The Warner Archive has released the 1978 military thriller Brass Target as a burn-to-order title. The film's primary asset is its impressive cast: Sophia Loren, John Cassavettes, Robert Vaughn, Patrick McGoohan, George Kennedy, Max Von Sydow, Edward Herrmann and Bruce Davison. The quasi-factual plot centers on the premise that General George S. Patton's death in a car crash in Germany in 1945 was not an accident but a murder plot designed from stopping the legendary general from finding out that a group of corrupt American military officers hijacked a train carrying $250 million in German gold reserves in the immediate aftermath of the end of the war. The movie opens with a cleverly staged sequence in which the train is disabled inside a mountain tunnel and deadly gas is used to kill the guards. Patton personally conducts the investigation into the murderous act, making those responsible more than a bit nervous. The main culprits are a macho colonel with a penchant for young men (Robert Vaughn), his nervous, jittery lover (Edward Herrmann) and a quirky and eccentric Irish American officer (Patrick McGoohan). When military intelligence assigns one of their best men (John Cassavettes) to solve the case, the corrupt officers engage the services of a professional assassin (Max Von Sydow) to not only kill off Patton himself, but each other. Sophia Loren is tossed into the mix in a completely superfluous role as femme fatale who alternately romances several of the men involved.
The central premise is intriguing in an Executive Action sort of way (i.e you get the feeling the filmmakers don't necessarily believe in the conspiracy but know that many people in the audience will). The main problem with Brass Target is its relentlessly grim atmosphere. It is completely devoid of any humor and the plot line becomes very confusing and entangled so that by the half-way mark through the movie, you're likely not be sure who is who and who is doing what to whom. The performances are mostly fine, even though McGoohan seems to be intentionally campy in an attempt to bring at least a modicum of levity to the proceedings. (His brief sequence with Robert Vaughn does afford spy fans the pleasure of seeing two iconic 60s cinematic secret agents share the screen together). The weak link in the group is George Kennedy, who delivers a cartoon-like impersonation of General Patton that reminds us why George C. Scott will own the role forever. Kennedy storms about like a bull in a china shop, cursing and swearing like Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden on steroids. Director John Hough keeps the action flowing and thereby avoids boring the viewer (always a danger when dealing with an overly-complex plot) He also makes fine use of the gorgeous German/Swiss locations which are further enhanced by a lush Laurence Rosenthal musical score. Still, the film is more satisfying in parts than as a whole but is worth a look if only for the exceptional cast.
The DVD includes the original theatrical trailer.
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