troy Kennedy Martin. The film was a US-Yugoslav co-production, filmed mainly in the Croatian village of Vižinada on the Istria peninsula.

Kelly's Heroes
Directed byBrian G. Hutton
Produced byGabriel Katzka
Harold Loeb
Sidney Beckerman
Written byTroy Kennedy Martin
StarringClint Eastwood
Telly Savalas
Don Rickles
Carroll O'Connor
Donald Sutherland
Music byLalo Schifrin
CinematographyGabriel Figueroa
Edited byJohn Jympson
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • June 23, 1970 (1970-06-23) (US)
Running time
146 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$4 million[2]
Box office$5.2 million (rentals)[3][4]


During a thunderstorm in early September 1944, units of the 35th Infantry Division are nearing the French town of Nancy. One of the division's mechanized reconnaissance platoons is ordered to hold their position when the Germans counterattack. The outnumbered platoon also receives friendly fire from their own mortars.

Private Kelly, a former lieutenant scapegoated for a failed infantry assault, captures Colonel Dankhopf of Wehrmacht Intelligence. Interrogating his prisoner, Kelly notices the officer's briefcase has several gold bars disguised under lead plating. Curious, he gets the colonel drunk and learns that there is a cache of 14,000 gold bars, worth US$16 million (equivalent to $230 million in 2018), stored in a bank vault 30 miles (50 km) behind enemy lines in the town of Clermont. When their position is overrun and the Americans pull back, a Tiger I kills Dankhopf.

Kelly decides to go after the gold. He visits the opportunistic Supply Sergeant "Crapgame" to obtain the supplies and guns that will be needed for the operation. A spaced-out tank platoon commander known as "Oddball" and his three M4 Sherman tanks from the 6th Armored Division are invited into the plan. With their commanding officer, Captain Maitland, busily pursuing opportunities to enrich himself and seriously neglecting the welfare of his troops, the men of Kelly's platoon are all eager to join Kelly. After much argument, Kelly finally persuades cynical Master Sergeant "Big Joe" to go along.

Kelly decides that his infantrymen and Oddball's tanks will proceed separately and meet near Clermont. Oddball's tanks fight their way through the German lines, managing to destroy a German railway depot, but their route is blocked when the bridge they need to cross is blown up by Allied fighter-bombers. Oddball contacts an engineer unit to build him a bridge, and the engineers in turn bring in even more men for support. After losing their jeeps and halftracks to friendly fire from an American plane that mistook them for the enemy, Kelly and the others proceed on foot and unknowingly walk into a minefield. Private Grace is killed when he steps on a mine, and PFC Mitchell and Corporal Job are killed when the men are forced to engage a German patrol sent to investigate the disturbance.

Oddball links up with Kelly two nights later, bringing with him the unexpected support troops. They battle their way across the river to Clermont, losing two of the three tanks and leaving the bridging unit and all other support behind. By this time, the raid has grown in size and generated enough radio traffic that the 35th Infantry Division commander, Major General Colt, misinterprets the caper as the efforts of aggressive patrols pushing forward on their own initiative and immediately rushes to the front to exploit the "breakthrough."

Kelly's men find that Clermont is defended by three Tiger tanks of the 1st SS Panzer Division with infantry support. The Americans are able to eliminate the German infantry and two of the Tigers, but the final tank parks itself right in front of the bank and Oddball's last M4 Sherman breaks down, leaving them stalemated. At Crapgame’s suggestion, Kelly, Big Joe, and Oddball approach the Tiger and offer the commander and his crew an equal share of the loot.

After the Tiger blows the bank doors open, the Germans and Americans divide the spoils and go their separate ways, each participant getting a US$0.9 million share (equivalent to $12.5 million in 2018), just barely managing to avoid meeting the still-oblivious General Colt, who is blocked from entering Clermont by the French residents who have been deceived by Big Joe into thinking that General Charles de Gaulle is coming. Not long after the freelancers have gone, Captain Maitland enters the bank, to find a Kilroy and the words "Up Yours, Baby" painted on the wall by one of Kelly's crew.


