Kelly's Heroes (1970) Poster


The film is based on a true incident. The caper was covered in a book called "Nazi Gold: The Sensational Story of the World's Greatest Robbery--and the Greatest Criminal Cover-Up" by Ian Sayer and Douglas Botting. The heist was perpetrated by a combination of renegade Nazi and American officers. It was also listed as the "biggest" robbery ever in the Guinness Book of Records, in the 1960s.
Donald Sutherland became seriously ill during filming on location in Yugoslavia. His wife received a telegram telling her to come immediately but warning her that he would probably be dead before she arrived.
The noise made by electric motors of the Tigers' turrets was later used for the movements of the power lifters in Aliens (1986).
The movie was mainly filmed in Yugoslavia because the Yugoslavian army still had a large quantity of Sherman tanks in 1970.
It was during shooting in Yugoslavia in 1969 that Donald Sutherland received word, via co-star Clint Eastwood, that his then-wife Shirley Douglas was arrested for trying to buy hand grenades for the Black Panthers with a personal check from an undercover FBI agent. Sutherland recounts this story often, mentioning that when Eastwood got to the part about the personal check he laughed so hard that he fell to his knees, and Sutherland had to help him up. Eastwood then put his arm around Sutherland and walked him down the hill that overlooked the Yugoslav countryside, assuring his friend his complete support of his predicament. Sutherland and Douglas, who are the parents of Kiefer Sutherland and twin sister Rachel Sutherland, divorced in 1970.
In the 1990s a group of Swedish war game enthusiasts started to build a 1/72-scale model of the town where the robbery takes place. Trying to make their model as accurate as possible, they even traveled to Vizinada--which is now in Croatia--and in fact hired a pilot and plane to get aerial photos of the town. Croatian authorities thought they were foreign spies and arrested them. Reportedly, they were released after a couple of hours.
The three Tiger I tanks used were actually ex-Soviet Army T-34 tanks, converted in great detail by specialists of the Yugoslav army for the 1969 movie Bitka na Neretvi (1969). The care taken to make the T-34s look like Tiger tanks was notable--most period World War II films used unmodified modern tanks as their vehicles, with minimal effort to change their appearance, often no more than painting the tanks with gray or yellow with distinctive German crosses. Oddball's Shermans are Yugoslav Army M4A3E4 Shermans (post-war US upgraded to 76mm in original 75mm turret).
The blue "crosshair" shoulder patch indicates Kelly and his men are from the 35th Infantry Division. It's a National Guard division, comprised of guardsmen from Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas.
The 'key' symbol on the Tiger tanks denotes that they are attached to the 1st SS Panzer Division "Leibstandarte (bodyguard unit) Adolf Hitler."
John Landis was a production assistant on this film. He also appears as an extra (he was one of the three nuns).
Approximately 20 minutes were cut from the movie by MGM and studio boss James T. Aubrey before theatrical release. MGM even changed the title of the movie. Originally it was called "The Warriors", then in post-production it was changed to "Kelly's Warriors": and then to "Kelly's Heroes". Clint Eastwood mentioned in interviews that he was very disappointed about the way movie was re-cut by MGM because many deleted scenes not only gave depth to the characters but also made the movie much better.

