Kelly's Heroes

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Kelly's Heroes
Kelly's Heroes film poster.jpg
Directed by Brian G. Hutton
Produced by Gabriel Katzka
Harold Loeb
Sidney Beckerman
Written by Troy Kennedy Martin
Starring Clint Eastwood
Telly Savalas
Don Rickles
Carroll O'Connor
Donald Sutherland
Music by Lalo Schifrin
Cinematography Gabriel Figueroa
Edited by John Jympson
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • June 23, 1970 (1970-06-23) (US)
Running time
146 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4 million[2]
Box office $5,200,000[3]

Kelly's Heroes is a 1970 war comedy film directed by Brian G. Hutton, about a group of World War II 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 Croat village of Vižinada on the Istria peninsula.


The film opens during a thunderstorm in early September 1944 in World War II France; as units of the 35th Infantry Division are nearing the town of Nancy one of the division's mechanized reconnaissance platoons receives orders to hold their position while under counterattack from the Germans; the out-numbered platoon are also on the receiving end of mortar fire from their own side.

Private Kelly (Eastwood) and another soldier, Private Gutowski, have captured Colonel Dankhopf of German Intelligence. Interrogating his prisoner, Kelly notices the officer is carrying several gold bars, disguised under lead plating, in his briefcase. Curious, he gets the Colonel drunk to try to get information about the gold. The drunken Dankhopf blurts out that there is a cache of 14,000 gold bars stored in a bank vault 30 miles behind enemy lines in the town of Clermont. In the subsequent withdrawal as German Tiger tanks overrun their position, Dankhopf is shot and killed by the attacking Germans.

Kelly spends the next day assessing his information, with the help of an opportunistic supply sergeant nicknamed "Crapgame" (Rickles) who is persuaded to ‘bankroll‘ the heist for a piece of the action ( “I need fifteen Thompsons, two thirty calibre machine guns, two bazookas, two field radios and rations and equipment for a platoon of men in the field for three days.” “Is that all…?”) After he calculates that 14,000 bars equates to $16,000,000 worth of gold, Crapgame needs no further persuasion to back the venture.

Mortar cover is arranged with a bribe to First Sergeant Mulligan (George Savalas). Others have to be recruited (or invite themselves) into the plan, such as a spaced out tank platoon commander from the 6th Armored Division known as "Oddball" (Sutherland), and his three Sherman tanks. At this point it is revealed that Kelly used to be an officer, but was demoted and was now a disillusioned private. In the words of Crapgame, “He used to be a Lieutenant. Pretty good one too. Then one day he was given orders to attack the wrong hill. Wiped out half a company of GI’s. Someone had to get the blame and he got picked.”

Kelly recruits the rest of his platoon, finally convincing skeptical Master Sergeant "Big Joe" (Telly Savalas), to sneak off and steal the gold. Their commanding officer, Captain Maitland (Buckley), neglects his own duties to sample his personal spoils of war; a privilege he denies to his own weary men (“Don’t mess around with the women, their husbands carry guns. And remember, the penalty for looting is death.” “Loot what? There’s nothing here to loot!”). With this in mind, the recon platoon is only too eager to sign up for the operation.

The expedition successfully breaks through a German-held town during Mulligan's mortar barrage. Meanwhile, Oddball's tanks battle their way through the German lines, destroying a rail depot, but their route is blocked when the last large bridge across the river they need to cross is blown up by Allied fighter-bombers, forcing Oddball to let a bridging unit in on the caper.

An American fighter plane mistakes Kelly's group for the enemy, strafing and destroying their vehicles with rockets, forcing them to continue on foot. The raiders stray into a minefield, where one of their number, Private Grace, is killed when he steps on a mine. The explosion attracts the attention of the Germans, and Kelly's troops are forced to engage in a firefight with an enemy patrol during which two more men, Private Mitchell and Corporal Job, are killed.

The two parties finally meet up in the rain two nights after setting out. Kelly isn't happy that Oddball brought the engineers in on the deal but understands the necessity. The engineers' participation becomes moot when Oddball manages to ford a second river near a small town, losing two of his three tanks in the process. The reduced team presses on for Clermont and the gold.

When intercepted radio messages of the private raid are brought to the attention of gung-ho American Major General Colt (O'Connor), he misinterprets them as the efforts of aggressive patriots pushing forward on their own initiative. He immediately rushes to the front to exploit the "breakthrough".

Kelly's men reach Clermont, unaware their own division is following in their tracks. On arrival, they find the town is defended by three Tiger tanks from the 1st SS Panzer Division with infantry support. The Americans are able to dispatch most of the German infantry and two of the Tigers, but the final tank parks itself right in front of the bank. Oddball's last Sherman has broken down and Moriarty can't fix it, leaving them with nothing that can kill the Tiger. At Crapgame’s suggestion, Kelly offers the German tank commander an equal share of the loot (an equal share in roughly 65,000,000 German marks), if he'll just blast the bank open.

After the Tiger blows the bank doors off, the assembled crew recovers the gold cache. After dividing the spoils, the men go their separate ways, the Germans on foot, Oddball and his men in the Tiger that they bought from the Germans, and Kelly's survivors in a captured Wehrmacht truck. They all just barely manage to avoid meeting the still-oblivious Colt, who is delayed by celebrating town residents who think he’s General de Gaulle come to liberate them.



