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Brass Target (1978)

The conspiracy theory prevails as fact in this John Hough directed effort that sees George Kennedy assume the role of General George S. Patton and the telling of events that led to his subsequent death in what was believed to be an automobile accident. Now let’s get on to what really happened in this hokey, enjoyable thriller with plenty of people we all know and love.

It’s 1945 and in a heist worthy of a James Bond villain, 250 million dollars in gold is stolen when a U.S. troop train is robbed of the bullion leaving 59 soldiers murdered. The gold was under Kennedy’s watch and he wants answers and he wants them now. Bruce Davison acting under Kennedy’s command brings in espionage agent John Cassavetes to assist in unearthing the gold and the men responsible. The reason? The heist is an exact copy of a plan John had devised against the axis powers during the height of the war proving this is an inside job.

Also in the mix is Robert Vaughn and Edward Herrmann as officer and aide who are also trying to solve the heist. Well kind of. The script let’s us in early on the fact that they along with Patrick McGoohan are behind the heist. Now Vaughn is pulling rank on Cassavetes to stay one step ahead of what he uncovers to keep him off his own trail. When Vaughn decides things are getting to hot he orders McGoohan to find a master hitman to kill Kennedy and Cassavetes.

Enter Max Von Sydow as a ruthless killer who proceeds to steal the picture from here forward. Max is a master of disguise and once committed to the job, he ties up all the loose ends by any means necessary meaning anyone who can identify him will come to a nasty demise. Stretching the boundaries of believability as only the movies can, Cassavetes knows Von Sydow but only in his public persona during the war as a Swiss agent but not of his secret life as a cutthroat hitman. “I never trusted you” Interestingly John has turned to Max as he has a lead from Lucky Luciano after a close friend is murdered and may have been involved in the heist. He’s looking to Max for information on a Swiss hitman who is of course Von Sydow himself. An interesting twist.

Did I mention Sophia Loren yet? Sadly she’s in a thankless role as a past lover of pretty much everyone involved except poor Kennedy. If I was George I’d have wanted one more rewrite giving him a romantic scene with this beautiful screen goddess. John will know he’s on the right trail when an assassin takes a shot at him. It won’t be long before he’s tangling with Vaughn, Herrmann and Max but will he be able to stop the one time Exorcist from carrying out his plot to kill the General?

The answer to that one is in the history books. And just who’s side will Sophia take in the heights of the Swiss Alps at the finale?

The answer to that one is in the film which I picked up via the Warner Archive Collection.

Sophia takes top billing in this non Carlo Ponti production though it’s really an ensemble piece with Cassavetes as the central figure tracking down both the gold and the hitman in occupied Germany that will ultimately lead to some gorgeous mountain scenery in the Swiss Alps. As a huge fan of The Dirty Dozen it’s nice to see Cassavetes back in military duds though this time his role is far different than that of his Oscar nominated performance as number eleven, the killer Victor Franko. Another graduate of the Dirty Dozen, George Kennedy gets a promotion from Major to General and does well as Patton though it’s a no win situation with 1978 audiences probably still having George C. Scott burned into their memory banks as the iconic U.S. General. It did give me pause to think that Kennedy could easily have been cast in the Oscar winning film of 1970. I wonder if his name ever came up at the time? George does have the best scene in the movie when he tells his Russian counterpart in no uncertain terms where he intends to put the gold when he recovers it.

As is usual, Max Von Sydow is a pleasure to watch as the untrustworthy assassin and Robert Vaughn continues his descent from heroic roles in The Magnificent Seven and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. towards slippery characters who are both greedy and willing to shoot an opponent in the back. Director, John Hough has an interesting list of credits to his name in various genres ranging from Hammer’s classic Twins of Evil to my favorite haunted house picture, The Legend of Hell House to Disney fare like the Witch Mountain movies of the 70’s. Then there’s the cult hit Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and he’d team with Cassavetes once more for the Canadian thriller Incubus.

While I don’t have 250 million in gold tucked away here in the vault at Mike’s Take, Brando and I do have an original one sheet of this alternate take on WW2 history.

3 Comments »

  1. I must pick up a copy of the movie some time as it’s been a long time now since I saw it. There’s something about these 70s thrillers with their large, starry casts and proudly hokey plotting that’s just so attractive.

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