Memorial Day Memories: Kelly’s Heroes
I think I’ve seen Kelly’s Heroes (1970) about a half-dozen times now, and since broadened my definition of what it represents. It feels like a 60s movie despite being set during World War II, and every character is anti-authority, as well as contrary to the typical soldier you might find in a traditional war movie. The whole thing is about Clint Eastwood and his pals robbing a bank, making off with the dough, and putting one over on the American army, as well as the war in general. This movie is satirical in nature, and fits in with counter-culture movies like MASH (1970). Every character in Kelly’s Heroes would fit in perfectly with Hawkeye.
The anti-war sentiments are all over the place in Kelly’s Heroes. The troop of soldiers we follow are not your typical soldiers. They don’t care for the war at all, and everybody they meet, even the Germans, seems to feel the same way. By the end of the movie, Clint Eastwood and his pals team up with a German to steal gold from an abandoned bank in the middle of a wartorn city. Nevermind their duty, because these “heroes” are more interested in the money, and you can see the influence of the 60s in every scene, from the soundtrack to the dialogue.
The movie emphasizes how it is counter-culture to almost everything. Caroll O’Connor is there to shout to high heaven, like he would later do in All in the Family, and portrays an overbearing, idiotic General, the perfect parody of the real thing. Telly Savalas is there to be extremely condescending, and Clint Eastwood joins in with a his cool man schtick.
This movie is always on television around Memorial Day, and doesn’t have a serious bone anywhere to be found. It is light and people like it. I think the best part is toward the end when Clint Eastwood and his pals are walking down the street after besting two clumsy German tanks. Eastwood, Salavas and Sutherland walk in unison, parodying Eastwood’s earlier Western favorite, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. They are anti-heroes straight out of that movie. The music even borrows the melody from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. In fact, most of the music sings of 60s peace and love, like that of Hank Williams and the Mike Curb Congregation.
I was reading reviews of this movie, and some have noted that this movie is “almost” a parody or a comedy. Say what? It is a parody. It is not serious. It is funny and absurd on purpose. It makes fun of the military and tells them to go stick it. “Burning Bridges” by the Mike Curb Congregation has an odd set of lyrics for a war movie, but it captures the rebellious nature of the characters, as they betray the American army for selfish gain. That’s okay though, because nobody really gets hurt. The movie poster celebrates this anarchist nature, as the troop smiles about successfully pulling off a robbery and a con, and it parodies the famous American painting, the Spirit of ’76.
Overall, this movie is meant to be light fare, and not taken seriously. The tanks aren’t even accurate, and the characters are over-the-top on purpose. Donald Sutherland’s accent may be annoying, but I think his performance fits in with the rebellious tone of this movie. You’ve got to wonder where Clint Eastwood and his pals transported all that gold, and what they did with it. Didn’t they keep track of that sort of thing? Aren’t gold bars serialized? Nevermind details like that, because the only important thing is to show them sticking it to the Man.