FF35 - Kelly's Heroes

Intro by John Roderick

Clint Eastwood has had a remarkable career. Younger audiences might know him best as the old guy who unsuccessfully tried to do sketch comedy with an empty chair at the Republican convention. Or maybe you've seen some of his recent movies where you can barely see the action on the screen between all the waving flags. But Clint Eastwood was for decades a "Blow the Bad Guys Away After Delivering a Bad-ass Line of Dialogue" (All Capital letters)-moviestar. I mean, he was not a versatile actor: He squinted and talked through his teeth and very rarely the squint would turn into a smirk, but that's the kind of acting that leaves a lot to the viewer. And we lovingly filled him with all kinds of depth and motivation because we are lonely and didn't know our fathers and want someone capable to occasionally throw their Serapio over their shoulder, hug us, and then shoot 10 guys.

I didn't like him as a kid back when I was supposed to have bonded with him because my parents were Liberal snobs who scoffed at Spaghetti Westerns, and because Time magazine had all these handwringing articles about how Dirty Harry was glamorizing violence and vigilantism and I was only 11 years old. No one had even explained to me that Time magazine was also problematic and that you can't believe in anything and everyone is racist and… her e-mails, though? I went to see Every Which Way But Loose where Clint played a truck driver whose best friend was an orangutan named Clyde and even at that tender age I recognized it as the Diet Rite cola of Smokey and The Bandit clones and I wanted no part of it.

In college I watched all the 1960s Westerns and… Yeah, you could drink beer to those, but I never bonded with him. Younger audiences will have even less of an idea how to interpret this next fact which is that Telly Savalas was a sex symbol during this period. I've always thought that it was one of those things, like when women buy shoes and purses, that only other women care about, where the men who controlled Hollywood were like: "Bald guys are sexy, am I right? This bald guy with a face like a catcher's mitt should be a sex symbol, alright?" His television catchphrase from the period immediately after this movie was: "Who loves you, baby?" Well, accepting a lollipop… It just feels like it was answering a question no one asked. Even weirder to me is the idea that Donald Sutherland especially in this kind of role could be considered attractive at all. It's like he's playing John Wayne's idea of how a hippy behaves but it's also: "Cool baby! Because… Wow, man!" I mean… sigh

As war films go. Kelly's Heroes is an odd duck, even by the standards of 1970 war films which included Mash, Patton, Catch 22 and Tora! Tora! Tora!. Hollywood clearly at this point was drenched in Sangria and Mescaline and then really trying to reckon with the Vietnam War by revisiting the war from 25 years prior. By comparison, that's like us trying to address our current quasi wars by making movies about the first Gulf War. Notice how few movies there are about the first Gulf War? Is that because it was kind of a dumb, unnecessary war? Well, shouldn't we make movies about it, then? Or did we decide that big dumb unnecessary wars where we can't ever lose but can't ever really win either are our new favorite kind of wars and we don't want to think about that or talk about that at all? "Please, mom, please! Will you just get out of my room!" sigh

This was more of a Caper Film really, a heist with a lot of balderdash and gin rummy, wherein Eastwood as private Kelly, recently busted down from lieutenant for reasons unclear, is an anti-hero right from the jump. He drives behind enemy lines in a great opening scene, he captures a German officer, interrogates him by getting him shitfaced, learns about a large cache of gold squirreled away behind enemy lines and sets about to steal it. Eastwood's perma-squint gets even narrower than usual. He's got to get that gold! This plot device trades on a wildly popular and compelling legend at the time, or of the time, partly based in fact, but the Nazis had squirreled away millions of bars of gold, … Gold!… in mines and attics and behind paintings and under blankets and all over, and they left clues, too, in the form of hieroglyphics and riddles, treasure maps and Morse code and semaphore.

20 percent of the pulp fiction my dad consumed during this period had some Nazi gold element to them, and I'm sure driving around the streets of Anchorage in the 1970s he often imagined that he could see some Nazi gold sticking out from under snow banks everywhere. And so Kelly assembles a ragtag group of recluses, I mean heroes including the contractually obligated Don Rickles, to set out for this loot in a series of set pieces that all get blown up real good. Seriously, the amount of ordnance expended in the production of this film can only be measured in Bruckheimers. Maybe more explosions per foot of film that any other movie before or since! They aren't believable or realistic explosions, but they are spectacular.

There is a big argument in our current culture about whether exposure to bad ideas in media and violence in movies or games or sexual impropriety depicted realistically either normalizes or even encourages people to commit crimes. Video game people say: "No! War games do not inspire gun violence!", while just as adamantly insisting that misogynistic lyrics do create a culture that disrespects women. I can say with certainty that movies like Kelly's Heroes absolutely influenced me to be a teenage pyromaniac and bomb maker, which absolutely created a culture where I got suspended from 9th grade. I'm still in recovery. But as fun as all these explosions sound, there are real stakes involved and some characters we get to know, and not just Germans, actually die. Tonally, it is a comedy, quasi-historically it is a war film and creatively it is a mess, but it is the kind of film perfectly suited to its ensemble cast. Everyone has their moment to shine, it's Eastwood's picture but he never overshadows the crew, he needs all the help he can get and he gets it, even from Oddball. Don't hit us with negative waves, man, when we review the 1970 Clint Eastwood comedy war vehicle Kelly's Heroes!

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