Monday, August 24, 2009

Film Review: KELLY'S HEROES (1970, Brian G. Hutton)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 144 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Clint Eastwood, Carroll O'Connor, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Donald Sutherland, Harry Dean Stanton. Music by Lalo Schifrin.
Tag-lines: "Never have so few taken so many for so much."
Best one-liner: "Take that underwear off your head, enh? Enough is enough."

KELLY'S HEROES combines the 'men on a mission' action drama (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, THE DIRTY DOZEN) with the ensemble comedy (IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD) and a touch of the spaghetti western (THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY), and the results are, surprisingly, excellent. Director Brian G. Hutton (who had directed Clint in his other WWII movie, WHERE EAGLES DARE, two years prior), writer Troy Kennedy-Martin (THE ITALIAN JOB), and the eclectic cast maintain this difficult balance well, never letting the proceedings get too goofy or, conversely, too serious. The perpetually scowling Clint and the super-pissy Telly Savalas are our straight men, the stressed-out Don Rickles and the screwy 1940's hippie Donald Sutherland are our goofs, and the possibly drunken Harry Dean Stanton and the pompous Carroll O' Connor lay somewhere in between. Basically, it's the DIRTY DOZEN with slackers instead of convicts. And these guys, especially Sutherland, are lazy as shit. They make Beetle Bailey look industrious and the soldiers in THREE KINGS (loosely based on KELLY'S HEROES) look like candidates for the Congressional Medal of Honor.

As Sutherland's "Can you dig it?" hippie gleefully attests, the filmmakers' primary aim is not historical accuracy. There's even a ridiculous Lalo Schifrin-composed anthem named "Burning Bridges" that plays throughout, conjuring imagery of 70's TV shows more readily than that of Operation Overlord. (Clint even recorded a .45 of this theme song!)

Schifrin's music at times is facetiously Morricone-esque, and many sequences are given an Italian Western flavor, recalling the "Spaghetti War Films" that began to pop up in the late 60's, like Enzo Castellari's EAGLES OVER LONDON, Mino Loy's DESERT ASSAULT, or Alberto de Martino's DIRTY HEROES. Of course, none of those would exist without DIRTY DOZEN, but that's just the ouroboros of filmic influences continually rearing it's (tail-eating) head. Four gold brickin' stars.

-Sean Gill

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