Kelly's Heroes

Kelly's Heroes

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 (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 ($215,000,000 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 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, managing to destroy a German railway depot. But their route is blocked when the bridge they need to cross is blown up by Allied fighter-bombers. This forces Oddball to bring a bridging unit in 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 and leaving the bridging unit behind. 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 Tiger tanks of the 1st SS Panzer Division 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 and his crew an equal share of the loot.

After the Tiger blows the bank doors open, 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 who have been deceived by Big Joe into thinking that de Gaulle is coming. Meanwhile, Kelly's men and the crew of the Tiger manage to load their trucks, and Oddball trades his Sherman tank and leather tankers' jackets for the uniforms of the SS tank crew, as well as their Tiger tank . Not long after the freelancers have gone, Captain Maitland enters the bank, to find a Kilroy and the words "Up Yours, Baby" painted by one of Kelly's crew on the wall.


  • Clint Eastwood as Private Kelly, the leader of the mission to steal the gold and a former lieutenant who was demoted to private after being scapegoated for a failed infantry assault.
  • Telly Savalas as Master Sergeant "Big Joe", the platoon's leader and Kelly's de facto second-in-command.
  • Don Rickles as Staff Sergeant "Crapgame" (always called "Hustler" by Big Joe), a supply sergeant who is always looking for a profit
  • Carroll O'Connor as Major General Colt, the overly-aggressive division commander.
  • Donald Sutherland as Sergeant "Oddball", the leader of the three Sherman tanks that Kelly recruits for the mission. He is described as a hippie-like person. Big Joe repeatedly calls him a freak and a nut.
  • Gavin MacLeod as Moriarty, Oddball's pessimistic bow machine-gunner and mechanic. Oddball frequently argues with him as he usually lets out, according to Oddball, 'negative waves'
  • Shepherd Sanders as "the Turk," the gunner of Oddball's tank crew who always wears a fez.
  • Stuart Margolin as Private "Little Joe", the platoon's radio operator
  • Jeff Morris as Private First Class "Cowboy," driver of one of the platoon's half-tracks
  • Hal Buckley as Captain Maitland, a greedy officer who neglects his men and only desires to enrich himself with the spoils of war. It is only because he is General Colt's nephew that he gets away with it.
  • Dick Balduzzi as Private Fisher, who can interpret German documents
  • Richard Davalos as Private Gutowski, the team's sniper
  • Gene Collins as Private "Barbara" Babra, Big Joe's sidekick
  • Perry Lopez as Private "Pachuco" Petuko, a BAR gunner
  • Tom Troupe as Corporal Job, a close friend of Big Joe's
  • Harry Dean Stanton as Private Willard (as Dean Stanton), Cowboy's sidekick, as they are both from the southern United States.
  • Len Lesser as Tech Sergeant Bellamy of the 42nd Engineers Bridging Unit
  • David Hurst as Oberst (Colonel) Dankhopf
  • George Savalas as First Sergeant Mulligan, a mortar section commander whom Big Joe greatly dislikes for his incompetence directing mortar fire.
  • Karl-Otto Alberty as Waffen-SS Tiger tank no. 115 commander (as Karl Otto Alberty)
  • Ross Elliott as Colonel Booker, the 35th Division's communications officer
  • Fred Pearlman as Private First Class Mitchell
  • Michael Clark as Private Grace
  • George Fargo as Private Penn
  • Dee Pollock as Private Jonesy


The project was announced by MGM in November 1968 under the title of The Warriors.[5]

George Kennedy turned down a role despite an offered fee of $300,000 because he did not like the part.[6]

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, (and had been in the movie Where Eagles Dare with Eastwood the previous year) revealed that she was "virtually climbing on board the plane bound for Yugoslavia when word came through that my part had been cut."[7]

Filming commenced in July 1969 and was completed in December.[2] It was shot on location in the Istrian village of Vižinada in the Croatia (former Yugoslavia) and London.[8] 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. 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.[9]

The film was made and released during a time of great turbulence for MGM.[10]

Deleted Scenes

Approximately 20 minutes were cut from the movie by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 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 said later in interviews that he was very disappointed about the re-cut by MGM because he felt that many of the deleted scenes not only gave depth to the characters, but also made the movie much better.[11][12] 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:[13]

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.[8]


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.[14] The film earned $5.2 million in US theatrical rentals,[15] making it the 24th highest-grossing film of 1970.[16]

Musical score and soundtrack

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.[17]

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.[18] 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 No. 1 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 in the film is an anachronism, because the song was not released until 1970, twenty-five years after the end of the war.

Track listing

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


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


  1. BBCF: Kelly's Heroes, running time Retrieved 2012-11-01
  2. 1 2 Hughes, p.194
  3. "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976, pg 46.
  4. "Kelly's Heroes, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved May 26, 2012.
  5. "MGM Will Begin Nine Films in '69". Los Angeles Times. 30 Nov 1968. p. a5.
  6. Knapp, Dan (23 Nov 1969). "'Cool Hand Luke' Gave Kennedy a Fair Shake: George Kennedy". Los Angeles Times. p. c1.
  7. Munn, p. 102
  8. 1 2 McGilligan (1999), p.183
  9. Ben Mankiewicz introduction to Kelly's Heroes, Turner Classic Movies, 25 May 2015.
  10. "Operating Loss Of $l.9 Million Posted by MGM: Despite 2nd Period Deficit, Firm Earned $4.9 Million During 1st Half of Fiscal '70Filming Costs Charged Off". Wall Street Journal. 22 Apr 1970. p. 5.
  11. Conversations With Clint: Paul Nelson's Lost Interviews With Clint Eastwood, Pages 51 - 54
  12. "Kelly's Heroes - cut scenes?". Retrieved 2016-11-06.
  13. "CINEMA RETRO'S "KELLY'S HEROES" MOVIE CLASSICS SPECIAL EDITION STILL A TOP-SELLER! - Celebrating Films of the 1960s & 1970s". Retrieved 2016-11-06.
  14. channel 4 – 100 greatest war films of all time
  15. Hughes, p.196
  16. Top Grossing Films of 1970. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
  17. Payne, D. Lalo Schifrin discography accessed March 15, 2012
  18. Film Score Monthly Website accessed March 19, 2012
  19. Girls und Panzer, ep. 5: "An Experienced Sherman Army Corps!"
  20. Girls und Panzer, ep. 10: "This Fight Won't Be Dismissed!"
  21. Girls und Panzer – Review


External links

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