Crammed with big-name actors, colorful locations, and complex schemes, Brass Target should be a rousing thriller. Unfortunately, the team behind the picture tried to do too many things, and the starring role was unwisely given to John Cassavettes—who by this point in his career preferred directing low-budget films to acting in Hollywood flicks—so the combination of a confusing script and a phoned-in leading performance makes it difficult to appreciate the picture’s many admirable qualities. Set in 1945 Europe, just after the defeat of the Nazis, Brass Target begins with an exciting robbery: Mysterious criminals attack an Allied train and steal a fortune in Nazi gold. The theft divides Allied powers, because Russians blame Americans for the loss, so belligerent U.S. General George S. Patton (George Kennedy) vows to recover the gold and prove his country’s innocence. And then the movie veers off-course.
Instead of focusing on Patton and the conspirators who want to impede his investigation, the picture shifts to an Amy detective, Major Joe De Lucca (Cassavettes), who digs into the robbery while dealing with myriad personal melodramas. Among other things, he’s got a fractious friendship with Col. Mike McCauley (Patrick McGoohan), a schemer who trades in stolen war loot, and both men love Mara (Sophia Loren), a European who survived the war by sleeping her way to safety. The movie’s plot gets even more complicated when the conspirators—primarily Col. Donald Rogers (Robert Vaughn) and Col. Walter Gilchrist (Edward Herrmann)—hire an enigmatic European assassin (Max Von Sydow) to kill Patton lest the general discover their crime.
Any one of these storylines would have been enough for a satisfying movie, so Brass Target ends up giving each of its component elements short shrift. More damningly, the best scenes, which depict the assassin’s meticulous planning of an attempt on Patton’s life, feel like repeats of similar scenes in the acclaimed thriller The Day of the Jackal (1973). Nonetheless, Von Sydow gives the picture’s best performance, especially since the other acting in the movie is highly erratic.
Cassavettes preens and scowls like some sort of irritable peacock; Loren looks lost, which is understandable seeing as how her character is anemically underdeveloped; Kennedy plays Patton as a foul-mouthed bully, his acting inevitably suffering by comparison to George C. Scott’s Oscar-winning turn in Patton (1970); and McGoohan is terrible, his accent shifting inexplicably from one line to the next. Still, Brass Target has tremendous production values, and the milieu of the story—postwar Europe as a lawless frontier—is fascinating. Plus, the central gimmick of the narrative, a conspiracy-theory explanation for the real Patton’s death in 1945, is imaginative. One suspects, however, that the premise was explored to stronger effect in the Frederick Nolan novel from which this film was adapted. (Available at WarnerArchive.com)
Brass Target: FUNKY