The Cast of Kelly’s Heroes: Where Was It Filmed, and Why Was It Pulled from Theaters?

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Dec 04, 2023

“Kelly’s Heroes” is a great war film that has a stacked cast, an interesting production history, and a legacy that shows the complicated relationship between creatives and Hollywood studios.

The war film is based on a true story and is based around an anti-establishment theme that the film’s stars were known for. Who was in the “Kelly’s Heroes” cast? Why was the film pulled from theaters? Let’s get into it.

The Making of “Kelly's Heroes”

Based on a true incident that is covered in Ian Sayer and Douglas Botting’s book, “Nazi Gold: The Sensational Story of the World’s Greatest Robbery—and the Greatest Criminal Cover-Up,” the heist film “Kelly’s Heroes” was the “biggest” robbery ever according to the Guinness Book of Records from 1956 to 2000.

A grayscale photo of Kelly (right) and a squadron mate reflect the casual setting that was the Philippines in late 1941.

Source: Florida State Archives

“Kelly’s Heroes” follows a group of American soldiers in World War II as they sneak across enemy lines to get their hands on a secret stash of Nazi gold.

How Much Was the Treasure Worth?

The American soldiers in “Kelly’s Heroes” reportedly stole a cache of 14,000 gold bars, which was worth $16 million (about $270 million when adjusted for today’s inflation).

Gold Bar Lot

Source: Pixabay/Pexels

The treasure was stored in a bank vault in the French town of Clermont. In the film, Private Kelly (Clint Eastwood), a former lieutenant who had been a scapegoat for a failed infantry assault, led a group of American soldiers to access the treasure. Thanks to the help of a Tiger tank armed with an 88mm cannon, the group was able to escape with the gold.

“Kelly's Heroes” Tiger Tank

The tank “Kelly’s Heroes” depicts is a “Tiger” tank, an effective tank that was used to knock out long-range Allied targets. However, this is not the actual tank used in “Kelly’s Heroes.”

A "Tiger" tank in 'Kelly's Heroes"

Source: u/KelsonCats/Reddit

The “Kelly’s Heroes” tank used was a Russian T-34 tank that had been modified to look like a Tiger tank. T-34s used a modified Christie suspension, whereas the Tiger’s wheels were much more elaborate.

Why Did “Kelly’s Heroes” Use Modified Russian T-34 Tanks? 

There are several reasons why “Kelly’s Heroes” tanks are Russian T-34 tanks modified to look like Tiger tanks. T-34 tanks were readily available compared to the rare and expensive Tiger tanks. T-34 tanks were the most common tank of World War II and were relatively inexpensive to produce.

The T-34 was a Soviet medium tank produced from 1940 to 195

Source: Jim Linwood/Wikicommons

The production did not have the budget to purchase or rent a real Tiger tank, so T-34 tanks were modified and disguised with armor plates to look like Tiger tanks. This was a common practice in war films of the time, as it was often difficult and expensive to acquire real tanks.

The Filming Locations of “Kelly's Heroes”

“Kelly’s Heroes” was filmed in Yugoslavia, which was a country in southeast and central Europe that existed from 1918 to 1992, according to Britannica. There are several reasons why the 1970 war film was filmed in Yugoslavia.

Ex-Yugoslavia ethnic map in 1998

Source: Le Monde Diplomatique/Wikicommons

One of the main reasons “Kelly’s Heroes” was filmed in Yugoslavia was because the country had a large surplus of World War II-era military equipment, which included tanks, trucks, and weapons. This made the location more cost-effective than filming in the U.S. or Europe where equipment was scarce and more expensive.


Other Reasons “Kelly’s Heroes” Filmed on Location

Filming on location can help recreate the battlefields of World War II that some audiences of the time would still remember. It also helped that the permits to film on location in Yugoslavia were inexpensive and easy to secure since the government was supportive of the production.

Kelly's Heroes title card

Source: MGM/YouTube

The low production cost and the experienced film crews in Yugoslavia made the country an ideal location for “Kelly’s Heroes” to film principal photography there.


Why Was 20 Minutes of “Kelly’s Heroes” Cut?

Not everyone was in full support of “Kelly’s Heroes.” According to The Vintage News, approximately 20 minutes were cut for the movie by MGM and studio head James T. Aubrey, and the film also had a title change.

A1C Thomas F. Donahoe splices and edits 16mm film in the editing room, during a mission briefing for the 1361st Audio Visual Squadron, Detachment Seven.

