Ordered by Gen. Patton (George Kennedy), American GI’s are on a train carrying gold worth $250 million late in WWII. However, the train is ambushed, 59 GI’s are killed, and the gold stolen. World weary Maj. John Cassavetes is called in by Col. Bruce Davison to investigate what appears to be an inside job, with Patton trying to keep the suspicious Russians calm. The audience finds out early that the culprits are three subordinates of Patton including homosexual Colonel Robert Vaughn (!), and his right-hand man (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Say no more!) Col. Edward Herrmann. Said culprits have hired elusive hitman Max von Sydow to rub Gen. Patton out. Sophia Loren plays the poor Polish war survivor (!) caught between former lover Cassavetes and some very bad acquaintances. Patrick McGoohan plays Cassavetes’ wily Colonel pal who was also in on the heist.
This 1978 John Hough (“Twins of Evil”, “The Legend of Hell House”, “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry”) film scripted by TV veteran Alvin Boretz (who scripted episodes of “Kojack” and “Ironside”) from the novel by Frederick Nolan gets a really bad hammering from most critics. Apparently it plays very fast and loose with known facts, as a lot of people will know Gen. Patton died in a car accident, whereas here he is targeted for assassination. Personally, I took one look at the rather broad approach George Kennedy (who in real-life actually served under Patton!) took to playing Patton and just went along for the ride.
The cast really do give this one a boost, and even if Kennedy’s Patton isn’t to your liking, he’s hardly in the film anyway. A flamboyantly dressed Patrick McGoohan steals the early portion of the film with a feather in his hat and a not terribly convincing American accent. Yes, he sticks out like a sore thumb, ala Donald Sutherland in “Kelly’s Heroes”, but he’s highly entertaining (again, like Donald Sutherland in “Kelly’s Heroes”). John Cassavetes is a sturdy presence in the lead, offering up a world-weary Bogey-esque turn. Max von Sydow, meanwhile, takes over where McGoohan leaves off, in a terrific turn. McGoohan may be having more fun than anyone else in the film, but it’s von Sydow who walks off with it. I also appreciated the work of Robert Vaughn, who while not stretching himself, has quite an interesting role to play, especially for those paying close attention. A young-ish Bruce Davison also does sturdy work early on. The only wrong note here is struck by Sophia Loren, who just looks far too glamorous for her role. Look at her hair and makeup and ask why she lives where she lives. It just doesn’t convince.
The film is well-shot by Tony Imi (“The Sea Wolves”, “Enemy Mine”), as well. It’s a ‘What if’ scenario, and in my view it’s neither a boring or poorly made film. In fact, it was adding Lucky Luciano to the plot that bothered me more, that was stupid and actor Lee Montague is awfully stiff in the part. Otherwise, lighten up, it’s only a movie, and a fun little B-movie at that, albeit quite silly.