In Europe, days after VE Day, General Patton (Kennedy), orders that gold reserves held by the former Reichsbank be transported to Frankfurt, but before the shipment arrives in the city, the gold train is robbed and its 59 US Army MP guards are killed with poison gas in a railroad tunnel. A group of corrupt American officers, led by a colonel (Vaughn), is behind the crime. The investigation, started by Patton, initially leads to OSS Major Joe De Luca (Cassavetes). It seems the robbers used his plan from one of his wartime operations to steal the gold.
This prompts De Luca to start his own investigation. His first stop is to see his old wartime commander, Colonel Mike McCauley (McGoohan), who is now living in a requisitioned German castle. Meanwhile, as the investigation gets closer, the corrupt American officers hire Webber (Sydow), a professional assassin, to kill Patton in the hope of halting the inquiry.
Soon De Luca meets Mara (Loren), a former girlfriend, who can help him find the culprits. But before they can do that, they discover Webber is on their trail and also planning to kill Patton. The pair then race against time across war-ravaged Europe to save the general and catch the villainous officers. However, Webber, posing as an American soldier, kills General Patton in a staged traffic accident. At the precise moment an Army truck collides with Patton's car, Webber fires a rubber bullet, striking Patton and breaking his neck. De Luca, however, tracks down the assassin and kills him with his own weapon.
Brass Target, despite a lukewarm reception on release, is noted for its attention to historical detail in an early post-war Europe. The Cold War had not started but relations with the Russians are shown to be already frosty. There are displaced persons camps, refugees and POWs as well as the remnants of war, such as bombed out buildings and destroyed armored vehicles and equipment. The notion that Patton was assassinated in a staged accident follows the story line of the novel The Algonquin Project by Frederick W. Nolan upon which the film was based. It was considered by most to be purely fictional, but a ground-breaking investigative book entitled Target: Patton, The Plot to Assassinate General George S. Patton by Robert K. Wilcox, published in 2008, lends credence to the idea. Additionally, although approximately $2.5 Billion in Reichtag Bank gold was determined to be pilfered in several separate thefts, most of which is still missing, there was no train robbery involved as presented in the film.
Brass Target was shot on location in Munich, Bavaria, Germany and Switzerland.
The casting director, Munich resident Val Geist, used many US Soldiers from the 66th MI Group who were stationed at the time in Munich, Germany as extras in the film.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote in his review: "IT is the dubious premise of The Brass Target, a film full of dubiety, that Gen. George S. Patton was assassinated in Germany in 1945 by a motley crew of United States Army officers in an attempt to hide their theft of $250 million in Nazi gold. History says that General Patton died in Germany in 1945 following an automobile accident, but Frederick Nolan, who wrote The Algonquin Project, this film's source material, has connected various unsolved mysteries to make a wobbly case for his conspiracy theory. As historical speculation goes, it's less interesting than wondering where we might be today if Ford's Theater had been playing Uncle Tom's Cabin that fateful night in 1865, instead of Our American Cousin. Would Lincoln have attended, or might he have said, "Mary, I just can't sit through it again"? You may elect not to sit through international claptrap like this film, which doesn't measure up even to The Cassandra Crossing ... The Brass Target, which has been rated PG ("Parental Guidance Suggested"), contains a lot of violence, all of it simulated but random in the way of simple-minded movie-making."
Brass Target was released in theatres on December 22, 1978, in the United States and March 2, 1979, in the United Kingdom. The film was released on DVD on August 30, 2012 by Warner Archive Collection. MGM Home Entertainment released Brass Target on DVD for the Sophia Loren Collection.