Warner Bros. // 1970 // 143 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // August 2nd, 2000
Always with the negative waves, Moriarty.
Kelly's Heroes is a crossover film that is both a comedy and a World War II picture. It is one of the films of the '70s that made war movies as much adventure or comedic story as a depiction of war, along with such films as The Guns of Navarone and The Dirty Dozen. Younger viewers would notice a marked similarity between the story in this film and the setting for Three Kings, which took the story and turned it in a different, more serious direction. This film has little of the serious side and sticks to the main story, that of enemy gold behind enemy lines just waiting to be snapped up by some enterprising opportunists. A star studded cast, an intelligent script, and great production values mark this as a film to remember and enjoy. Warner has just released this film from the MGM catalog they acquired awhile back, with a sweet anamorphic transfer and remastered soundtrack, but few extras.
I have fond memories of watching this film back in 1970 when it was released to theaters. Starring Clint Eastwood, with Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, and Donald Sutherland, and a supporting cast of authentic, quirky characters, the acting is terrific. Eastwood plays ex-Lieutenant Kelly, who was busted down to private as a scapegoat for a failed mission. When he finds a few bars of gold in the bag of a captured intelligence officer, he finds out there are 14,000 more just like it...only they're 30 miles behind enemy lines. Rickles plays Crapgame, a mealy-mouthed hustler who can get just about anything, and provides the supplies and intelligence in exchange for a piece of the action. Overhearing and wanting in is Oddball, a beatnik who has managed to keep him and his three Sherman tanks out of the war since his commander was killed and the Army doesn't know it yet. Donald Sutherland plays oddball, who alternately barks like a dog or calls everyone "Baby," to comedic perfection. His tanks go into battle blaring music "to relax them" and are as likely to shoot paint shells as explosive ones "to make pretty pictures." His offer of armor support get him added to the small, elite group who are going to cross the lines and grab the gold.
Small and elite group...well, not exactly. When the group need a bridge to cross a river (thanks to their own planes bombing the old ones) an engineering unit and a marching band end up coming along to build one, creating an army of epic proportions out totally on their own without orders. Something of this magnitude doesn't escape notice of commanding General Colt, played with great humor by Carroll O'Conner (TV's Archie Bunker). He is determined to go put a medal on every one of these boys who show such great morale and initiative. If only he knew why they showed such drive.
Sticking to the main theme, this is a film about these men crossing the lines to get that gold, to realize whatever dream each of these men have. It occasionally wanders into the "war is hell" theme and "we're all just soldiers, on either side" message, but generally this is a comedy about a heist, set in 1945 France. The story is excellently written, with plenty of good dialogue and even better situations the men have to face. But expect plenty of soldiers getting killed and lots of things going boom as well. Great film for the testosterone crowd too.
The towns, the camps, the equipment, and even the tanks (from both sides) are authentic looking and bring a great sense of realism to the film, despite the comedic slant. Great kudos for the production values and cinematography, and the direction as well, which combines the combination of comedy and action picture wonderfully. The film is directed by Brian G. Hutton, who also directed Eastwood in Where Eagles Dare the year before.
Obviously, I really enjoyed the movie and recommend it. But how about the disc? Well, Warner has labeled this part of the "Clint Eastwood Collection," but it is not part of the box set coming soon. What we do get is a great anamorphic transfer and a Dolby Digital 5.1 remastered soundtrack. For a 30-year-old film, it looks incredible. Actually it would still look great if I compared it to a much newer film. Colors are not only bold and balanced, but even subtle changes of shade are evident. The source print is exceptionally clean, especially for an older film. Blacks and fleshtones are spot on, and shadow detail excellent. The look is exceptionally clear and detailed, without any artifacting or pixelation that I could notice. I should mention that Warner neither advertised nor labeled this transfer as anamorphic, but it is indeed enhanced for 16x9.
The remastered and remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is terrific as well. Dialogue remains firmly anchored in the center channel, with the music and frequent sound effects coming from the front and rear channels. The LFX channel kicks in for the explosions and larger bangs and booms and provides quite a punch. All the dialogue is clearly understood even when there are sounds of battle coming out of the other 4 channels.
On the extras front I have little good to report. Only a filmography for Clint Eastwood and the theatrical trailer are offered. But I'll wager that the transfer of the film from MGM's library to Warner did not include much in the way of supplemental material, even if such existed. Still, I would have loved a commentary track.
I do have a couple complaints concerning the soundtrack. While the explosions and main gun from the tanks give quite a boom and punch from the LFE, the machine guns and small arms fire sound just a bit too weak in comparison. That is a minor complaint at best. A larger complaint is that the original mono track is not also included for the purists out there. Surely there was room for it on this dual layer disc, considering how few extras there were. Speaking personally, I'm more than happy listening to the 5.1 track.
As for the film itself, I'm not sure whether to call this a complaint or not. The film runs 143 minutes, and the real meat of the story takes more than 45 of them to get going. Pacing is just a bit uneven as there are times when the story slows down for character development or to set up the final ambush of the town with the gold. Some might say it runs too long and could have been pared down, but I like even the slower moments in the film. This may be a case when you can say "A good movie can never be too long."
I have to give a hearty recommendation to the film, and I will recommend a purchase for Clint Eastwood fans or, of course, fans of the film. Only the dearth of extras keeps me from being even more wholehearted in its favor. Some few may want to just give it a rental, but I'm glad to own it.
A closing mention of the supporting cast; look around for familiar faces including Gavin MacLeod, who played Captain Steubing on TV's The Love Boat as Moriarty, and others since famous for other television work. As for the main cast, Clint Eastwood was at the height of popularity at the time this film was made, and Donald Sutherland had done his star turn in M*A*S*H that same year. This was a big budget spectacular that still holds up well today. Tanks blowing up stuff and driving over the tops of cars and other obstacles, a great story, and it's even funny, what's not to like?
All involved with Kelly's Heroes are acquitted without any reservations, and Warner is likewise acquitted for such a great transfer and the 5.1 soundtrack. A suspended sentence for the lack of extras I suppose is in order, however.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 143 Minutes
Release Year: 1970
MPAA Rating: Rated PG