[Originally published in Movietone News 60-61, February 1979]
Scrapers of cinematic barrel bottoms, stand advised: John Hough has laid incontestable claim to his long-sought title, the new James Goldstone. This department confesses to having been remiss in not calling your attention to the first change in the wind, the old James Goldstone’s 1977 realization of Rollercoaster, a Sensurround disaster pic so inoffensive, even moderately competent in execution, that it alienated the taken-for-granted audience for such fare and failed at the box office. At this time we can only conjecture whether Goldstone’s unanticipated lurch toward respectability will continue unchecked or prove an aberration in an otherwise execrable track record. Meanwhile Hough, the most flagrantly conscienceless hack to appear in the past decade (Sudden Terror, Treasure Island and above all the loathsome Dirty Mary Crazy Larry), has seized the day.
In a year of generally insipid commercial cinema, Brass Target manages to be actively disgusting, and just possibly degrading. Name a hypothetical offense against history, genre, scenario logic, continuity, characters, performers, or viewers, and Hough commits it—drooling. I am advised that Frederick Nolan’s The Algonquin Project makes only teasing pretensions toward being historical roman à clef; Hough’s film is quite willing to be taken for fact. It gets underway with the theft, in the declining days of the Second World War, of an astronomical fortune in Reichsbank gold, not to mention the mass murder of its U.S. Army escort. The perpetrators are three officers highly placed on Gen. George S. Patton’s staff. When the Commies drop leaden hints about the Army’s connivance in the theft, old Blood ‘n’ Guts makes it his personal business to smoke the culprits out, and the culprits in turn enlist the most lethal hitman in Europe to arrange an apparently accidental four-star demise. A hot-under-the-collar OSS man with trendy ethnic background (Italian) begins to pick up signals that even less than normal is well around HQ and that Patton may be in danger; this sets in motion an utterly incoherent investigation, a scarcely more coherent set of doublecrosses and assassinations, and an all-out war of attrition that does in most of the dramatis personae in various pointless ways—as if the programmatic script and especially Hough’s label-affixing direction hadn’t effectively robbed them of life and interest from the word go.
George Kennedy blusters boringly as Patton (who wasn’t Patton in the book), Patrick McGoohan uses up his leftover Rafferty mannerisms as a terminally whacked-out OSS big shot, John Cassavetes looks pissed as the investigator and hopes it passes for bitterness, and Robert Vaughn and Ed Herrmann are forced to play the key traitors as menopausal faggots. The unintentional-howler department is well served by Sophia Loren as a poor, world-weary, unblemished and chicly garbed lady who has a deep and true feeling for Cassavetes but has spent the war making ficky-fick with sundry villains in order to avoid the fate-worse-than-fate-worse-than-death of having to wear rags. The only class act is Max Von Sydow’s as the master-of-disguise hitman who doubles as director of an international war refugee program. Even if we exonerate Hough of guilt for the scenario or the performances (it must be hard to hold mannerists like McGoohan and Vaughn in line, especially when they may be acting in self-defense), there’s no getting past the constant visual straining, the lugubrious portentousness and anything-for-an-angle-shot ugliness—and, again, pointlessness—of the directorial style. Hough also manages one trick Goldstone never mastered: he makes a multimillion-dollar production look cheapjack.
© 1979 Richard T. Jameson
Direction: John Hough. Screenplay: Alvin Boretz, after the novel The Algonquin Project by Frederick Nolan. Cinematography: Tony Imi. Production design: Rolf Zehetbauer. Editing: David Lane. Music: Laurence Rosenthal.
The players: John Cassavetes, Max Von Sydow, Sophia Loren, George Kennedy, Patrick McGoohan, Robert Vaughn, Edward Herrmann, Ed Bishop, Lee Montague.