Film: Kelly's Heroes

Woof woof woof! That's my other dog imitation.

Kelly's Heroes is a 1970 comedy/war movie made by MGM. It stars Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Donald Sutherland, and Carroll O'Connor. It's about a squad of American soldiers in World War II France who learn about a secret stash of German gold in a bank deep behind enemy lines. Unappreciated by their clueless, profiteering captain and continually denied any chance at decent R&R, they are ripe for the promise of heroic adventure and enthusiastically embark on their new, unauthorized mission. With the help of tank commander Oddball and his squad of misfits, an incompetent artillery officer, a greedy supply officer, a marching band, and a grave digger battalion, they stand to make a fortune.

This film provides examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Big Joe always calls Babra "Barbara," much to his annoyance.
  • Action Prologue: The movie starts with Kelly's kidnapping a German colonel and getting shelled by their own mortar squad.
  • A Father to His Men: Despite Big Joe's anger, the first thing on his mind when Kelly brings in Colonel Dankhopf is where the best hotels and women are for his men.
    Big Joe: You gotta think of us as tourists. I don't want any military information, I just wanna know the best hotel, okay?
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Averted; the word "Nazi" is never spoken once. The Germans are just called "Germans", or sometimes "Krauts". The German tank commander starts a Nazi salute (presumably out of habit, not out of conviction) but stops himself after getting a stern look from Kelly.
  • Answer Cut: Kelly asks the German tank commander if he'll blow open the bank doors for him. Cut to a shot of said doors... whereupon they're promptly blown to bits by the Tiger tank.
  • Armchair Military: General Colt thinks the reason things aren't going as well as they could be is because of a lack of Fighting Spirit. It turns out that he's right, but it's due to his own lack of leadership.
  • Artistic License – Military: The "sturmbanführer" who speaks with the Tiger tank commander actually has the insignia of an untersturmführer (lieutenant).
  • Attack Its Weak Point: According to Oddball, poink blank and from behind is the only way to takeout a Tiger with a Sherman's main gun. This is Truth in Television as the 75mm Sherman's gun was too weak to penetrate a Tiger's front armor, and the tactics to defeat them typically involved a Zerg Rush with multiple Shermans and try to hit the side or rear. Though, Oddball says that his Shermans have the 76mm cannon, which actually should be able to penetrate the Tiger frontally.
  • Big Applesauce: Crapgame is a stereotypical Brooklyn hustler.
    Oddball: To a New Yorker like you, a hero is some kind of weird sandwich, not some nut who goes up against three Tigers!
  • Bilingual Bonus: None of the German or French dialogue is subtitled. In particular:
    • The lieutenant at the minefield's dialogue to his subordinates roughly translates to "What's this? Sergeant, take some men and check it out."
    • In the town, the Tiger tank commander and his superior have an entire conversation in unsubtitled German. The commander complains about fuel and his C.O. reassures him that there's more coming, to which the tank commander snidely replies, "I hope so."
    • Then there's the French mayor gushing over Big Joe and later Colt.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Oddball, for all his myriad of quirks, is a highly skilled tanker and extremely resourceful.
  • Butt Monkey: Mulligan can never keep the shells straight, and gets zero respect from anyone.
  • The Caper: Robbing a German-held bank in World War II France of 16 million dollars worth of gold.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The paint shells that Oddball's tank carries show up again at an inopportune moment: ambushing a Tiger tank. Fortunately, the Tiger is unable to retaliate before they can load a live round.
  • Cloudcuckoolander:
    • Oddball is a proto-Beatnik, with a "hey, man", "positive vibes" attitude that is jarringly out of place in a war zone.
    • General Colt attends staff meetings in his bathrobe, blames his subordinates for his own failings, cheers at the battle reports on the radio like he's listening to a sports event, and runs off to the front lines in a Jeep with a box of medals in hand, leaving his command staff behind.
  • Commander Contrarian: Moriarty is a determined naysayer to contrast Oddball's cheerfulness. He gets in his digs when Oddball's "positive thinking" fails to deliver results.
    Oddball: "Why can't you be righteous and hopeful for a change?"
    Moriarty: "Crap."

    Moriarty: "Look, Oddball, I can't fix it without the parts no matter how positive I think!"
  • Corrupt Quartermaster: Crapgame is an opportunistic supply sergeant who will do anything for money and illegally provides the equipment needed for the raid on the bank storing the Nazi gold.
  • Crimefighting with Cash: Rather than fight the final Tiger, the protagonists bribe the commander with a cut of the profits instead.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Moriarty constantly snarks at Oddball; see Commander Contrarian.
    • Big Joe is abrasive and sarcastic in Drill Sergeant Nasty fashion, but gets in a few deadpan lines when confronted with his commanding officer's gross incompetence.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "That nut has gotta be nuts."
