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Long on several "lost film" lists, "Attack" is at last available on video.
There are several reasons to see this film. It is a forerunner of so many
grim, realistic movies that treat the subject with intelligence ("Men In
War", "Pork Chop Hill", "Platoon", "The Thin Red Line"). It is brilliantly
directed (many scenes are almost unbearable in their naked dramatic
And it contains several performances that demand attention.
The conviction of Eddie Albert's playing of the cowardly Lieutenant may come as a surprise to those unaware of his talents. Lee Marvin also delivers a solid characterization, as do most of the other supporting players. But the main feature of this film is the astonishing portrayal of Lt. Costa by Jack Palance. The kind of immersion in a role that Palance exhibits here is rare. It is the kind of performance that seems more like "being" than acting. A number of close-ups of Palance's face deliver a frisson of emotional intensity and truth that are rare and wonderful in the cinema of any period. In fact, Palance helps to demonstrate, in this picture, why "war films" should exist as a genre. The condition of war, of combat in particular, serves to foreground, polarize and intensify emotions and moral convictions. It can call into question the very nature of humanity. Just what is the price of a human life? What do we as humans mean to one another? When do concepts like 'bravery' and 'cowardice' cease to have meaning?
"Attack" is a small film, great in its impact.
'Attack' was a violent exposé of a lack of courage and perversion among
American officers fighting the Germans in Belgium; a completely
anti-romantic expression of disgust with war, and, more specially, the
war machine, with its breakdown and its own ridiculous brand of
Jack Palance and Eddie Albert played, at different types of psychic disturbance, two officers who struggle on the battlefield the one an efficacious, trustworthy, but disillusioned hero-typed, the other a cowardly sadist
Lee Marvin was the cynical high-ranking officer who treats war as a political farce, mindless of the pain and distress of the ordinary soldiers
Despite an inevitable over-fondness for the dramatic values of combat and the ferocious of men at arms, this was a convincing, truthful try to demythologize war which, had it been set up in a lower key with fewer psychiatric reverberations, would have come nearer to being what Aldrich was struggling to achieve, 'a sincere plea for peace'.
This gripping film has the benefits of an outstanding cast: Palance was
peerless here, combining a sense of command with a deep sense of compassion
& especially what it takes to get the job done under fire. Palance could do
it because he had been there (& seriously wounded) in WW2. Lee Marvin was a
combat marine who got shot in that war, too. These guys had real frames of
reference to deal from. All the supporting cast stands out as well, Buddy
Ebsen as the savvy platoon sergeant, William Smithers as the by the book
lieutenant, Robert Straus & Richard Jaeckel as the grunts they played so
well in these films. AND THEN there's Eddie Albert playing the cowardly
Captain whose father is a high-level political wheeler-dealer. Some of his
swaggering & smirking & foolhardy statements, even the features & facial
expressions, seem oddly, weirdly timely, though this film is just short of
50 years old. I won't name names for fear of being drawn into a political
campaign year vortex, but this movie sure is worth watching against today's
operations in Iraq _ & Washington. I wonder what kinds of movies will be
coming out in 1- - 20 years about the Iraq wars.
One more word. It could not have happened with Robert Aldrich at the helm. A real masterpiece!
One of Robert Aldrich's classic war movies explores pyschological pressure
and just how war effects men mentally. Even the "good guys" have their bad
sides, and the bad guys are so screwed up you either sympathize with them or
During the fall of 1944, Captain Cooney (Eddie Albert) commands a weary infantry company. Lt. Costa (a young Jack Palance) realizes that Cooney is unfit for command when he freezes in combat. Costa and close friend Lt. Woodruff (Bill Smithers) try to inform their superior, Colonel Bartlett (Lee Marvin sporting a southern drawl) of Cooney's incompetence; instead, White wants to stay out of the way and hopes for the best. He owes Cooney a chance to become a hero so he can look good back home. Well, as you might have expected, Cooney again freezes in combat, this time costing the lives of several of Costa's men - and Costa goes looking for vengeance in an awesome climactic sequence.