Pre-production: the story behind the film

The screenplay was written by British film and television writer Troy Kennedy Martin. He relied on a true story[5] which was featured as ‘The Greatest Robbery on Record’ in Guinness World Records from 1956 to 2000. On December 4, 1968, Elliott Morgan, MGM’s Head of Research wrote to the Guinness Book of World Records requesting information on this entry: “The greatest robbery on record was of the German National Gold Reserves in Bavaria by a combine of US military personnel and German civilians in 1945”. On the 10th December the editor, Norris D McWhirter, wrote back to Morgan stating that he had very little information and that he essentially suspected that there had been a cover-up which required that the story should be subject to a ‘restricted classification’. He closed by suggesting that until that security classification was changed, ‘due to death or eflux(sic) of time, any film made will have to be an historical romance rather than history’.

In 1975 British researcher Ian Sayer began a nine-year investigation into the Guinness entry. The results of his investigation, which confirmed a cover up by the US government together with the involvement of US military and former Wehrmacht and SS officers in the theft, were published in the 1984 book Nazi Gold – The Sensational Story of the World’s Greatest Robbery – and the Greatest Criminal Cover-Up.[6] The investigation finally led to two of the missing gold bars (valued in 2019 at over $1m) being handed over by German officials to the American government in a secret ceremony at Bonn on the 27th September 1996. The bullion was transported to the Bank of England where it was held to the account of the Tripartite Commission for the Restitution of Monetary Gold (TCRMG). The first disclosure that the Bank was holding the two bars (complete with Nazi markings) came from a press release issued by the bank on the 8th May 1997 which confirmed that the two bars were those which had been identified as missing in the book Nazi Gold. Sayer had given information to the US Department of State concerning the two bars (amongst other things) in July 1978. In 1983 they finally agreed to investigate using Sayer’s evidence. The State Department investigation did not conclude until 1997. On the 11th December 1997 Sayer was invited, by the Secretary General of the TCRMG, to view the two bars, in the gold bullion vaults of the Bank of England. In addition to being accorded this rare honour he was also photographed holding the bars which he had been instrumental in tracking down.


The project was announced by MGM in November 1968 under the title of The Warriors.[7] Filming commenced in July 1969 and was completed in December.[2] The film was made and released during a time of great financial difficulties for studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, in the early days of the turbulent ownership of Kirk Kerkorian.[8] It was shot on location in the Istrian village of Vižinada in Yugoslavia (now Croatia) and London.[9] One of the reasons for the selection of Yugoslavia as the main location was that, in 1969, it was one of the few nations whose army were still equipped with operating World War II mechanized equipment, both German and American, including in particular the M4 Sherman tank.[10] This simplified logistics tremendously.[11]

During pre-production, George Kennedy turned down a role despite an offered fee of $300,000 because he did not like the part.[12] The original script included a female role which was removed just before filming began. Ingrid Pitt had been cast in the role (she worked on Where Eagles Dare with Eastwood and Hutton the previous year). She later said she was "virtually climbing on board the plane bound for Yugoslavia when word came through that my part had been cut".[13] In the film's climax, there is a nod to the ending of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, another Eastwood film, including a similar musical score, and the overdubbing of the sound of non-existent jangling spurs.[9]

Deleted scenes

Approximately 20 minutes were cut from the film by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer before theatrical release. Eastwood said later in interviews that he was very disappointed about the re-cut by MGM because he felt that many of the deleted scenes not only gave depth to the characters, but also made the movie much better.[14][15] Some of the deleted scenes were shown on promotional stills and described in interviews with cast and crew for Cinema Retro's special edition article about Kelly's Heroes:[16]

  • Oddball and his crew pack up to go across the lines to meet up with Kelly and others while local village girls are running around half naked.
  • The platoon encounters a group of German soldiers and naked girls swimming in a pool.
  • While they wait for Oddball in the barn at night, Kelly and Big Joe talk about their disillusionment with the war and why Kelly was made a scapegoat for the attack that resulted in his demotion. Another scene was deleted from this part where the platoon decides they do not want to continue with the mission, and Gutowski threatens Kelly at gunpoint, but Big Joe and Crapgame side with Kelly.
  • General Colt is in bed with some women when he gets a call that Kelly and others have broken through the enemy lines.
  • During the attack on the town, production designer John Barry had a cameo as a British airman hiding from the Germans.
  • One promotional still shows Kelly finding a wounded German soldier among the ruined houses during the final town attack.
  • Kelly, Oddball and Big Joe discuss tactics while standing on an abandoned Tiger tank before the scene where they negotiate with the German tank commander.
  • When Kelly and platoon drive off at the end, a bunch of soldiers yell at them that they are headed in the wrong direction.