  • Dissonant Serenity: Oddball takes everything in stride, even when talking on a phone in hostile territory, or having a picnic when his tank breaks down.
    Bellamy: We haven't even captured that place already!
    Oddball: Yeah, so I heard, but everybody here seems real friendly.
  • Double Take:
    • Crapgame has a delayed double-take when he realizes he misplaced a decimal when calculating the value of the gold.
    • When Oddball is talking to Bellamy, it takes him a few tries to realize what Oddball is getting at.
    "...I need support units, Oddball! I need at least a hundred guys!" Bellamy gestures toward a window for emphasis. Though the window a full military band can be seen playing. "Where do I find a hundred men, just like that?" (Double Take)
    • The German MP at the beginning does one upon passing Kelly's Jeep the second time.
  • The Dreaded: Kelly is the only one in this movie who isn't scared shitless of Tiger tanks. Telling Kelly how stupid it is to attack Tigers with Shermans is Oddball's only truly serious moment.
  • During the War: The film is set shortly after the Allied invasion of Europe in World War II. Big Joe complains about Mulligan dropping mortars on them "since Normandy".
  • Failed a Spot Check:
    • The German infantry and MP in the cold opening failing to notice the American jeep in which 3 of the 4 occupants were uniformed American soldiers. The MP does eventually see through the camouflage in audacity kicking off the opening sequence.
    • This would appear to be what allows one German to escape the minefield battle.
  • Foreshadowing: When Kelly is rallying the platoon for the heist, Job says, "If I've got to go, it may as well be this trip as any other." Later, he's one of the three who get killed in the minefield.
  • Friend or Foe:
    • In the first scene, the platoon is getting shelled by their own mortar squad, thanks to incompetence on the part of its commander.
    • German officer Colonel Dankopf is shot by a German tank.
    • When the team is behind German lines, an Allied plane shoots at them, mistaking them for the enemy.
  • Genre Savvy: When the Tiger tank is parked in front of the bank and they don't have any way to get past it because all the Shermans are out of action, Crapgame is the only one to realize that the solution is not a military one, it's to cut a deal. He's been hustling and making deals his whole life, and he knows that most people would rather make a bargain instead of pursuing a hopeless course of action that is only going to end in lose-lose. Crapgame knows human nature. "Make a deal! Maybe the guy's a Republican. Business is business, right?"
  • Gentlemen Rankers: Kelly used to be a lieutenant, but was scapegoated and broken down to private after half his platoon was wiped out due to incorrect orders from his superiors.
  • Get Rich Quick Scheme: Steal 16 million dollars worth of gold and desert.
  • Gay Paree: Averted. While the movie takes place in France, nobody goes to Paris, and in fact, meet no French, until the very end. The closest we get to Paris is Captain Maitland coming back from there with his arms piled high with packages.
  • Hollywood Density: Near the end, boxes filled with gold bars are tossed around as though they were empty, even though they would actually weigh several hundred pounds. For more see here.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Cowboy and Willard are both southern soldiers and so they get along better with each other then with the rest of the nuts on this mission.
  • Hypocrite: Captain Maitland sternly informs Big Joe that there is to be no looting — while he's stealing a yacht.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Watch the general's right hand as he's berating his officers.
  • In Medias Res: The film opens toward the end of a losing battle.
  • In Vino Veritas: Kelly uses a bottle of brandy to interrogate Colonel Dankopf, getting him too drunk to be capable of lying.
  • The Klutz: Mulligan, please learn to tell the shells apart so you don't drop mortar barrages on your friends.
  • Land Mine Goes Click: During the minefield scene, an audible click is heard when Crapgame locates one with his bayonet.
    Crapgame: "Hey, hey, HEY! I found one!"
    Big Joe: [sarcastically] "What kind is it?'
    Crapgame: "The kind that blows up! How the hell do I know what kind it is?"
  • Leitmotif: Every time the gold manages to influence someone in the movie, a small chord pops in.
  • Little Hero, Big War: This film is less a war film and more a bank heist movie set during a war and carried out by soldiers.
  • A MacGuffin Full of Money: The catalyst for this film is a bank vault storing 16 million dollars of gold.
  • Mid-Battle Tea Break: During the final battle, Oddball's tank breaks down, so he sets up a nice little spread of cheese and wine while his men try to fix it.
    Oddball: I only ride 'em, I don't know what makes 'em work.
  • Military Maverick: Kelly is the primary instigator and motivator of The Plan. His backstory states that he used to be a lieutenant, but was made the scapegoat and got busted down when he was ordered to assault the wrong hill, and half his company was killed.
  • Misfit Mobilization Moment: The squad isn't composed of misfits per se, but they are war-weary and unappreciated. The gold inspires them to uncharacteristic levels of heroism.
  • Misplaced a Decimal Point: Crapgame does an off-screen Double Take after realizing that he underestimated the value of the gold.