The supporting cast is dotted with familiar faces, including Robert Strass from STALAG 17 as an oafish, emotional dogface; the late Buddy Ebsen (BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL) as Costa's loyal platoon sergeant; and Richard Jaeckel (who's appeared in at least a dozen war flicks) as another young soldier. Kudos to Bill Smithers, who does a fantastic job in an early role as Costa's rational friend. His final scene will leave you stunned and reeling.
The movie features a number of memorable scenes which combine physical action, superb dialog and emotion perfectly. One scene in which a mortally wounded Jack Palance prays that God will let him live long enough to kill Cooney is gut-wrenching. Interestingly, both Cooney and Costa have lost their grip on sanity. It's clear from the beginning that Cooney is a whackjob, and Costa is perfectly sane. But he becomes madly (no pun intended) obsessed with killing Cooney, that he forgets everything else - including his own men which is fighting to save. Instead of focusing on thousands of troops and big explosions, Aldrich delivers enough punch in his small-scale story to knock you down. Interiors and exteriors are beautifully shot, confining the action within small spaces to deliver maximum intensity and efficiency.
ATTACK! is an honest film - yes, this type of thing did happen; read or see BAND OF BROTHERS (particularly episode #7) to witness a brutally accurate account of flawed leadership resulting in disaster. I give an 11/10.
Based on a play Fragile Fox that was on Broadway during the early
Fifties, Attack is one of the best war films ever made. No sham heroics
here, just men doing a dirty job and caught in an extremely lousy
situation due to politics.
Lee Marvin is a politically ambitious colonel who's national guard company has been activated for World War II. He's got to babysit and keep an eye on Eddie Albert who's father is a big shot in the unnamed southern state he comes from. Only Albert is an incompetent and a coward. That's causing problems up and down the ranks.
How it all gets resolved is what you have to see Attack for and Robert Aldrich never directed a better film. There's not a bad performance here, not a minute of film wasted.
The contrasting character is Jack Palance who is the lead character. His courage and concern for the men he leads are set up in a direct counterpoint to Albert. His climactic scene is one of the most harrowing ever put on film.
It is appropriate with news of Eddie Albert leaving us at the grand old age of 99 to pay tribute to what is probably the best performance this multi-talented and under-appreciated performer ever did. His Captain Cooney is one of the most malevolent creatures ever put to celluloid. He's such a bad man, his performance will make your skin crawl, Albert is that good in this role. Both he and Palance should have been up for Oscars in 1956.
William Smithers made a good film debut in Attack. He never reached the heights of stardom, but Star Trek fans will know him for a role in the original series as Captain Merik who oddly enough made the same bad choices in that episode that Captain Cooney does in Attack.
The cast is populated with war film veterans and they all do their usual fine job. There were times that it didn't seem possible you could make a war film without Lee Marvin, Robert Strauss, or Richard Jaeckel. God Bless 'em all.
And Attack is a film not to be missed even if you don't particularly like war films.
This is one of the toughest and most realistic films about WWII combat in Europe made in the 1950s. The bayonet sharpness of this movie stems from that many of the actors in the film are or were themselves WWII veterans. Lee Marvin was a US Marine on Saipan and was wounded in combat, and Eddie Albert was in the Navy and was at the unimaginably bloody battle of Tarawa (Betio). These men knew what war was about and what it cost to wage it. See this film. You will witness a classic drama about bravery in war and the ugliness and finality of combat.
