Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Clint Eastwood reunited with his WHERE EAGLES DARE director Brian G. Hutton to star in this action-packed World War II romp that’s a little bit M*A*S*H (which came out a couple of months earlier) and a little bit THE DIRTY DOZEN. Nearly two-and-a-half hours long, Hutton’s caper flick, written by Troy Kennedy Martin (THE ITALIAN JOB), offers an engaging cast of character actors, spectacular scenery shot in Yugoslavia, breezy pacing, and a terrific sense of humor.
Clint is Kelly, a former lieutenant and now private who learns about $16 million in Nazi gold stashed away in a French bank behind enemy lines. With three unchaperoned days looming while the C.O. takes his newly confiscated yacht to Paris, Kelly assembles a squad of misfits and plans the heist. Most of them are played by reliable “hey, that guy” character actors with bigger roles taken by Telly Savalas (fantastic and funny as gruff platoon leader Big Joe), Donald Sutherland (also in M*A*S*H) as anachronistic hippie Oddball, and standup comic Don Rickles as wisecracking scrounger Crapgame.
The irreverence sometimes falls flat—an awkward sequence of Sutherland’s Sherman tanks wiping out a village of German soldiers while blasting Hank Williams Jr. comes to mind—but Hutton generally creates a nice balance of humor and action. And what setpieces—real airplanes, real Jeeps, real explosions, and hundreds of real extras create a real sense of scale. The big heist is engineered by Hutton and second unit director Andrew Marton (BEN-HUR) like a Swiss watch, and the battle sequence that opens the picture would serve as the climax to most war pictures.
Carroll O’Connor hams it up while testing out some Archie Bunker mannerisms with Gavin MacLeod (THE LOVE BOAT), Stuart Margolin (THE ROCKFORD FILES), Jeff Morris (THE BLUES BROTHERS), George Savalas (KOJAK), Harry Dean Stanton (REPO MAN), Dick Davalos (EAST OF EDEN), Hal Buckley, Perry Lopez (CHINATOWN), Dick Balduzzi, Len Lesser (SEINFELD), and Tom Troupe adding support. Lalo Schifrin composed the score (which spoofs Morricone at one point to play off of Eastwood’s recent fame in Leone westerns), though he might like to forget the flowers-in-your-hair theme “Burning Bridges” he penned with Mike Curb.