For a whole generation of adolescents, Kelly’s Heroes was the perfect movie: a heist comedy set during World War II with lots of action, jokes and very loud explosions.
It’s nominally a vehicle for Clint Eastwood, intended to repeat the success of the same director’s Where Eagles Dare (1968), but he walks through proceedings as Private Kelly looking slightly confused and the film is stolen by the comic supporting cast of Telly Savalas, Don Rickles and particularly Donald Sutherland.
Private Kelly (pictured at left), an enlisted man with an attitude problem, accidentally discovers the hiding place for a cache of Nazi gold worth millions.
He convinces his gruff NCO, “Big Joe” (Telly Savalas), to lead an excursion behind enemy lines so they can rip off the loot, and their crew soon expands to include “Crapgame” (Don Rickles), a supply sergeant who outfits the crew with munitions and other gear, and “Oddball” (Donald Sutherland), a space-case longhair sergeant who happens to have three Sherman tanks under his command and gets all the best lines, most of them about his precious “waves”.
Sutherland’s characterisation (pictured below) is simultaneously the funniest thing in the movie and the hardest element to believe; bearded and – though never explicitly stated, apparently high as a kite throughout the story – he’s a 1960s stoner in a 1940s setting, and it boggles belief that he ever rose to the rank of sergeant.
The film was shot in Yugoslavia, where a wealth of WWII-vintage gear was available for filming – and where Sutherland nearly died of meningitis.
Harry Dean Stanton
Brian G Hutton