The film received mostly positive reviews. It was voted at number 34 in Channel 4's 100 Greatest War Films of All Time.[17] The film earned $5.2 million in US theatrical rentals,[18] making it the 25th highest-grossing film of 1970.[19]

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an approval rating of 76% based on 21 reviews, with an average rating of 6.88/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Kelly's Heroes subverts its World War II setting with pointed satirical commentary on modern military efforts, offering an entertaining hybrid of heist caper and battlefield action."[20]

Roger Greenspun of The New York Times described the action scenes as "good clean scary fun," until it goes "terribly wrong" when many soldiers are killed and "the balance alters to the horrors of war. To acknowledge its deaths the film has no resources above the conventional antagonistic ironies and comradely pieties of most war movies. And since its subject is not war, but burglary masquerading as war, the easy acceptance of the masquerade—which is apparently quite beyond the film's control—becomes a denial of moral perception that depresses the mind and bewilders the imagination."[21] Arthur D. Murphy of Variety called the film "a very preposterous, very commercial World War II comedy meller, the type which combines roadshow production values and length with B-plot artistry."[22] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote that "the bombing becomes tedious. One quickly realizes anytime a large object is brought into focus it will soon be incinerated. With only one dramatic problem—getting the gold—it is hard to imagine how the producers and directors could let the film run nearly two-and-one-half hours."[23] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called the film "a picture which confuses shrillness with wit and slaughter with slapstick," adding, "Even the estimable Donald Sutherland can't redeem the picture. Despite his artful efforts, his role as a long-haired hippie tank commander is so ludicrously out of time and place that it becomes hard to stomach in a film in which, elsewhere, two GIs trapped in a mine field are gunned down like cans on a stump. You can't poison your cake and eat it too."[24] Alan M. Kriegsman of The Washington Post described the film as "a case of machismo gone mad," and wondered "how a photographer like Gabriel Figueroa, who shot a number of Luis Bunuel's finest films, among other things, ever got roped into such a jejune, tasteless project."[25] The Monthly Film Bulletin stated that "In terms of rip-roaring, bulldozing action, this attempt to cross The Dirty Dozen with Where Eagles Dare can be said to have achieved its object." However, the review went on, "With all energy apparently expended on sustaining over two hours of consistently devastating explosions, pyrotechnics and demolition, little attention has been paid either to period detail (resulting in mini-skirted townswomen and the description of conditions in terms of 'hung-up' and 'freaked out') or to the script, which is jolly, vituperative, and little else."[26]

Musical score and soundtrack

Kelly's Heroes
Soundtrack album by
RecordedApril 21 and June, 1970
TTG Studios Hollywood, California
GenreFilm score
ProducerMike Curb and Jesse Kaye
Lalo Schifrin chronology
Kelly's Heroes
Rock Requiem

The film score was composed, arranged and conducted by Lalo Schifrin and the soundtrack album was released by MGM Records in 1970.[27] The President of MGM Records, Mike Curb, wrote two songs for the film, with his group the Mike Curb Congregation performing on a number of the songs.

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. An expanded edition of the soundtrack was released by Film Score Monthly in 2005.[28] The main musical theme of the movie (at both beginning and end) is "Burning Bridges", sung by the Mike Curb Congregation with music by Schifrin. There is also a casual rendition of the music in the background near the middle of the film. The Mike Curb Congregation's recording of "Burning Bridges" reached #34 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on March 6, 1971; but did much better in South Africa, where it was the #1 song on the charts for five weeks ending in November 1970, and in New Zealand, where it spent two weeks at Number One in March 1971. It also had a two-week stay at Number One in Australia [29], and in Canada the song reached #23 in March 1971.[30]

Mike Curb wrote the song "All for the Love of Sunshine" for the film, with the Mike Curb Congregation providing background on the recording by Hank Williams, Jr.. The song became the first #1 country hit for Williams.