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 the film:
  • Oddball and his crew pack up to go over 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 have a conversation 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 don't want to continue with the mission and Gutkowski threatens Kelly at gunpoint, but Big Joe and Crapgame side with Kelly and everything turns out OK.
  • Gen. 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 Jon 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 talk with the German tank commander.
  • When Kelly and the platoon drive off at the end, a bunch of soldiers shout at them that they are headed in the wrong direction.
At the beginning of the movie Big Joe is desperate to know about the best places to stay in the city of Nancy, and uses the Michelin Guide as a tourist guide. Use of these books by Allied troops is accurate. When planning the Normandy invasion, staff officers were concerned about how the troops would navigate in light of the possibility that retreating Germans would take down or reverse road signs. The U.S. government quietly reprinted the most recent edition (from 1939, as new publications had been suspended because of the war). So when Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normany on June 6, 1944, they carried the Michelin guides and for the remainder of the war, advancing forces depended on their Michelin maps.
Oddball's division is the "Super Sixth", the 6th Armored Division.
Kelly, Big Joe and the other recon soldiers wear the shoulder patch of the 35th Infantry Division, which was fighting in the area of Nancy, France, in late summer 1944.
A record was made of Clint Eastwood singing "Burning Bridges", the theme song from the film. It was released as a 45-rpm single record on Certron Records, catalog #C-10010, produced by Dickey Lee and Allen Reynolds (with the B-side of "When I Loved Her" also sung by Eastwood, and written by Kris Kristofferson).
Clint Eastwood signed to do the film mainly because his friend and favorite director, Don Siegel, was set to direct it. However, Siegel ran into post-production problems while finishing up Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) and had to withdraw from the project. Brian G. Hutton was then signed to direct. Eastwood, who had already signed a contract to do the film, couldn't pull out.
The American fighter plane that attacks Kelly's group is actually a Yugoslav "Ikarus Type 522" trainer, which flew for the first time in 1955.
The German Tiger tank commander (played by Karl-Otto Alberty) appears to be a parody--both in appearance and manner of speaking--of Marlon Brando's portrayal of German Lt. Christian Diestl in The Young Lions (1958).
Valued at 16 million dollars,14,000 gold bars equals about 1,143 dollars per bar. At the then-current price of 35 dollars/troy ounce, the bars would have had to weigh only 32.6 oz. (almost 36 oz. avoirdupois) each--probably a gross understatement, even though the bars are clearly much smaller than the standard "Fort Knox" size. However, even assuming the weight is correct, 14,000 bars would weigh almost 16 tons (not counting boxes, men and equipment)--well beyond the capacity of the truck they were using. Then again, 14,000 bars, at only 12 to a box, would require over 1,100 boxes--seemingly a lot more than is in the pile. So maybe the German colonel was wrong.
Oddball carries a Luger P-08 "Parabellum" semiautomatic pistol, which was in service only in Switzerland, Finland and Germany.
Yugoslavia was chosen as a location mostly because earnings from previous showings of movies there could not be taken out of the country, but could be used to fund the production. Another reason was that in 1969 it was one of the few nations whose army was still equipped with operating World War II mechanized equipment, both German and American. This simplified logistics tremendously.
Artillery Sergeant Mulligan has a humorous name. In golf, a "mulligan" is a "do-over"; a chance to repeat a bad shot. In the film, Sgt. Mulligan is repeatedly berated for his inaccuracy.
No date is provided for when the movie takes place, though according to several facts mentioned a guess can be made: (1) In the opening scenes, Big Joe (Telly Savalas) and his men are trying to get into the city of Nancy, France, so they can get some well-earned rest, but the Germans were still holding the city. Historically the city of Nancy was captured on the 15th of September, 1944, by the US Third Army. (2) Capt. Maitland (Hal Buckley) mentions he has to go to Paris to pick up a few things for the general. Paris was liberated on the 25th of August 1944.
Telly Savalas and Donald Sutherland were part of The Dirty Dozen (1967) three years earlier.
The film was going to have a female role, but prior to filming it was cut from the script. Ingrid Pitt, who was cast in the role (and had been in Where Eagles Dare (1968) with Clint Eastwood the prior year), revealed that she was "virtually climbing on board the plane bound for Yugoslavia when word came through that my part had been cut."
Clint Eastwood and Donald Sutherland would share the screen one more time in Space Cowboys (2000).
There is a nod to Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns in the standoff with the Tiger tank--a tongue-in-cheek remake of the ending of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), right down to a very similar musical score, and the overdubbing of the sound of non-existent jangling spurs.
Gutowski carries and uses a Russian sniper rifle, a Mosin Nagant M91/30.
Mike Curb, who wrote the lyrics to the movie's theme song "Burning Bridges," served as lieutenant governor of California between 1978-82.
A gold bar of 400 Troy ounces would measure roughly 2"x3"x9" and weigh about 28 pounds. At that weight, 14,000 bars would weigh 196 tons, requiring a minimum of 78 2-1/2-ton trucks to transport. The bar seen being handed around like it was a loaf of bread looks a bit larger, roughly 3"x4"x12". A gold bar of this size weighs 75 lbs., and 14,000 of these bars would weigh 523 tons, requiring 209 trucks.
Troy Kennedy-Martin had previously written The Italian Job (1969), another film about a gold heist.
9 of 11 found this interesting Interesting? | Share this
Share this: Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Permalink
Kelly wears an officer's OD (Olive Drab) fatigue shirt with epaulets on the shoulders, fitting for his character, which was a "busted" (reduced in rank) lieutenant. Enlisted men's shirts did not have epaulets.
5 of 6 found this interesting Interesting? | Share this
Share this: Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Permalink
Much like the same year's MASH (1970) (also with Donald Sutherland) and Catch-22 (1970), this is a commentary on the Vietnam War, despite being set in an earlier conflict.
It was while working on this film that John Landis got the idea for An American Werewolf in London (1981).
9 of 15 found this interesting Interesting? | Share this
Share this: Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Permalink
French star Yves Montand is often mistakenly credited as playing a German officer seen mainly in long shots in this film, but the actual actor is the credited David Gross, who resembles Montand.
2 of 2 found this interesting Interesting? | Share this
Share this: Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Permalink
This was the 24th highest-grossing film of 1970.
7 of 13 found this interesting Interesting? | Share this
Share this: Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Permalink
During the filming in Yugoslavia in July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.
8 of 20 found this interesting Interesting? | Share this
Share this: Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Permalink

See also

Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

Contribute to This Page