Anyone remember a 1965 war movie called BATTLE OF THE BULGE ? That's
the movie supposedly set during the Ardennes campaign in Belguim but
instead of seeing snow shrouded forests we're led to believe the
conflict took place on dusty desert plains . Unfortunately with ATTACK
director Robert Aldrich makes a similar error in geography and weather
conditions . There's no snow to be seen ( Apart from some fake snow in
one scene ) there's no forests and you do get the feeling the movie was
filmed on a hot summers day no matter how the cast try and convince you
other wise . In fact I felt rather sorry for the actors dressed in
heavy greatcoats jumping up and down trying to get into character and
it's interesting to note that by half way through the movie everyone
has stopped in their vain attempts trying to convince the audience it's
a very cold day
That said ATTACK is a very impressive war drama - and please note I used the word drama in the last sentence . It's based on a play but unlike a lot of movies based on plays that often use flashback to tell the tale the roots of the source is hidden , this actually feels cinematic . The movie centres around the conflict Lt Costa who blames his commanding officer Captain Cooney for getting his platoon wiped out . The human drama of cowardice and command and the motive of revenge feature very heavily . It should also be pointed out how well Captain Cooney is written and played by Eddie Albert , he's relatively sympathetic as a weak man who seems caught up in things outside his control though at the end he does become a sort of melodramtic carichture . The whole cast do a good job and the scenes with Lee Marvin and Eddie Albert together are superb . It's such a pity no one seems to make war movies this intelligent anymore
It would seem political correctness prevailed even back during the big bloodletting. The military should screen it's officers very thoroughly before giving them the command over others' lives. Captain Cooney should never have been issued a uniform much less been promoted to such a high field rank. Most of these old 40's and 50's war films leave me colder than a dead kraut but this was way above the fold. Yes, some of the special effects were a bit tame and a couple of the sets looked like what they were, but this was one gritty, ugly tale of the horror and waste of combat. The entire cast was excellent in their portrayal of soldiers in a hopeless situation. Many familiar old faces in this one, most of whom are no longer with us.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Attack" is a WWII tale about a company of American soldiers fighting
somewhere in France over some God forsaken town.
Jack Palance stars as a battle hardened platoon leader who becomes embittered with his commanding officer (Eddie Albert), who through cowardice has caused one of Palance's squads to perish in battle. The rest of the story follows the efforts of Palance and fellow platoon leader (William Smithers) to have him removed. Unfortunately Albert's commander (Lee Marvin), who has his own agenda, refuses to cooperate even though he is aware of Albert's incompetence. A second incident follows where more of Palance's men are lost over Albert's failure to act. Palance then vows to take matters into his own hands.
Palance and Albert give excellent performances as Lt. Joe Costa and Capt. Cooney respectively. Lee Marvin in an early lead role as Colonel Bartlett is also good. Rounding out the cast as members of Palance's platoon are Buddy Ebsen, Robert Strauss and Richard Jaeckel. Look for Strother Martin in a bit at the beginning of the picture.
"Attack" with it's stark black and white photography, realistic battle scenes and memorable performances by its stars, has got to rank as one of the most under appreciated of all WWII movies.
For anyone interested in the subject of World War II - as tackled by
Hollywood - "Attack" is a classic first-rate contribution to the genre. With
a stellar cast including, oh, listen to this:
1. The captivating Jack Palance in one of his finest roles.
2. Eddie Albert, one of the most likable actors, normally known for playing lovable good-guys her he delivers a character you will just love to hate.
3. Lee Marvin, no comment necessary, one of the very few screen actor from the raw school of coolness (where his only competition was that of Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Charles Bronson).
4. Robert Strauss, who like in the classic "Stalag 17" again gives us some welcomed comic relief well mixed with drama and first rate acting.
5. Buddy Ebsen, excellent and always above-par, whether it was as 'Doc' in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" or TV's 'Barnaby Jones' and 'Jed Clampett' of "The Beverly Hillbillies".
6. Richard Jaeckel, who's fine career spanned from this through hits like "The Dirty Dozen" and all the way to uhm... "Baywatch"!
7. William Smithers who despite this star-making film debut (as the REAL main character of the movie) oddly enough never seemed to top this role (somehow he is credited last here on the IMDb, probably because his name is the last to show up during the opening titles with an "And introducing" attached to it).
The whole sha-bang is directed by the great Robert Aldrich who really deserves credit for this one, as I am sure this story of a US Army officer struck by cowardice during WW2 was hard to stomach for some people just 11 years after the big one ended. Aldrich would go on the direct one of the grand-daddy's of guys-on-a-mission-movies, the before mentioned "The Dirty Dozen" (1967). Not surprisingly Aldrich would work with many of the above listed actors on several occasions, which is another testament to the sturdy cast of "Attack".
All these forces combined - in front off and behind the camera - results in a memorable ride through the darkest corners of the human soul, mixed with some thrilling battle scenes. As this is originally based on a play it might seem a bit talky to some, but wait for the first hour to pass and then it will suddenly explode in drama and first-rate acting. The many confrontations these characters have are all so intense they actually make you forget all the solid action scenes!
Definitely one of the most important Hollywood-contributions exploring the drama of war, worth adding to your WW2-collection!
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