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Patriotism’s the best motivation
To battle a foe in defense of one’s nation,
But riches can be a compelling incentive
To make soldiers patient, resolved, and inventive.
So to end a war quickly, our side should begin
By telling our troops, to our rivals’ chagrin,
“They’ve got tons of gold, and it’s yours if you win!”

MPAA rating:  GP (PG-13 by today’s standards)

I kind of wish I could have written about a more patriotic film for July 4 than a heist film about soldiers stealing Nazi gold, but at least it was an American effort! Kelly’s Heroes has a lot of the same star-studded military appeal as other World War II films like The Dirty Dozen or The Great Escape, and it owes quite a bit to a stellar cast that seemed to be having fun making it.

With big names like Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Donald Sutherland, and Carroll O’Connor (a year before All in the Family started), you’d think that most of the film’s budget went into collecting its stars, which also include other recognizable faces like Harry Dean Stanton, Stuart Margolin, and Gavin MacLeod. But they still had plenty to spend on explosions and certainly don’t disappoint in the pyrotechnics department. Eastwood is his usual squinty-eyed self as the titular Kelly, who comes up with the heist plan when he learns of a bank full of gold bars behind enemy lines, but Donald Sutherland is easily the stand-out as the tank commander Oddball, an anachronistic hippy who always seems high as he exalts the power of positive thinking. Between him and Rickles, Kelly’s Heroes has much more comedy than your typical war film, though its lighthearted tone is somewhat undercut when the death toll starts rising.
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It’s funny that I can’t help but associate this film now with the anime Girls und Panzer, a ridiculous but fun exercise in tank war games, since the series actually shows some characters watching Kelly’s Heroes (specifically the scene where the German tank’s turret is stuck between a building and a tree) and one character goes undercover under the code name “Oddball.” So Kelly’s Heroes is clearly popular overseas as well. I’m not sure how much of it carries truth, since it was based on an apparently real wartime robbery that was covered up, but it’s a likable blending of genres that exemplifies collaboration through mutual self-interest and overcomes my usual reservations about heist movies, since it’s not illegal if you’re stealing from Nazis, right? It may not have gotten as much contemporary critical love as other war movies of that year, like MASH or Patton, but, for me, Kelly’s Heroes is easily the most watchable of the bunch.

Happy 4th of July, everyone!

Best line:  (Rickles as Crapgame, while they creep through a minefield) “Hey! I found one!”
(Big Joe) “What kind is it?”
(Crapgame) “The kind that blows up! How the hell do I know what kind it is?”


Rank:  List Runner-Up


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