Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Kelly's Heroes

I said in my Three Kings review the plot of a renegade military force secretly going AWOL into enemy territory to steal captured gold has been done better before. Well, here is where it was done better. Kelly’s Heroes hits every mark: directing, writing, acting, action, and comedy. There is nary a flaw to be found.

Such is not an easy task. Kelly’s Heroes was released in 1970 when the nation was growing sick of the Vietnam War raging on the nightly news. War was not a heroic subject at the time, even when the war is against villains like the Nazis. The only way to pull of a war movie under those circumstances was to make it an irreverent romp full of anti-heroes out to serve themselves during a less ambiguously moral war. Perhaps surprisingly, the formula worked.

Kelly’s Heroes is a simple story. A group of American Gis on occupation duty in a liberated part of France discovers there are cases of Nazi gold in A Bank in a nearby, Nazi occupied town. They launch a full scale operation under the noses of the Nazis and their own commanders to steal it. What results is a good mix of comedy, drama, and action. The film is laugh out loud funny when mocking the absurdities of war and those who cluelessly command it from a safe distance. Not everyone survives the operation. While that adds a dose of reality, it does not ruin the comedy. In fact, the casualties the tension. Said tension is ratcheted up further by bombings, explosions, gunplay, and tank battles which all combine to make Kelly’s Heroes the best action movie of the era.

The main highlight is Donald Sutherland’s character, Oddball. He is an anachronism==a hippe twenty some odd years too early. Often, something like that would bug me, but I enjoy the character. He is a concession to the audience of the time which is entertaining enough to forgive his being a generation out of place. Something tells me if he had a kid after the war ended, he would grow up to be Tommy Chong. But maybe I am generating negative waves and should say something righteous and positive for a change.

Sutherland is the man, but one can certainly not overlook the rest of the cast--Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, and Carroll O’Connor among others all play well-defined, memorable characters who each get their moment to be amusing. Even the German actors are not just playing generic bad guys.. Granted, the full extent of Nazi evil is not on display, but it is difficult to criticize the film for the omission.

Kelly’s Heroes certainly does not inspire any sense of patriotism, but it is a fun romp that patriots can still enjoy. It is anti-war, but not preachy. A comedic satire that has loads of action. Something for just about everyone, really. I give it my highest recommendation without trepidation.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

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