Thursday, June 3, 2010

WWII #8: Kelly's Heroes (1970)

The goofy cousin to The Dirty Dozen ('67), Kelly's Heroes ('70) may not quite be as directly hostile as its obvious inspiration (even going so far as to borrow a few cast members), but its tongue-in-cheek depiction of soldier insubordination and piecemeal squad makeup certainly bears a strong resemblance.

Chronicling a rag-tag group of soldiers who abandon their post and undertake a reckless mission to steal $16 million in Nazi gold, Kelly's Heroes reunites director Brian G. Hutton and star Clint Eastwood, who teamed up for the thrilling and comparatively straight-faced Where Eagles Dare ('68).

With a well-stocked stable of comedians, including Telly Savalas and Don Rickles, plus a tank-riding hippie named "Oddball" played by Donald Sutherland, the film works wonders with the way it plays off of Eastwood's quiet, casual serenity.

Beginning with a stormy night in a German outpost, we see the familiar stare and clenched-jaw of our hero just before he's pointed-out by a Nazi officer. His floors the Jeep he's sitting in and as he makes his getaway, Mike Curb Congregation's "Burning Bridges," with its harmonized vocals and hippie-jam vibe kicks in and immediately we know what we're in for.

There's also a jocular Dirty Dozen-like anti-establishment jab at military officers in the way Carroll O'Connor goofily plays General Colt as a Mel Brooks wannabe who confuses disobedience with courage and remains ignorant throughout of Private Kelly's master heist.

At one point during the final action set-piece, which to the audience's delight runs almost a full hour, a self-satirizing Clint Eastwood willingly reenacts the standoff from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, replacing Lee Van Cleef with a German Tiger tank.

By this time, Kelly's Heroes has ceased in its ability to surprise - the World War II farce that it is has taken a hold of us so much so that we've come to expect anything, and luckily, we get it in spades. [A-]

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