  • Mood Whiplash: It looks like the platoon's in for a funny adventure until they run into successive misfortunes, starting with being attacked by their own aircraft. Then we cut to the Allied command and General Colt in his bathrobe, then three members of the squad die in a minefield, and so on.
  • Mook-Face Turn: In the end, the squad runs out of ways to defeat the Tigers, and are forced to negotiate. It turns out that the commander of Tiger 115 doesn't know what he is guarding, and is vulnerable to greed.
  • Mundane Utility: Oddball's men use their tank for hanging their laundry and as support for their tents.
  • Nazi Gold: Kelly learns of a secret stash of gold behind enemy lines.
  • Nepotism: Maitland gets away with being severely incompetent (The plan to take Clairmont and rob the bank is dependent on the fact that Maitland never pays any attention to the running of his company and thus will not notice if they run off on an unauthorized mission) because he's General Colt's nephew.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Oddball... in World War II; justified that they were classified as "Proto-Beatniks", precursors to the 60's hippies movement.
  • Nice Hat:
    • Turk, one of Oddball's tank crew, constantly wears a fez.
    • Oddball's leather tanker's helmet seems lovingly attached to his head.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Carroll O'Connor plays a hilariously incompetent, over-the-top general who is clearly intended to be a mockery of Patton.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • The "something very special" that Oddball's boys have planned, that makes it impossible for them to start the mission that night. It's played with in that rather than hearing about it after the fact but never finding out what happened, we're told that it's going to happen — and never find out what it was, nor is it ever mentioned again. IMDB states that it's a party that Oddball is hosting with some French girls.
    • How Kelly's American Jeep with three American soldiers and one German colonel get in the middle of a German column in the opening is never really expained.
  • Not So Different: When trying to talk down the German tank commander, our heroes point out that they're all soldiers being told to die for no reason they can understand.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: How Kelly's American Jeep with three American soldiers and one German colonel get in the middle of a German column in the opening is never really expained.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted with Big Joe and Little Joe.
  • Only in It for the Money: The entire crew goes AWOL and is willing to desert for a share of the gold.
    Oddball: "For sixteen million dollars, we could be heroes."
  • Only Sane Man: Played with.
    Big Joe: What kinda guarantee is that, 'he's ready to go?' He's a nut!
    Jonesy: Well, we're all nuts, or we wouldn't be here!
  • The Perfect Crime: The plan to rob the bank is called this by Crapgame. It's not their own side's gold, after all, and if nobody else knows it's there, they can steal it and get away scot free.
  • Photoflood Lighting: In the opening credits the Jeep possesses an unseen bulb of unusual intensity that just happens to illuminate Kelly's face.
  • The Plan: Once Kelly finds out about the gold, he devises the following plan: gather men and supplies, march 30 miles behind enemy lines and rob a bank carrying 14,000 bars of Nazi Gold.
  • Power Walk: Kelly, Big Joe, and Oddball approaching the German tank, in its pure and classic Western-showdown form, despite taking place in a narrow cobblestone street in a town in France. See also Actor Allusion.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Mitchell's death in the minefield.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Kelly (Military Maverick), Crapgame (glorified accountant), Oddball (Proto-Beatnik tank commander), Turk (who wears a fez for some reason) etc.
  • Reading The Enemy's Mail: How Kelly finds out about the gold; it is hidden as a lead bar in Dankopf's satchel.
  • Real Joke Name: Staff Sergeant Crapgame and First Sergeant Mulligan.
  • Redshirt Platoon: Oddball has three tanks under his command, including his own. The other two are knocked out during the bridge battle towards the end and Oddball does not bat an eyelid.
  • Refuge in Audacity:
    • Pretty much why Kelly's jeep in the middle of a German column was initially missed by the German MP in the opening.
    • Kelly, Big Joe, and Oddball slowly strides toward the last Tiger tank. The outlandish scenario presented was probably why the Tiger crew didn't gun them down the moment they see them.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns:
    • During a combat sequence, a 30-cal machine gun jams at a very inopportune time; possibly because the operator didn't have someone to help him feed the belt ammo. Fortunately, the Germans shooting back at him apparently attended the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy, because he manages to clear the jam and kill them all anyway.
    • Mitchell isn't as lucky; he dies while attempting to clear the BAR's jam in the minefield.
    • Oddball's tank manages to survive the fight in the town, but just when it's needed most, to take out the Tiger guarding the bank, it breaks down, and they don't have a spare fuel pump to repair it with.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: General Colt thinks the breakthrough in German lines were done by some hardy platoon on patrol who is patriotic. In fact, the soldiers in Kelly's platoon were motivated by greed.
  • Rousing Speech: Big Joe delivers a spoof of one, with true Drill Sergeant Nasty tone, trying to motivate the men to not treat a three day liberty at a dilapidated farmhouse as the crapsack it is. He talks about setting up a bar, finding booze, some dirty movies, and making a night club.
