Donald Sutherland (Oddball) 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.
It was during shooting in Yugoslavia in 1969 that Donald Sutherland (Oddball) received word, via co-star Clint Eastwood (Lieutenant Kelly), 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 F.B.I. 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 Yugoslavian 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.
At the beginning of the movie, Big Joe (Telly Savalas) 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.
The three Tiger I tanks used were actually ex-Soviet Army T-34 tanks, converted in great detail by specialists of the Yugoslavian Army. They are not the same ones used in a previous movie, The Battle of Neretva (1969), which were much less well done. The care taken to make the T-34s look like Tiger tanks was notable, most period World War II movies used unmodified modern tanks as their vehicles, with minimal effort to change their appearances, often no more than painting the tanks with gray or yellow with distinctive German crosses. Oddball's (Donald Sutherland's) Shermans are Yugoslavian Army M4A3E4 Shermans (post-war U.S. upgraded to 76mm in original 75mm turret).
The blue "crosshair" shoulder patch indicates Kelly (Clint Eastwood) and his men are from the 35th Infantry Division. It's a National Guard division, comprised of guardsmen from Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas.
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 travelled to Vizinada, which is now in Croatia, and 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.
Approximately twenty 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 this 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 this movie: Oddball (Donald Sutherland) and his crew pack up to go over the lines to meet up with Kelly (Clint Eastwood) 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 (Telly Savalas) 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 (Richard Davalos) threatens Kelly at gunpoint, but Big Joe and Crapgame (Don Rickles) side with Kelly, and everything turns out okay. General Colt (Carroll O'Connor) 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 amongst 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.
Clint Eastwood signed to do this movie 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 this movie, couldn't pull out.
A record was made of Clint Eastwood singing "Burning Bridges", the theme song from this movie. It was released as a 45-rpm single record on Certron Records, catalogue number C-10010, and 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).
Valued at sixteen million dollars, fourteen thousand gold bars equals about one thousand one hundred forty-three dollars per bar. At the then-current price of thirty-five dollars per troy ounce, the bars would have had to weigh only 32.6 ounces 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, fourteen thousand bars would weigh almost sixteen tons (not counting boxes, men, and equipment), well beyond the capacity of the truck they were using. Then again, fourteen thousand bars, at only twelve to a box, would require over one thousand one hundred boxes, seemingly a lot more than is in the pile. So maybe German Colonel Dankhopf (David Hurst) was wrong.
There is a nod to Clint Eastwood's Spaghetti Westerns in the stand-off 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 similar musical score, and the overdubbing of the sound of non-existent jangling spurs.
This movie 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), revealed that she was "virtually climbing on-board the plane bound for Yugoslavia when word came through that my part had been cut."
No date is provided for when this 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 September 15,, 1944, by the U.S. Third Army. (2) Captain Maitland (Hal Buckley) mentions he has to go to Paris to pick up a few things for the General. Paris was liberated on August 25, 1944.
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 countries whose Army was still equipped with operating World War II mechanized equipment, German and American. This simplified logistics tremendously.
Artillery Sergeant Mulligan (George Savalas) has a humorous name. In golf, a "mulligan" is a "do-over". A chance to repeat a bad shot. In this movie, Sergeant Mulligan is repeatedly berated for his inaccuracy.
Oddball (Donald Sutherland) carries a Luger P-08 "Parabellum" semiautomatic pistol, which was in service only in Switzerland, Finland, and Germany, obviously taken from a captured or K.I.A. German officer.
A gold bar of four hundred troy ounces would measure roughly 2"x3"x9" and weigh about twenty-eight pounds. At that weight, fourteen thousand bars would weigh one hundred ninety-six tons, requiring a minimum of seventy-eight 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 seventy-five pounds, and fourteen thousand of these bars would weigh five hundred twenty-three tons, requiring two hundred nine trucks.
Before they set off, Oddball (Donald Sutherland) mentions that he added pipes to his tanks guns to make them look more intimidating. In World War II, however, there were reports of the crews of up-armed Sherman tanks, who had noticeably-longer barrels on their main guns, much like what Oddball now has, actually trying to *hide* their longer barrels, recognizing that it drew more fire from the enemy.
John Landis kept telling Donald Sutherland that he would one day be a movie director. Sutherland told him if that was ever to come true, that he would appear in all of his movies. Sutherland appeared in The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), and on a billboard in The Blues Brothers (1980), all directed by Landis.
Kelly (Clint Eastwood) wears an officer's 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.
The Colt-Browning .30 caliber machine gun weighed thirty-one pounds. It's thus a matter of conjecture as to whether Crapgame's (Don Rickles') complaints about having to carry one of the weapons are valid or not.