“Brass Target” (1978)

December 9, 1945, while en route to go pheasant hunting, the chauffeur driven Cadillac, that General George S. Patton was riding in, was involved in an accident. There are witnesses who stated Patton’s chauffeur, Private H.L. Woodring drove too fast over a railroad crossing, and that’s why the car collided with a U.S. army truck, that was making a left turn. There were other witnesses who claimed the car Patton was in, was being driven at a slow speed. Patton suffered a compression fracture, vertebrae damage, and a spinal cord injury, which paralyzed him. Less than two weeks later, on December 21, the brilliant and controversial general, as a result of his injuries, passed away.   

From the moment of the accident, to this day, there are those that believe Patton was assassinated. A wide array of reasons are given, such as his bitter hatred for Russia. Patton advocated for war against the Soviet Union, which didn’t sit well with then Premier, Joseph Stalin. There are those that theorize Stalin feared Patton. He figured if any general could invade Russia with an army, and overtake it, that army would have Patton at the helm. There are others who speculate that Patton was making the power brokers in America uncomfortable with talk about further war. Furthermore, some feel the simplest explanation, revenge, perpetrated by Nazis, who couldn’t fathom the way Patton’s army decimated their own, is the reason. The film “Brass Target” presents its own theory as to the how and why of Patton’s death.  

“Brass Target” begins with a brazen robbery. A train, carrying American soldiers makes its way through a darkened tunnel. In the opposite direction,  an unmanned object is headed toward it. When the train stops, the soldiers descend to investigate. Mere moments later,  poison gas is released into the air, which instantly kills all of them. The reason, in order to steal 250 million dollars in gold, that had been taken from the Nazis. It wasn’t the Nazi’s, however, who orchestrated the plan. Colonel Donald Rogers, Emmy winner, Robert Vaughn (Washington: Behind Closed Doors), Colonel Walter Gilchrist, a role acted by Emmy winner, Edward Herman (The Practice), and Colonel Stewart (Ed Bishop), are involved in the planning of the robbery. They received help from OSS (Office for Strategic Services) leader Colonel Mike McCauley, played by BAFTA winner, Patrick McGoohan (The Prisoner). (As an aside: 250 million dollars in gold in 1945, would be worth approximately 4.1 billion in 2023).

The men’s daring plan, carried out with success, comes with a new set of problems. Not the least of which, is Major Joe De Lucca, portrayed by three time Oscar winner, John Cassavetes (A Woman Under the Influence). De Lucca is weary. He’s had enough of the war, and openly states that he wants to return home to his beloved, New York. A member of army intelligence, Colonel Robert Dawson, a role acted by Golden Globe winner, Bruce Davison (Short Cuts), has other plans for him. They want De Lucca to find out what happened. The reason being, is that De Lucca had designed and executed, the same trap used in the train robbery, to thwart the enemy during the war. The military brass, therefore, knows that it was an inside job.   

General Patton, played by Oscar winner, George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), enters the film. From the outset he is irritable. He becomes even more so, when he attends a party he’s forced to go to, with members of the Russian military. Patton can’t stand the accusations, that he had something to do with the gold that was stolen. He vows right then and there, that he will find the gold. When he does, he lets the Russians know that they won’t like the place he plans to stick it. (As an aside: George Kennedy served in the infantry under Patton during World War II. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and was twice awarded the Bronze star for bravery).    

Those involved with the execution of the robbery know that Patton will not allow anything to deter him in his investigation. McCauley, hires assassin, Shelly Martin Webber, a role acted by two time Golden Globe nominee, Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), to kill Patton. Webber’s job, as the chairman of a refugee relocation committee, provides him the perfect cover to travel without suspicion. His price is steep, but to those who are familiar with his work, he’s worth it. De Lucca, for his part, is also excellent at what he does. He receives information from an unlikely source, incarcerated organized crime leader, Lucky Luciano (Lee Montague). The information gets De Lucca one step closer to solving the crime. Can De Lucca bring those responsible for the train robbery to justice? Will he be able to save Patton from being assassinated? 

John Hough (The Watcher in the Woods), directed “Brass Target.” Alvin Boretz (The Hidden World) wrote the screenplay, based on the novel “The Algonquin Project” written by Frederick Nolan. The book was published by Morrow on January 1, 1974. The film premiered on December 22, 1978, in New York City, New York. Parts action, drama, mystery, thriller, and war, the movie has a runtime of 111 minutes. BAFTA nominee, Toni Imi (The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby), did the cinematography for the film, and makes excellent use of its German and Swiss locations.Three time Emmy winner, Laurence Rosenthal (Man of La Mancha), provides an immersive score to what is transpiring on screen.


“Brass Target” lags in certain places, which may turn off some viewers. Personally, I was interested to see if the filmmakers would present an alternative version of history. The same way two time Oscar winner Quentin Tarantino did in “Inglourious Basterds.” Let me state that I like George Kennedy. He’s a good actor. George C. Scott, however, completely embodies the role of the general, in the 1970 film “Patton,” for which he won the Oscar. For me, basically anyone else who portrays Patton, in my opinion, doesn’t measure up. Oscar winner, Sophia Loren (Two Women), is completely wasted in her role in the movie. Mara, her character contributes next to nothing throughout the entirety of the film. For fans of the cast, minus Loren, as well as those of you who enjoy films that deal with speculative history, in my opinion, “Brass Target” is good for one time viewing.                                                                                                                                              



About robbinsrealm

I was born in Smithtown, New York, and grew up, worked, and lived in various areas of Long Island before moving to Boca Raton, Florida where I now make my home. In addition to being an aspiring writer, I am also an English teacher. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master’s Degree in Education, both from Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. In my spare time you will find me engrossed in books, watching movies, socializing with friends, or just staying active.
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4 Responses to “Brass Target” (1978)

  1. filmmiasma says:

    I’ve never heard about this or the movie. This sounds like something I’d like (and reading about this rent that killed him). Thank you!

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