Monday, March 31, 2014

Movie Monday: Brass Target

This week's Movie Monday looks at the 1978 thriller Brass Target!
As the poster suggests, Brass Target concerns itself over 250 million dollars worth of gold and the death of General George S. Patton. Was there a connection?
The film opens in mid-1945, right after VE Day. General Patton has ordered that the vast deposit of gold stolen by the Nazis being transported for safekeeping to Frankfurt. But as a small band of U.S. military personnel are escorting it there, they are attacked and killed, with the gold stolen.

We learn early on that the theft has been organized by corrupt Army officers, Col. Rogers (Robert Vaughn) and Col Gillchrist (Edward Herrmann). Patton launches an investigation, while also dealing with the Soviets and their demands in a post-war Europe:
The investigation initially turns towards OSS Major De Luca (John Cassavetes, clearly looking for some dough to make Gloria), whose crafted a wartime operation similar to how the gold was stolen. This inspires De Luca to look into the crime on his own.
This leads De Luca to consult an old friend, Col. McCauley, played by Patrick McGoohan:
As De Luca's investigation continues (also involving a former flame, played by top-billed Sophia Loren), the conspirators hire an expert assassin named Webber, played by Max Von Sydow. The film follows him for a good while as he prepares to murder Patton: 
De Luca learns that Webber is on his trail as well, and the rest of Brass Target is a race against time to stop the assassination and to catch the conspirators. Will Major De Luca make it in time?


I went into Brass Target with pretty high expectations. The cast is impressive, in a 1970s Irwin Allen kind of way; and the subject matter is right in my wheelhouse: WWII, a heist, a conspiracy, a little history mixed in, what's not to like?

The answer is, kind of a lot, actually: given the ingredients, there's no real reason why Brass Target isn't a crackerjack thriller. But as directed by John Hough (who has some solid directing credits to his name), the story plods along with the the tension never really building.

Following Von Sydow around as he kills people with laser-like precision is fun, but the rest of the cast feels wasted: Kennedy is cartoonishly gruff as Patton (I guess anyone trying to follow George C. Scott in the role is doomed to failure), Cassavetes seems bored, Sophia Loren is completely superfluous, and McGoohan seems beamed in from another movie entirely. Vaughn and Herrmann are okay, but the suggestion (more than a suggestion, actually) that they are lovers adds a weird shading to the proceedings: not only are they conspirators, but they're secretly gay, too! You just can't trust those people, you know?

Plus, you have to be careful when crafting a genre piece around a real person or real event: Patton really was killed due to a jeep accident, and here that scene is replicated but as cover to him being assassinated: it seems ghoulish, if not distasteful, to use such a sad event as grist for silly some Hollywood thriller.

That said, Brass Target looks good: it's replicating the look of post-war Europe looks spot on, and gives all these scenes a nice bit of verisimilitude. And the plot is (IMO) so inherently interesting--the chaos that follows such a horrific tragedy as a world war--that it keeps you involved as the plot unfolds. It's not a terrible film, but considering what the filmmakers had to work with, it should have been a lot, lot better.

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