Kelly (Clint Eastwood) captures a German colonel (David Hurst), who inadvertently tells him where the Germans are hiding $16,000,000 worth of gold bars. Kelly enlists the aid of his platoon to trek behind the German lines and steal the cash.
The movie features a top-notch cast of veterans and would-be stars. Eastwood (THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY) has a quiet, serious role and floats through the entire picture. Telly Savalas (PANCHO VILLA) makes a great counterpart as the loud, short-tempered and cynical platoon sergeant. Donald Sutherland (THE EAGLE HAS LANDED) steals the show, though, in a very offbeat role as a hippie-style tank commander. He delivers some utterly 60s dialog with great style and is uproarious. Don Rickles is funny, too, in a smaller role as Crapgame - a rear-echelon supply clerk who goes along on the trek for a profit and gets more than he bargains for. Carroll O'Connor (THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE) has an un-necessary but zany role as General Colt, a blustering officer who can't understand why his red-blooded American soldiers aren't cutting through the German army. The role is obviously a knockoff of George C. Scott in PATTON, and O'Connor does an excellent job.
The supporting cast is fine, too, though not many make much of an impact. Jeff Morris is a hoot as Cowboy, a transplanted Texas hick, with Harry Dean Stanton in support as his sidekick; Stuart Margolin is a jittery radio operator; Len Lesser is a construction officer who gets conned into going along to build a bridge for the guys, and ends getting really screwed over by Kelly's boys; Hal Buckley is the platoon commander who only cares about getting his yacht to Paris; Gene Collins is the baby-faced youngster. David Hurst is lovable as the dim-witted German colonel, and it's really a shame he gets killed - especially by one of his own tanks. Karl Otto Alberty (THE GREAT ESCAPE) has a nice, small role near the end as a Tiger tank commander, and there's an anti-war spin when Kelly and crew let him escape unscathed. Watch for John G. Heller (OPERATION CROSSBOW) as the German patrol leader during the minefield scene.
The movie also features some terrific action scenes. The minefield debacle is suspenseful and nail-biting, and eventually filled with tons of gunfire and neat explosions. The final battle, in which the dozen or so heroes manage to wipe out a garrison of Germans in a small French village is expertly filmed, with some great camerawork and lots of good, convincing special effects. Some major aspects of this sequence were ripped off in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN - Tiger tanks in the street, a sniper in a bell tower, machine gunners firing from bombed-out buildings - the whole general look of the sequence was completely conned.
The Lalo Schiffrin score is light-hearted fun, and Mike Curb Congregation's "Burning Bridges" theme is a good song but doesn't at all fit the theme of the movie. The film was shot in Yugoslavia to take advantage of lower production costs. It actually looks a lot like central France, with plenty of hedgerows, bombed out buildings and such - nothing like the mountains and rivers of THE BATTLE OF NERETVA.
I saw this movie on Turner Classic Movies, appropriately letterboxed at about 2.35:1 with hardly a flaw in the print. Colors are accurate and the image is pretty sharp. TNT used to play an awful, orange-looking print of the movie (with the dialog edited to pieces, also) The audio is fine and sounds clear and loud, but the gunfire and explosions lack intensity. The film is also available on DVD.
KELLY'S HEROES is a witty, lighthearted WWII adventure which I don't think any fan can miss. If you need to sit back and watch American GIs kick German butt for 2 and a half hours for a goal as lofty as pure, all-American greed then this is your flick.