Kelly's Heroes was released to DVD by Warner Home Video on August 1, 2000, in a Region 1 widescreen DVD (one of several solo DVDs marketed as the Clint Eastwood Collection) and also to Blu-ray on June 1, 2010 as part of a double feature with Where Eagles Dare.

  • In Girls und Panzer, the Rabbit Team watches a scene from the movie and later employs its stratagem in their final battle against the Kuromorimine team. In addition, while infiltrating Saunders, Yukari uses Sergeant Oddball's name as an alias.

See also


  1. "Kelly's Heroes, running time". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved November 1, 2012.
  2. Hughes, p.194
  3. "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976, pg 46.
  4. "Kelly's Heroes, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved May 26, 2012.
  5. Dickson, Sam (December 31, 2015). "32 things you didn't know about Kelly's Heroes – Donald Sutherland was ill, expected to die before his wife got to Yugoslavia".
  6. "IMDb 'Kelly's Heroes' Trivia".
  7. "MGM Will Begin Nine Films in '69". Los Angeles Times. November 30, 1968. p. a5.
  8. "Operating Loss of $l.9 Million Posted by MGM: Despite 2nd Period Deficit, Firm Earned $4.9 Million During 1st Half of Fiscal '70 Filming Costs Charged Off". The Wall Street Journal. April 22, 1970. p. 5.
  9. McGilligan (1999), p. 183
  10. King, Susan (October 10, 2014). "From 'Patton' to 'Fury,' tank films that roll". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  11. Ben Mankiewicz introduction to Kelly's Heroes, Turner Classic Movies, 25 May 2015.
  12. Knapp, Dan (November 23, 1969). "'Cool Hand Luke' Gave Kennedy a Fair Shake: George Kennedy". Los Angeles Times. p. c1.
  13. Munn, p. 102
  14. Conversations With Clint: Paul Nelson's Lost Interviews With Clint Eastwood, Pages 51 - 54
  15. "Kelly's Heroes - cut scenes?". Retrieved November 6, 2016.
  16. "CINEMA RETRO'S "KELLY'S HEROES" MOVIE CLASSICS SPECIAL EDITION STILL A TOP-SELLER! - Celebrating Films of the 1960s & 1970s". Retrieved November 6, 2016.
  17. "channel 4 – 100 greatest war films of all time". Archived from the original on March 26, 2009. Retrieved March 27, 2009.
  18. Hughes, p.196
  19. "Top Grossing Films of 1970". Retrieved April 17, 2016.
  20. "Kelly's Heroes (1970)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  21. Greenspun, Roger (June 24, 1970). "The Screen: Hutton's 'Kelly's Heroes' Begins Run". The New York Times.
  22. Murphy, Arthur D. (June 17, 1970). "Film Reviews: Kelly's Heroes". Variety. 22.
  23. Siskel, Gene (July 27, 1970). "Kelly's Heroes". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 14.
  24. Champlin, Charles (July 8, 1970). "'Kelly's Heroes' Comedy War Film". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 12.
  25. Kriegsman, Alan M. (June 20, 1970). "'Heroes:' A Big Heist". The Washington Post. C6.
  26. "Kelly's Heroes". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 37 (442): 227, 228. November 1970.
  27. Payne, D. "Lalo Schifrin discography". Retrieved March 15, 2012.
  28. "Film Score Monthly". Retrieved March 19, 2012.
  29. Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. Australian Chart Book, St Ives, N.S.W. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  30. "RPM 100, March 30, 1971" (PDF).


  • Hughes, Howard (2009). Aim for the Heart. London: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-902-7.
  • McGilligan, Patrick (1999). Clint: The Life and Legend. London: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-638354-8.
  • Munn, Michael (1992). Clint Eastwood: Hollywood's Loner. London: Robson Books. ISBN 0-86051-790-X.
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