Sunday, 6 February 2011

"Kelly's Heroes". A Review Of The 1970 Film Now Reissued On A June 2010 Blu Ray.

"…It’s A Beautiful Tank…"

Released in US cinemas in March 1970, “M.A.S.H.” had already made both Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould huge stars among the young audiences of the day – so June 1970 saw two more irreverent Second World War movies follow suit - “Catch-22” and the hugely entertaining “Kelly’s Heroes” (also starring Sutherland in another scene-stealing role).

The story goes like this - in a retreat from a German advance in France, Lieutenant Kelly (Eastwood) stumbles on a German Officer carrying a briefcase - and on getting him drunk on brandy in a barn during a bombing barrage – he unwittingly tells of a vast shipment of bullion. And better still his papers provide the location of the booty and the military protection allocated to it. Kelly twigs the opportunity immediately - and goes back to camp the next morning to recruit a squad of grubby reprobates to go after the 14,000 crates in a German-occupied town containing $1.6 million dollars worth of gold bars. And on it goes to a bank in a town and a standoff with a German Tank officer with squinty eyes who may or may not be as ‘gold-struck’ as his American counterparts. It’s all highly implausible of course, but who cares when you’re having this much fun…

As the movie opens to the horribly dated "Burning Bridges" theme song (the rest of Lalo Schifrin’s score is excellent) – the first 20 minutes are entirely shot at night and a lesser Blu Ray would have fallen down badly at this point (see my reviews for "Ronin" and "2010 - The Year We Make Contact"). But thankfully "Kelly's Heroes" doesn’t. Even as the credits roll in red German lettering, it’s very obvious that the whole print has been restored and while it isn’t state-of-the-art picture quality (the focus is often very loose) - at times it does looks glorious. For the most part it’s a huge improvement and really adds to your enjoyment of the movie.

Directed by Brian D. Hutton (who had done "Where Eagles Dare" with Eastwood in 1968) and wittily written by Troy Kennedy-Martin, the MGM casting also featured some genius choices. And while Clint is undoubtedly the leading man and the big-league Hollywood star here – his crown was firmly stolen by the rest of his misfit squad. Donald Sutherland effortlessly grabs the badge of cool for his portrayal of Oddball the wisest hippy in Normandy (dialogue above). Then there’s the loud-mouthed hard-on Telly Savalas (Kojak was a short stop away) as Staff Sergeant Big Joe trying to keep his boys from being killed by keeping them loose (“Where’s the booze! Where’s the broads! Where’s the action!”). There’s the mechanical Sherman tank magician Gavin MacLeod as Moriarty (Oddball’s sidekick with his ‘negative vibes’) and the canny trickster Don Rickles as Crapgame – the procurer of all things illegal. Carroll O’Connor as the na├»ve General Colt who overhears Kelly’s radio transmissions and thinks his boys are being brave and spearheading an advance behind enemy lines. Throw in the rest of the grunts (even Harry Dean Stanton has a notable minor role – “My hair’s in curlers!”) and you’re on a winner.

You also forget how many funny scenes there were in it – Telly’s brother George Savalas rant as Mulligan - the man who constantly drops bombs on his own troops - losing his head with Kelly when he asks him for an illegal barrage - the wasted crews of Oddball’s three Sherman tanks sunning themselves under makeshift canopies as one of them does the rounds and pours out coffee into their cups to sober them up – Telly Savalas telling his men to do up a bombed-out house to look like a nightclub – Oddball arriving at the bridge – “It’s still up!” Then a US fighter flies in low and blows it up. “No it ain’t!” Karl-Otto Alberty as the SS Tank Officer in the town of Clermont who finally open his eyes when he hears what his men and machines have been unwittingly guarding in the bank behind him…

This isn’t “Band Of Brothers” or “Pacific” where every GI seems like a model with dirt strategically applied to their cheeks – these actors aren’t pretty – their faces and bodies are drawn from the real world – they’re full of character and oddity - and their consistent irreverence for authority gives the whole thing a gritty realism throughout. You root for these guys and their cheeky opportunism…

The really big let down is the complete lack of extras – no commentaries, no making of, no post interviews – it’s a real shame because they would have added so much to what has always been a perennial favourite among film fans. But as it’s pitched at a tenner – and given that the print is looking the business, I still think its great value for money.

The League Of Decency will poo-poo it, the Vatican will excommunicate it, but any movie that has characters called Oddball and Crapgame in its ranks gets my vote.

“Kelly’s Heroes” is a blast on Blu Ray - and its recommended like a Sherman shell up the ass of a Tiger Tank…

1080p High Definition 16x9 2.4:1 Aspect Ratio. Theatrical Trailer (no other extras).

DTS-HD Master Audio, English 5.1 Dolby Digital, Castilian Spanish 2.0 Mono, French 1.0. German 1.0, Italian 1.0

English, Castilian Spanish, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin Spanish, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish

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