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After having just watched "Tigerland" (2000), starring Colin Farrell, I
was reminded of the very first anti-war film I'd ever seen (when I was
about 10), namely "Attack!" (1956), starring Jack Palance, who owned
the craggiest, ugliest face ever to not need make-up to be scary; his
debut in "Shane" (1953), as the scary sinister hired gun Jack Wilson,
was the opposite of comic relief, call it spinal-chill. In his role as
2:41:19 AM. Joe Costa, Palance was perfect, the scary guy you wanted to
be on your side.
As a 10-year-old, I didn't think about the deeper meanings that directors and writers were trying get across; yet, the mood, kinda like film noir meets WWII, at the masterful hand of Robert Aldrich, conveyed a stark vision of the vise-grip with which battlefield stress crushed polite society's facade of decency and civility. That came through even to my immature sensibilities. In doing so, "Attack!" did what great anti-war movies are supposed to do - it altered my view, that of a young boy who, like so many young boys, had been propagandized (by our polite society) to have a glorified view of war. You're never too young to learn wisdom.
The horrors of war, especially the horrors of the politics of war, were delivered into the collective psyches of Americans during the Vietnam War with graphics we were rarely allowed to see before. Aldrich's version of "fragging", the term, newly minted from the Vietnam conflict, for lobbing a grenade at your own officers, is given an earlier cinematic debut in "Attack!" That scene pierced my childish glamorization of combat. Too bad it wasn't required viewing for more of us.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What an amazing movie! I honestly had no idea what to expect going into
Attack. With a name like that, I expected wall-to-wall combat action
(albeit Hollywood style combat action). What I wasn't expecting was a
deep, meaningful morality play with some of the best acting I've seen
in a while. That's not to say there aren't action sequences in Attack,
but they are not the focus. The action set-pieces merely exist to set
up the drama. And what drama it is! Attack features a well-written,
intelligent script, interesting characters, and a little insight into
the effects of war.
Jack Palance is quite simply brilliant as Lt. Joe Costa, the battle hardened soldier who's seen more than his share of combat. He's protective of the men he commands and, in return, they respect him for that. I don't think I've ever seen Palance in a more convincing, believable role. Lt. Costa is the very image of the American G.I. in WWII. Eddie Albert is surprisingly just as good as Palance as the weak Capt. Erskine Cooney. He epitomizes everything that Lt. Costa hates. He's indecisive, puts his men into harms way, and worst of all, he's yellow. Albert's plays Capt. Cooney as a man one step away from a nervous breakdown. The entire supporting cast is excellent with standout performances from the entire cast.
I may not have known much about Attack going in, but it's a new favorite I look forward to revisiting from time-to-time.
A forgotten movie where Jack Palance gets to play a good guy for a change. Robert Strauss is up to his usual tricks as a gruff groundpounder. As a WW II re-enactor; the hand carved foregrip for a bazooka is memorable touch, but they don't show the need to tie the wires around the leads. Eddie Albert; a veteran of the landing at Tarawa as a navy hospital corpsman has a tremendous performance as Captain Cooney who seems to have a childhood similar to Christina Crawford. The final scene where William Smithers is prepared to stand up for what he did to save the men in his command from Cooney is a true example of what the Greatest Generation was all about.
Like The Bridge at Remagen, The Deerhunter and Saving Private Ryan, Attack! marked a major change in the sensibilities of Hollywood recreations of war. Jack Palance plays the hard-bitten lieutenant forced into a suicide attack by the cowardice of his commanding officer, played by Eddie Albert (in real life a decorated war hero). The standard outcome of such standard B-movies was then to have the unit's coward redeem himself at the last minute and usually die in the process. Albert's character stayed a coward and didn't die either. The US Army didn't like the script and withdrew technical support, which is why the film is so short of tanks, planes and artillery. The director was Robert Aldrich, later to go on to make two of the most frank and cynical war movies ever made, The Dirty Dozen & Ulzana's Raid.
A coward officer, captain Cooney, sent part of his troops to a sure death, but the lieutenant (Jack Palance) responsible of this mission fights enough to protect his subordinates and to conclude it successfully. Other officers recognize the wrong and egoist behavior of his captain and decided to kill him. The fact is that this officer was closely friendly with his Lt. Colonel (Lee Marvin), who although misinformed of the way Cooney died, never believed this version and for so decided to propose a posthumous honor to his coward friend (!!!). Whether this really happened is not the problem, the fact is that this could take place in any war if the officers have not enough ethics as humans. This is an old film directed masterfully by Aldrich, which is a real jewel of war genre. Palance acted in an excellent way, perhaps one of his best presentations in the big screen.
