After a captured German colonel discloses the whereabouts of a shipment of Nazi gold, former lieutenant Kelly hatches a plan to steal over into enemy territory. With his gang of misfits, and three Sherman tanks, a deeply unpatriotic mission sets forth.
A curious fusion of men-on-a-mission and caper flick, this late ‘60s war movie is arguably much more about Vietnam than it is the WWII setting it nominally dwells inside. The tone is slightly whimsical and amoral, with its ragged gang of hoodlums out for themselves hardly the sturdy warriors of celluloid history. Greed is their motivation, the ideals of war can go hang. And Oddball, Donald Sutherland’s oafish, vacant tank commander, is pure anachronism, a dopehead flower-child afloat twenty years before he should even exist. Brian G. Hutton is treating the plains of war and their grand cinematic treatment with a swallow of disgust —why the hell shouldn’t these grab-bag weirdoes chase the loot? — but his accusations feel contemporary. Hey, isn’t that the American Dream they are screwing with?
Cynical, goofy, dry and a little wayward, this is the kind of film where the characters go by silly nametags like Crapgame, Oddball, and Big Joe. It’s instilled with the bite and bark of Bilko’s capitalist fervour, and has a fun line in cool, snappy dialogue, although never intending to be quite so broadly a comedy. After all, Eastwood is still doing his desert creek delivery as the so-called hero. The action is flashy and intermittent, deliberately wallowing in a mire of revisionist grot, churned up vistas of European mud. Time has made it more intuitive and caustic a film, than its daft reputation might suggest.
Divides opinion but definitely watchable on a long bank holiday...which is just as well.