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Counter-Attack, a film celebrating the Russian contribution to the victory of Nazism, earned a place in history for the blacklisting of screen writer John Howard Lawson, member of the Hollywood Ten and a guy who really was a Marxist. He never denied it during his lifetime.
Nevertheless the Russian contribution was certainly real enough and red enough and that's not a political statement either. Paul Muni and Marguerite Chapman play a pair of Russian soldiers who get trapped on the wrong side of the front in a cellar with seven members of the German Army of varying feelings about their leader. Muni and Chapman are on an advance mission to obtain intelligence and they're certain one of their 'prisoners' is an officer in disguise. How to ferret the information from these men is the question.
The film is one claustrophobic exercise and on stage it was done only on the one set of the cellar. It was based on a Russian play Pobyeda and ran under the name Counter-Attack on Broadway during the 1943 season for 85 performances. Morris Carnovsky originated the role Paul Muni has in the film.
Since both sides have no idea who will rescue them eventually it becomes quite a cat and mouse game with Muni and Chapman fighting fatigue. Yet they have a few tricks of their own.
Counter-Attack is a well acted film with Paul Muni under a lot of effective directorial restraint and the ever present helpful hints from his wife Bella. They were one interesting combination, Bella knew her man well and was his best critic. Of course directors getting the idea that they were in charge did not want her around. Harry Cohn got her off the set of A Song To Remember and without her there, the result was Muni's hammiest performance.
Counter-Attack is not a great war film and it got buried during the McCarthy era. Still it's decent enough wartime propaganda and we can view it now with the history of the times in mind.
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