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, revealed that she was "virtually climbing on board the plane bound for Yugoslavia when word came through that my part had been cut."[4] The filming commenced in July 1969 and was completed in December[2] and was shot on location in the Istrian village of Vižinada in the former Yugoslavia and London.[5] Yugoslavia was chosen 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.[citation needed] Another reason Yugoslavia was selected was that in 1969, Yugoslavia 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.[6]

Approximately 20 minutes were cut from the movie by MGM 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 into Kelly's Heroes. Clint Eastwood mentioned in interviews that he was very disappointed about the way movie was re-cut by studio because many deleted scenes not only gave depth to the characters but also made the movie much better.[7][8] 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;[9]

  • 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 as a scapegoat for the attack that resulted in his demotion. Another scene was deleted from this part where 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 O.K.
  • 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 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 German tank driver.
  • When Kelly and platoon drive off at the end, a bunch of soldiers shout at them that they are headed in the wrong direction.

Kelly's Heroes was the last non-Malpaso film that Eastwood agreed to appear in[10] until In the Line of Fire (with the further exception of Bronco Billy (1980), which was made by a company set up by Eastwood's close friend Robert Daley specifically for that production, due to Eastwood's divorce at the time.)

There is a nod to 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, right down to a very similar musical score, and the overdubbing of the sound of non-existent jangling spurs.[5]

The three Tiger I tanks used in the film were actually ex-Soviet Army T-34 tanks, converted in great detail by specialists of the Yugoslav army for the 1969 movie Battle of Neretva. This was notable as an effort to replicate the actual vehicles in the 1970s - most period World War 2 films used unmodified modern tanks as their vehicles with minimal effort to change their appearance, often no more than painting the tanks with grey or yellow with distinctive German crosses. Oddball's Shermans are Yugoslav Army M4A3E4 Shermans.


The film mostly received a positive reception. The film was voted at number 34 in Channel 4's 100 Greatest war films of all time.[11] The film grossed $5.2 million in the United States when it was released in June 1970.[12]

Musical score and soundtrack[edit]

Kelly's Heroes
Soundtrack album by Lalo Schifrin
Released 1970
Recorded April 21 and June, 1970
TTG Studios Hollywood, California
Genre Film score
Label MGM
Producer Mike 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 on the MGM label in 1970.[13]

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 on by Film Score Monthly in 2005.[14] 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 movie. The Mike Curb Congregation's recording of "Burning Bridges" reached number 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on March 6, 1971.

The soundtrack to the film also contains the song, "All For the Love of Sunshine," which became the first No. 1 country hit for Hank Williams, Jr.. The inclusion of the song is one of the film's many anachronisms since it was not released until 1970, 25 years after the end of the war.

Track listing[edit]

All compositions by Lalo Schifrin except as indicated

  1. "Kelly's Heroes" – 2:52
  2. "All for the Love of Sunshine" (Schifrin, Mike Curb, Harley Hatcher) – 3:49
  3. "Burning Bridges (instrumental)" – 2:10
  4. "Tiger Tank" – 1:58
  5. "Clairmont Waltz" – 2:15
  6. "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (Traditional) – 2:58
  7. "Burning Bridges" (Schifrin, Curb) – 2:44
  8. "Quick Draw Kelly" – 3:12
  9. "All For The Love Of Sunshine (instrumental)" – 2:50
  10. "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (Traditional) – 3:43
  11. "Commando Opus" – 2:37


In popular culture[edit]

  • The 2008 video game Battlefield: Bad Company is heavily based on Kelly's Heroes.
  • In the anime series Girls und Panzer, the film is referenced several times, including by main character Yukari Akiyama once calling herself "Sergeant Oddball"[15] and as reference material for urban tank-to-tank combat by the protagonist Rabbit Team.[16] The latter reference includes an animated version of the sequence in which Kelly and Oddball take out the second Tiger tank in the streets of Clermont.[17]
  • The noise made by electric motors of the Tigers' turrets was later used for the movements of the power lifters in Aliens.
  • John Landis, at the time a production assistant, had the idea for his film American Werewolf in London while working on Kelly's Heroes.
  • The end credits of the BBC TV series, Top Gear, 'Burma Special' first broadcast in March 2014 were played with "Burning Bridges" as the background music and the credits text was in same style as the Kelly's Heroes ending credits.
  • A clip of this movie (as the soldiers advance through the minefield) appeared in We Are Marshall, as the movie two of the characters watch in a cinema when they receive the news of a fatal plane crash.
  • The 2003 video Game Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory has a mission called 'Gold Rush', where the allied troops need to break open a bank using a stolen tank and escape with two crates of gold.


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 DVD's 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.


  1. ^ BBCF: Kelly's Heroes, running time Retrieved 2012-11-01
  2. ^ a b Hughes, p.194
  3. ^ "Kelly's Heroes, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved May 26, 2012. 
  4. ^ Munn, p. 102
  5. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p.183
  6. ^ Ben Mankiewicz introduction to Kelly's Heroes, Turner Classic Movies, May 25, 2015.
  7. ^ Conversations With Clint: Paul Nelson's Lost Interviews With Clint Eastwood, Pages 51 - 54
  8. ^
  9. ^!.html
  10. ^ McGilligan (1999), p.184
  11. ^ channel 4 – 100 greatest war films of all time
  12. ^ Hughes, p.196
  13. ^ Payne, D. Lalo Schifrin discography accessed March 15, 2012
  14. ^ Film Score Monthly Website accessed March 19, 2012
  15. ^ Girls und Panzer, ep. 5: "An Experienced Sherman Army Corps!"
  16. ^ Girls und Panzer, ep. 10: "This Fight Won't Be Dismissed!"
  17. ^ Girls und Panzer – Review


External links[edit]