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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If there ever was a one man army, Joe Costa is that man, that army.
Costa, played by Jack Palance, is a lieutenant in a company with a bad
commanding captain, one who is put there only for political reason and
only wants to save his own life at the expense of others. But ranking
officers won't remove the captain as the company probably won't see
action again. But that was before the Germans made one desperate push
and put the company on the line.
But without leadership the company seems doomed, can Costa save them once again? Of course he can. But that's where the movie derails. Even if heroism is commendable and entertaining in a war movie, a one man army is too much, especially when he is fighting tanks.
Despite that, it is disappointingly little action in this. Most of the time is spent in basements or other close quarters either arguing or looking for advancing enemies. Even if that puts depth and perspective to the fighting, it must balance out. Here it is just too much of it. Especially towards the end it gets drawn out way too much and quite tedious. The end is really a great anticlimax.
Jack Palance went on to have a great career, but this will not be one of the more memorable moments of it. Lee Marvin does it better, even if his role is rather small.
I had expected more of this, as it was it wasn't much of anything. Not enough action for a war movie, but not enough depth or thought to be a credible drama either.
A trio of fine character actors head the cast of Robert Aldrich's
low-budget war film, "Attack," which is set in Europe during World War
II. Based on a play by Norman Brooks, the taut, tightly directed film
depicts a struggle between heroism and cowardice, professionalism and
incompetence, hard-earned rank through merit and unearned rank attained
through personal connections. Among the American infantry assigned to
establish observation posts are Jack Palance, whose Lt. Joe Costa is a
tough, but compassionate soldier, whose bravery and leadership are
unquestioned. Costa's superior officer, Capt. Erskine Cooney, played by
Eddie Albert, was handed his rank because of his father's military
connections; the cowardly Cooney is over his head both as a military
strategist and as a commander of men. The third member of the lead trio
is tough, wise Lee Marvin, who plays Lt. Colonel Clyde Bartlett,
Filmed in black and white by Joseph Biroc largely on sound stages and the studio back lot, the exterior battle scenes have a gritty feel, although the shadowy interiors often resemble a 1950's television drama. However, despite a B-movie budget, the performances throughout are excellent, including such other stalwarts as Richard Jaeckel and Buddy Ebsen, although Palance and Marvin are the standouts. Events lead to a moral dilemma, whose resolution will be fodder for much post-viewing discussion; whether or not the ending was dictated by the period in which the film was made is also debatable, because contemporary audiences may be more open to an alternate decision than those of the Eisenhower era. "Attack" is an excellent, if lesser known Aldrich film that deserves a wider audience, if only for the performances of Palance and Marvin.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I always remembered this intense war film with its blazing performances
ever since I saw it in the late 50's.
During the fighting in Europe in 1944, tensions run high in a company of U.S. infantryman when the cowardice of the company commander, Captain Cooney (Eddie Albert), cause losses among his men. One of his platoon leaders, Lieutenant Costa (Jack Palance), threatens to kill him if he costs the life of one more man. But Cooney has the protection of his commanding officer, Colonel Bartlett (Lee Marvin), who hails from the same hometown. Everything comes to a head during a German counterattack.
It would be carping to find too much technical fault with this film, despite a small budget it looks good and the military action seems convincing, although the Russell Ranch used for the outdoor scenes seems about as open as the Russian Steppes.
Much is made of the fact that the unit involved is from the National Guard, which carries issues from the region back home in which it was raised, especially the relationship between Cooney and Bartlett. Of all the WW2 films from that time, "Between Heaven and Hell" starring Robert Wagner is the only other one I can think of where this was also a subject (Buddy Ebsen was in both films).
The internal conflict drives "Attack" as Cooney and Costa go over the edge with stunning performances from Palance and Albert.
Costa, although not without fear, overcomes it with a sense of responsibility to his men and the mission. Cooney on the other hand has never won the battle against fear; the way he makes excuses for his failures is wince-inducing.
The most balanced soldier is Lieutenant Woodruff who does his duty, but also has the moral courage to stand up for what he believes in maybe he best represents those ordinary men who stuck to the job and won the war.
