Movie action man Clint Eastwood leads a misfit band of GIs who decide to get something extra out of World War II, In Kelly’s Heroes, Eastwood’s title character masterminds a scheme to slip behind enemy lines and steal a fortune in Nazi-confiscated gold. Donald Sutherland and Don Rickles co-star in addition to a trio on the verge of big-time TV success: Carroll O’Connor, Telly Savalas and Gavin MacLeod. Easton and Richard Burton go Where Eagles Dare in a twisty thriller written by action master Alistair MacLean (The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra). The mission is clear: Get in. Get the general. Get out. Commandoes charged with freeing a U.S. general from an alpine fortress should also be told to trust nothing — including the search-and-rescue orders just issued.
If you’re looking for empirically great films, then this isn’t going to be your ideal buy. But if you’re a fan of all things Eastwood, you’ll probably really like this two-film set.. Both movies showcase Eastwood in his military persona, rather than his lawman or cowpoke guises, but there the similarities end. Or rather, some of the similarities end: Kelly’s Heroes is a fun romp that sort of works and sort of doesn’t, while Where Eagles Dare is a straight-faced action adventure that sort of works and sort of doesn’t.
In Kelly’s Heroes, Eastwood plays Private Kelly, a smart former officer who gets wind of a huge stash of German gold just behind enemy lines. He cons, drags and cajoles his platoon into a high-stakes bank heist with the promises of riches that go beyond the bounds of avarice. What follows is a high-action romp, replete with blazing guns and downright wackiness.
In fact, it’s the wackiness that damages the film the most: Donald Sutherland plays a zoned-out tank commander who talks in ’60s-era Hippese and a laconic drawl. When Kelly’s Heroes first came out, it worked well as part of what was a zany comment on Vietnam and the crass corruption of the US military. But to-day, it just doesn’t work; not without the context laid down by the times.
In some spots, the movie’s exuberant unwillingness to get serious works beautifully, as when Kelly and two of his cronies face off against a German tank in a brilliant send-up of the cliché western showdown, complete with Spaghetti Western background music. But ultimately, Kelly’s Heroes is just too scattered to be really good. The movie comes off as a Wild West caper flick in army fatigues and a clown nose, and it does none of it well enough to really click. Which is too bad; the cast is full of now-legendary actors, and could likely have been a lot better if, for example, even one of them brought something to the story other than to move the action along.
Where Eagles Dare is a different beast altogether. It tells the story of a platoon of commandos who are tasked with a nigh-on impossible mission. But there is more happening than meets the eye, and the plot begins to thicken. And thicken. And thicken. There’s nary a laugh in this movie; rather, it’s a tense adventure with a body count in the upper bazillions; an over-the-top circus ride of death, explosions and intrigue, with a soundtrack and cinematography to match. And though the story reeks of implausibility, the action moves fast enough that you’re never given a moment to breathe, let alone think about just how stupid the story really is, or how slapdash some of the scenes seem.
It’s also a cool, if long, movie that puts Eastwood up front with Richard Burton, who is as different a co-star as you’re likely to find anywhere. The two play very well off one another, though Eastwood definitely plays second fiddle to Burton, who is the true star of the film.
Crave Factor – 6
Both films look good, with nice detail and relatively good hues, a few darker scenes or the occasional skin tone notwithstanding. The film grain is maintained, which gives the movies a warm, organic look. This is nice to see in an era where far too many Blu-rays releases sport grain-free images that look like pure plastic.
Crave Factor – 8
Both films are presented in lossless digital 5.1 sound, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still sound like late ’60s movies. Kelly’s Heroes is hampered by the tinny, indistinct dialogue and sound effects that are the hallmark of the era’s film sound. Work on Where Eagles Dare brings out the voices more, but doesn’t use the array of 5.1 channels as well as Kelly’s Heroes does. All in all, the sound is not up to the standards we expect today, but not bad for movies that are four decades old.
Crave Factor – 5
There’s really not a lot going on as far as extras go: Kelly’s Heroes comes with a trailer, and Eagles has a trailer and an on-location featurette. That’s it.
Crave Factor – 3
Menu & Packaging
The menus and packaging are both reasonably designed, though nothing to write home about. However, the review copy came without the wasteful cardboard sleeve that so many Bly-ray marketing wogs seem to find indispensable. That alone is worth extra points.
Crave Factor – 7
Conclusions & Final Thoughts
Though neither of these films is great, they balance each other off nicely. True Eastwood fans might be put off by how little he has to do in Eagles, but the film is, in some ways, the better of the two. Caveats aside, there is just enough going for each of these movies to make it an okay buy.