Source: The U.S. National Archives

Originally titled “The Warriors,” the studio felt that “Kelly’s Heroes” was too long and some scenes were too slow. The studio believed that the film needed to be trimmed down to make it more appealing to a wider audience.


“Kelly’s Heroes” Director and Star Were Disappointed With the Studio’s Choice

“Kelly’s Heroes” director Brian Hutton disagreed with the studio’s theatrical cut and felt that they ruined the film. Hutton believed that the deleted scenes were important for developing the characters and for adding depth to the story.

Clint Eastwood in Kelly's Heroes

Source: MGM/YouTube

Clint Eastwood was disappointed about the studio’s cut because he believed that the deleted screens added to the depth of the characters and made the movie much better (via The Clint Eastwood Archive).


Where to Watch “Kelly’s Heroes” Deleted Scenes

Unfortunately, the deleted scenes from “Kelly’s Heroes” are not available to the public. However, some theories suggest that the original cut of the film still exists.

"Kelly's Heroes" title card and Clint Eastwood in a black and white still

Source: Vidar Olavesen/Film Tech

In 2014, a fan of the film discovered a box of old film reels that included some deleted scenes from “Kelly’s Heroes.” The fan is reportedly working on restoring the original cut of the film. The scenes include the men discussing plans for stealing the god, Kelly and Big Joe arguing about trusting the German tank commander, pranks on Kelly, and the soldiers celebrating their victory.


Why Was “Kelly's Heroes” Pulled from Theaters?

In 1970, “Kelly’s Heroes” was pulled from theaters for one main reason: poor box office performance.

1 Movie 2 Signage Under White Clouds

Source: Louis/Pexels

MGM was unhappy with the film’s performance and felt that it needed to be changed. The film’s box office performance was weak and MGM believed that pulling the film from theaters was a way of resetting the film’s marketing to gain new interest.


The Cast of “Kelly's Heroes”

The actors in “Kelly’s Heroes” include Clint Eastwood as Private Kelly, Telly Savalas as Big Joe, Don Rickles as Supply Sergeant “Crapgame,” and Donald Sutherland as Oddball.

Clint Eastwood Kelly's Heroes

Source: MGM/YouTube

The cast of “Kelly’s Heroes” is one of the film’s strengths. They deliver memorable performances that highlight the appeal of the war film. Eastwood’s performance as Kelly is particularly excellent and is well supported by Savalas, Rickles, and Sutherland.


Donald Sutherland in “Kelly's Heroes”

While Eastwood is the standout in “Kelly’s Heroes,” Sutherland’s time during the production made headlines. Sutherland became seriously ill during the filming of “Kelly’s Heroes” in 1969.

Donald Sutherland in Kelly's Heroes

Source: MGM/YouTube

Sutherland contracted spinal meningitis, a bacterial infection of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. The illness was so severe that he fell into a coma for six weeks, and Sutherland’s wife, Shirley Douglas, was told that he was unlikely to survive. However, Sutherland made a miraculous recovery and was able to return to filming after several months.


Is “Kelly's Heroes” Cast Still Alive?

As of writing, two of the eight main cast members of “Kelly’s Heroes” are still alive. Currently, Clint Eastwood and Donald Sutherland are still alive and continue to work on films.

Donald Sutherland and Clint Eastwood in "Kelly's Heroes"

Source: MGM/YouTube

Savalas died in 1994 from esophageal cancer. Rickles died in 2007 from kidney failure. David Hurst died in 2009 from diabetes complications. Harry Dean Stanton died in 2017 from natural causes. Michael Clark died in 2018 from respiratory failure.


Theme Song “Kelly's Heroes”

“Kelly’s Heroes” song that plays throughout the film is “Burning Bridges” by The Mike Curb Congregation. The song was written by Lalo Schifrin and Mike Curb. The song was released in 1970 and peaked at number 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (via SliceTheLife).

Kelly's Heroes finale

Source: MGM/YouTube

A recording of the classic rock song was made with Clint Eastwood singing. It was released as a 45-rpm disc on Certron Records with a B-side of “When I Loved Her” sung by Eastwood.


The Legacy of “Kelly’s Heroes”

“Kelly’s Heroes” went on to become a cult classic, with many considering the film to be one of the best war films ever made. With Hutton’s strong sense of style and screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin’s memorable lines, “Kelly’s Heroes” grips all audiences who watch the action-packed film.

Kelly's Heroes finale

Source: MGM/YouTube

“Kelly’s Heroes” is a classic film for any fan of war films, action movies, or Clint Eastwood, and is sure to entertain audiences of all ages.