Palance remained an under rated actor and this must be one of his best roles. Life is not fair to the officer he plays and an already run down soldier is taken to pieces by the far from impotent cowardice of his commander. The viewer is filled with an uncomfortable feeling that this might be the way things really are on the modern battlefield.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I haven't seen Norman Brook's play 'Fragile Fox' on which James Poe based his screenplay, indeed I doubt if many people saw it but it's reasonable to suppose that Poe has 'opened it out' considerably and in doing so effectively 'shown' us what could presumably only be spoken of onstage. What is undeniable is that Robert Aldrich brought out the best of Jack Palance; this is one of two films they made together back to back in 1956 and both are outstanding. Coincidentally both were adapted from stage plays though Cliff Odet's 'The Big Knife' enjoyed by far the highest profile of the two in theatrical terms. It's fun trying to speculate which of the several interiors Brooks used in his play but what Poe has done is to weave together seamlessly 'action' and dialogue and the result is a near-perfect movie. War, of course, is only a convenient backdrop for the exploration of human nature in extremis with, at one end of the spectrum, Costa's (Palance)courage and humane love of the men under his command and at the other Cooney's (Eddie Albert) moral bankruptcy and cowardice. Approaching the centre of the spectrum from either ends are Lee Marvin's Clyde Bartlett, overall commander of the company who is more than aware of Albert's failings but needs his clout (Cooney's father is a judge back home) to further his post-war political aspirations and William Smither's Woodruff, in complete accord with Palance (and, it must be said) the entire platoon in both contempt for and hatred of Albert but much prefers to approach things through channels and 'by the book' rather than take a confrontational 'hands-on' stance like Palance. This is a great film on any level in which you care to judge it and in tandem with The Big Knife marks the apex of both Adrich's and Palance's careers.
This movie affects you in on an emotional level where the characters
shortcomings are magnified by the stresses of life and death. It goes
beyond the reality of war scenes, which are almost as good as Saving
I felt that "ATTACK" should have been at the top of Eddie Albert's list of accomplishments. This movie shows the true depth of his acting capabilities. He should have been nominated for best supporting actor.
Jack Palance is excellent as true American war hero, not only fighting the Germans, but the army's hierarchy. Lee Marvin performance as the villain is comparable to the French generals in Paths of Glory.
What I do not under stand is why this movie is not shown on TV or so difficult to rent or purchase.
Wow! Where should one start with such a complex gem?
This movie wastes very little time stripping away the expected "Hollywood" treatment of war dramas and exposes some of the ulterior motives always involved whenever mankind goes to war with itself. The true glory, ultimately, belongs to the cast--so many jewels involved in this one! Jack Palance is one of my favorites, and his performance in Attack! is unpredictable and marvelous! (That scream will stay with me always.) Eddie Albert's Cooney--cowardice and cruelty personified. We're not on THE farm in this one, folks. William Smithers, Buddy Ebsen and Lee Marvin also sparkle throughout this elegy to WWII and human nature. If you ever get a chance to view this one, (and I hope you get the chance) put your thinking cap on, watch carefully and remember to pick yourself up off the floor when it's over. This film packs an honest, gritty wallop!
Robert Aldrich brings this grim story set in the latter stages of World
War 2 and conflict in a battalion where Captain Cooney sends men on a
mission but is too cowardly to bail them out with firepower as he does
not want to die.
The film stars Jack Palance as the tougher subordinate Costa who has seen through Eddie Albert's cowardly and drunk Captain Cooney who has used his family connections with Lee Marvin's Lt Colonel Bartlett to get himself a nice number but finds himself out of his depth and quickly losing the respect of his men.
From the opening scenes, filmed in a studio back-lot of RKO you can sense this is a low budget film. What we have is a film with some of cinema's hard men Marvin and Palance (both to be future Oscar winners) slightly playing against type. Palance is a good guy here, the platoon leader cynical about his masters. You can see ingrained in his face that he is battle worn, battle weary and sick of his superiors treating his men like some disposal commodity.
Marvin plays an effective cameo. He knows Cooney is inept, he has known him for years and he a lot to be thankful to Cooney's father. When Marvin goes back home after the war he needs his father's patronage. Maybe he really did feel in the heat of battle either Cooney will man up, get killed by the enemy or even by one of his own men.
William Smithers plays Lt Woodruff torn between his loyalty to Costa and dislike of Cooney but bound not to rock the boat but raises his concerns with Bartlett, but Bartlett dismisses his concerns as he has his own agenda.
As the film is an adaptation of a stage play, it does have too many stereotypes and rather one dimensional ones. Robert Strauss is there for broad comic relief for example.
Only Smithers comes across as conflicted where his plea to save Costa and his men when they go on a mission are rebuffed by Cooney and feels he has nowhere else to turn.
The climax of the film comes across as weak and preachy. The conflict with the German tanks does not look well staged and the incident with Costa falls victim to censorship laws where the violence had to be toned down.
I felt that the ending need to be punchier and more to the point which the showdown between Smithers and Marvin failed to bring.
Its still a film with some powerhouse performances and a good contrast to the more gung ho war films of the time.
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