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 (+North American rentals)[3][4]

Kelly's Heroes is a 1970 war comedy film directed by Brian G. Hutton about a group of World War II American 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.


During a thunderstorm in early September 1944, units of the 35th Infantry Division are nearing the town of Nancy, France. One of the division's mechanized reconnaissance platoons is ordered to hold their position when the Germans counterattack. The outnumbered platoon also receives friendly fire from their own mortars.

Private Kelly, a former lieutenant scapegoated for a failed infantry assault, captures Colonel Dankhopf of Wehrmacht Intelligence. Interrogating his prisoner, Kelly notices the officer's briefcase has several gold bars disguised under lead plating. Curious, he gets the colonel drunk and learns that there is a cache of 14,000 gold bars, worth $16,000,000 ($215,077,500 today), stored in a bank vault 30 miles behind enemy lines in the town of Clermont. When their position is overrun and the Americans pull back, a Tiger tank kills Dankhopf.

Kelly decides to go after the gold. He visits the opportunistic Supply Sergeant "Crapgame" to obtain the supplies and guns that will be needed for the operation. A spaced-out tank platoon commander known as "Oddball" and his three Sherman tanks from the 6th Armored Division invite themselves into the plan, Oddball pointing out that his tanks "would give you a nice edge." With their commanding officer Captain Maitland busy pursuing opportunities for to enrich himself, the men of Kelly's platoon are all eager to join Kelly. After much argument, Kelly finally persuades cynical Master Sergeant "Big Joe" to go along.

Kelly decides that his infantrymen and Oddball's tankers will proceed separately and meet near Clermont. Oddball's tanks fight their way through the German lines, but their route is blocked when the bridge they need to cross is blown up by Allied fighter-bombers. This forces Oddball to bring in a bridging unit on the caper. An American fighter plane mistakes Kelly's group for the enemy, destroying their vehicles and forcing them to continue on foot. They stray into a minefield, and Private Grace is killed when he steps on a mine. Kelly's troops engage an enemy patrol; Private Mitchell and Corporal Job, still stuck in the exposed minefield, are killed.

The two units rendezvous two nights later. They battle their way across the river to Clermont, losing two of the three tanks. When intercepted radio messages from the private raid are brought to the attention of the gung-ho Major General Colt, he misinterprets them as the efforts of aggressive patrols pushing forward on their own initiative and immediately rushes to the front to exploit the "breakthrough".

Kelly's men find that Clermont is defended by three SS Tiger tanks with infantry support. The Americans are able to eliminate the German infantry and two of the Tigers, but the final tank parks itself right in front of the bank and Oddball's Sherman breaks down, leaving them stalemated. At Crapgame’s suggestion, Kelly offers the German tank commander an equal share of the loot. After the Tiger blows the bank doors off, the Germans and Americans divide the spoils and go their separate ways, just barely managing to avoid meeting the still-oblivious General Colt, who is blocked from entering Clermont by the French residents, deceived by Kelly into thinking that de Gaulle is coming.



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."[5]

Filming commenced in July 1969 and was completed in December.[2] It was shot on location in the Istrian village of Vižinada in the former Yugoslavia and London.[6] 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.[7]

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 to Kelly's Heroes.

Eastwood mentioned in interviews that he was very disappointed about the re-cut by studio because he felt that many of deleted scenes not only gave depth to the characters, but also made the movie much better.[8][9] 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:[10]

  • Oddball and his crew pack up to go across 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 talk 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 the platoon decides they do not want to continue with the mission, and Gutkowski threatens Kelly at gunpoint, but Big Joe and Crapgame side with Kelly.
  • 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 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 negotiate with the German tank commander.
  • When Kelly and platoon drive off at the end, a bunch of soldiers yell at them that they are headed in the wrong direction.

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 II 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 (post war US upgraded to 76mm in original 75mm turret).

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.[6]


  • A helicopter (an invention in its infancy in 1944, although in service with the Germans) is heard flying over early in the movie.
  • Oddball (who wears a beard—not permitted at the time) makes copious use of 1960s hippie-type language.


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
Kelly's Heroes (soundtrack).jpg
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 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, but did much better on the charts in Australia, where it spent two weeks at Number One in May that year.

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 "Burma Special" episode of the BBC TV series Top Gear, 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 end credits.
  • A clip of this movie (as the soldiers advance through the minefield) appeared in We Are Marshall, as two of the characters watch in a theater 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ BBCF: Kelly's Heroes, running time Retrieved 2012-11-01
  2. ^ a b Hughes, p.194
  3. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 46
  4. ^ "Kelly's Heroes, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved May 26, 2012. 
  5. ^ Munn, p. 102
  6. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p.183
  7. ^ Ben Mankiewicz introduction to Kelly's Heroes, Turner Classic Movies, May 25, 2015.
  8. ^ Conversations With Clint: Paul Nelson's Lost Interviews With Clint Eastwood, Pages 51 - 54
  9. ^
  10. ^!.html
  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]