Golden Oldie: Kelly's Heroes (1970)

Jimmy Athey discusses this 1970 war film starring Clint Eastwood

Jimmy Athey
11th May 2018
Image: YouTube

So many times, my Dad has uttered the phrase “Let’s watch Kelly’s Heroes” that it’s become a tradition to put on the cult classic in our house. Relatively unknown to many, Kelly’s Heroes is a comedy gem that is a must-see for anyone who loves a war film.

Set in the later years of the second world war, when the American army is reaching the French city of Nancy, a group of soldiers including Clint Eastwood and Telly Savalas go AWOL in search of a bank full of gold behind enemy lines.

The opening scene hooks you immediately; Telly Savalas is raging on the radio due to American mortars firing on his own platoon, while Clint Eastwood (who plays the titular character Kelly) gets a German Colonel drunk to interrogate him. The whole scene creates an intense yet comedic atmosphere that captures the tone of the entire film. From here Kelly finds out the location of a hoard of gold and rounds up all the ‘best’ men he can find.

One of the more stand-out characters is ‘Oddball’ played by the wonderful Donald Sutherland. Probably best known nowadays for playing the evil President Snow in the Hunger Games series, ‘Oddball’ is a totally different sort of character. A man before his time, ‘Oddball’ is a hippie stoner Sergeant who commands a tank unit. Throughout the film ‘Oddball’ throws line after line of hilarity including his obsessive use of the phrase ‘negative waves’. Don Rickles is also brilliant, being a comedian himself, he plays the groups hustler known as ‘Crapgame’ and adds more humour, bouncing off wit with Telly Savalas, who plays ‘Big Joe’.

The main theme of Kelly’s Heroes is brotherhood, showing what a team of friends can achieve when fighting for one another. Kelly’s Heroes is a fun war film that will make you emotional and upbeat, which is rare with the likes of Apocalypse Now or Saving Private Ryan being the most popular war movies to date. Unfortunately, there is no female presence in the film, and while to a modern audience it does not include appropriate diversity than would be hoped, it is still very enjoyable when you keep in mind it’s a film of its time. So, sit back, drop those negative waves and enjoy the greatest war film ever made.

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