  • Running Gag
    • Optimist Oddball always telling the pessimist Moriarty to "knock it off with the negative waves."
    • Little Joe telling Babra that he told him the heist plan is going to work/not work. And Babra saying, "No, you never told me."
  • Screw the War, We're Partying!
    • Big Joe doesn't care about any intel the German might have, he just wants to know which hotel at their objective is the nicest and if there are girls there.
    • Oddball and his men can't join The Team right away because they are throwing an offscreen party.
    • Maitland regards his military service as an opportunity to shop in Paris and steal somebody's yacht.
    • General Colt cheers on the squad's radio chatter as if he's listening to a football game.
  • Sergeant Rock: Big Joe, who is the de facto platoon leader since Maitland is severely incompetent.
  • The Scrounger: When Kelly needs the rations, ammo, equipment and other supplies for his heist, he goes to Crapgame, who is clearly used to bending the rules.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: With a Tiger tank and taking half the door with it.
  • Shout-Out: "Get me Hogan in Intelligence."
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • Oddball's tank plays soothing music the first time it fights onscreen. Explosions and shouting to several folksy tunes including I've Been Working on the Railroad, made doubly hilarious because they're blasting the crap out of, among other things, a crew repairing a railroad bridge.
    • The movie begins and ends with "Burning Bridges", a song whose protagonist laments all the wasted chances he had in his youth and regrets his earlier extreme arrogance.
  • Southern-Fried Private: Cowboy talks in a drawl, plays the harmonica, and has a stereotypical laid-back attitude. Ditto for his pal Willard.
  • Take Five: Crapgame tells his assistant to get a haircut, when Kelly wants to talk business in private.
  • Tank Goodness
    • Oddball's tank has a pipe attached to it to make its gun look bigger, it can shoot paint to "make pretty pictures," and it plays music, very loud, to scare their enemies.
    • Tiger 115 is "a beautiful tank". Even Oddball thinks so, seeing as how he uses his share of the gold to buy it from its crew.
  • Tanks, but No Tanks:
    • Three Russian T-34 tanks were converted into very life-like German Tiger Tanks (the real glaring error was the wheels of the tanks and its longer engine deck). Contrary to some claims, the Tigers weren't made for Kelly's Heroes but for an earlier film made in Yugoslavia starring Yul Bryner called The Battle of Neretva. The Shermans also come from that film.
    • The Shermans, while authentic, are post-war upgunned from a 105mm howitzer to the 76mm cannon using the same gun mount. This is handwaved with Oddball's "pipe on the gun to make the 76mm cannon look bigger". Also, in the film, Oddball says his 76mm Sherman could only destroy the Tigers with a point-blank hit to the rear. However, the side and rear are the same vulnerability and with the 76mm, should be able to penetrate the front easily as well.
  • Tempting Fate: "It's a big beautiful bridge, and it's gonna be there." Next scene, the bridge is destroyed.
  • Translation Convention: Averted. Everyone (Americans, Germans, French) speaks their own language.
  • Treasure Room: The inside of the bank has boxes upon boxes of gold bars.
  • Trigger Happy: Gutkowski. He gets called on burning through clips by Job when they are rearming.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: In the opening scene, an American Jeep Willys is waiting in line with multiple German cars and tanks, with a large number of soldiers passing it. True, it can be simply stolen or salvaged by Germans, but still, there are American soldiers inside, including behind the wheel. Even when one German notices something is wrong and tries to stop the Jeep, no one else makes any attempt to stop or shoot at it - and there are literally dozens of German soldiers around, just allowing Kelly to get away.
  • Wham Line: In-universe as the audience already knows to this point. Big Joe asks Kelly about the military garrison in Clermont, where the gold is held. Kelly says "about 30 to 40 troops." Then Big Joe wonders where he got that info...
    Kelly: Because that is normal support for three Tiger tanks.
    Big Joe: *visibly shock on hearing that* Tigers? Where did the Tigers come from?!
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Big Joe turns up at the farmhouse with a chaplain and some movies for the guys to watch, after he hears Kelly's speech he decides to go along with the plan which they start preparing. However the chaplain is still waiting in the jeep outside for a lift back to HQ.
  • With Friends Like These...:
    Big Joe: We're not worried about the German Army! We've got troubles of our own! To the right, General Patton, to the left, the British Army, to the rear, our own goddamned artillery, and besides all that it's raining, and the one good thing to say about the weather is that it keeps our own Air Corps from blowing us all to hell! Verstehe?!
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: The gold value and number of bars simply cannot be made to both work out in accordance with what we're shown and told. The detailed math kudzu is on the Headscratchers.Kellys Heroes page, if you're really interested in it.

Alternative Title(s):

Kellys Heroes