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Although taking top billing in the WWII-set action-adventure Brass Target (1978), Sophia Loren was recruited to the project for little more reason than to add star power and offset the testosterone level of the otherwise male-dominated action opus. While the still-striking star wasn't given much more opportunity than to serve as window dressing, her presence remains a plus for this serviceable speculative thriller.
Adapted from Frederick Nolan's novel The Algonquin Project, the narrative opens in late 1945 on a GI-laden transport train that is, per the orders of General George S. Patton (George Kennedy), shepherding $250 million in recovered Nazi gold for safekeeping in Frankfurt. However, the transport is waylaid and ambushed by a well-prepared task force; the stunned dogface regiment is slaughtered to a man, and the attackers make off with the bullion. Patton, enraged by the audacity of the crime and accusations of his own complicity therein by the Soviets, vows to uncover the perpetrators.
Unfortunately for Old Blood and Guts, his own subordinates were the architects of the heist. The mastermind, Col. Donald Rogers (Robert Vaughn), realizes that nothing short of death will get the old man off the trail, and places a plan for the general's assassination in motion.
In the meantime, the Army's own inquiry into the attack finds a person of interest in Maj. Joe De Lucca (John Cassavetes), a weary OSS officer simply desirous of his discharge. Apparently, the attack on the gold shipment mirrored a successful railroad attack upon Nazi brass orchestrated by De Lucca; while the inquisitor Col. Dawson (Bruce Davison) is satisfied by his assertions of innocence, De Lucca is determined to uncover whoever conscripted his strategies in order to kill American soldiers.
As it turns out, Rogers obtained De Lucca's plan from the alcoholic fixer Col. Mike McCauley (Patrick McGoohan), a wheeler-dealer who now counts De Lucca's onetime lover, the Polish beauty Mara (Loren), amongst his acquisitions. McCauley, realizing that he's now in deep, agrees to act as Rogers' cat's-paw for the recruitment of a hit-man skilled enough to take out Patton in a manner that will look like an accident. He finds him in the person of a dapper gentleman answering to Peter Shelley (Max von Sydow). The balance of the film interweaves Shelley's machinations towards his murderous goals with De Lucca's dogged efforts to uncover the truth.
Brass Target came Loren's way at a particularly turbulent moment in her private life, as the Italian authorities had recently charged husband-producer Carlo Ponti with engaging in making illegal money transfers out of the country; Sophia herself had been cited as an accomplice. While Ponti had brokered the deal that resulted in her last-minute addition to the project, it would be her first film in a decade without his participation as producer.
While the bulk of Brass Target was shot on location in Burghausen, some 50 miles due southeast of Munich, the local hotel wasn't to Sophia's tastes, so producer Arthur Lewis popped for an inn across the Austrian border and a chauffeured BMW for the 15-mile ride between. Although Loren was riding the publicity crest of a well-received autobiography crafted with A.E. Hotchner at the time Brass Target hit theaters, it didn't do too much to boost the film's receipts. In fact, its having finished $5 million in the red was cited as one of the factors that led MGM to sell off its moviemaking division.
Producer: Arthur Lewis
Director: John Hough
Screenplay: Alvin Boretz; Frederick Nolan (novel "The Algonquin Project")
Cinematography: Tony Imi
Art Direction: Werner Achmann, Herbert Strabel
Music: Laurence Rosenthal
Film Editing: David Lane
Cast: Sophia Loren (Mara), John Cassavetes (Maj. Joe De Lucca), George Kennedy (Gen. George S. Patton), Robert Vaughn (Col. Donald Rogers), Patrick McGoohan (Col. Mike McCauley), Bruce Davison (Col. Robert Dawson), Edward Herrmann (Col. Walter Gilchrist), Max von Sydow (Shelley/Webber), Ed Bishop (Col. Stewart).
by Jay S. Steinberg