Eddie Albert actually served with distinction in WW2. "Attack" was made just 10-years after the war, and a number of the cast had served in the conflict: Jack Palance and Lee Marvin of course, but also Buddy Ebsen (Coast Guard), Richard Jaeckel (Merchant Marine) and Peter van Eyck (U.S. Army) many of the staff behind the camera would also have served.
I think when we watch movies from that era; it adds another dimension knowing this. Those people invested a great deal of equity into films such as "Attack". In a way, WW2 movies from that period can never be remade with that same level of involvement.
Robert Aldrich's "Attack" is a WWII film from 1956 that feels decidedly
post-Vietnam in its cynicism, anarchism and flippancy. It feels
somewhat akin, yet opposite, to the following year's "Paths of Glory,"
a film with its feet more firmly in the ground of defiance.
The heart--and guts, one might say--of the film is Lt. Joe Costa (Jack Palance), a man with a personal set of rules that may or may not match up with God's or man's. He butts heads with Captain Cooney (Eddie Albert), a cowardly--and not the smart kind, the whimpering kind-- drunk who only holds his high rank through personal connections. Their animosity towards one another begins at a card table, but soon escalates beyond nasty words between drinks.
One might be quick to label "Attack!" as an anti-war film, considering its disillusionment with top-down decision making; the problem with which is that it's like Christmas lights, in that if one goes out, it creates a chain-reaction of dysfunction. But, the film acknowledges chaos cannot reign as well, and the deals with that through Lt. Harry Woodruff (William Smithers). Nevertheless, the film could hardly be called reverent.
Palance, as he always does, milks every last second in front of the camera, turning the simplest motion or grunt into an attempted Shakespearean monologue--I'm surprised the man doesn't have bruises under his eyes from blinking. Albert, as Palance's foil, is effective, but almost goes too far into sniveling baby territory and becomes too much of a "movie villain," but that's more the writer's fault. The film's middle-ground, Smithers shines in a dim role, anchoring the outrageous events around him.
More than just philosophizing on the bureaucracy of war, "Attack!" brings the goods, and by "goods," I mean tense action sequences, thrilling "the horror, the horror" moments and shocking deaths. Chiefly, there's a moment where Jack Palance goes toe-to-toe with a tank, and, well, it's closer than you think.
Despite its sensationalist title, "Attack!" is far more than flying bullets and pumping fists--though in short supply, it's not. While its phasers are set to stun, the film points a finger at the things law and order can't fix--sometimes you just have to kick the television to make it work. It's not a political film, but it's a film about politics.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
By the mid 1950's, many of the men who had fought on the front lines in
World War II had reached an age where they could look back on their
service in the war and honestly discuss some of the very un-heroic
things they had experienced. This new maturity manifested first in
literature like Herman Wouk's THE CAINE MUTINY and James Jones's FROM
HERE TO ETERNITY, both made into excellent movies. ATTACK, which came
out in 1956, is based on a stage play and it dealt with the enormously
corrupting effect the brutality of war has on the men who fight it; the
movie turned out to be tough stuff for its time and more than holds up
after all these decades.
The main reason ATTACK still resonates is because it was directed by the great Robert Aldrich, a master film maker who knew how to make great entertainments while never pulling his punches when it came to the brutal aspects of his stories and was equally at home directing war movies like ATTACK, melodramas like THE BIG KNIFE, westerns like VERA CRUZ and ULZANA'S RAID, or psychological horror films such as WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE and HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE. The man knew what he wanted and how to get it all up there on the movie screen.
ATTACK is not an epic on the same level as BATTLEGROUND or the much later SAVING PRIVATE RYAN; its scope is small, mainly because Aldrich's production company could not procure cooperation from the Pentagon because they had understandable problems with the script. But this ground level view of the war in Europe perfectly suit's the story of an infantry unit saddled with a cowardly commander whose incompetence is as much a threat to the men he leads as the German Whermacht. When orders compel the badly fatigued soldiers to advance into an enemy held town, the ensuing carnage causes long held back tensions to explode as one Lieutenant turns upon his Captain with murderous fury. It all ends in a gripping final scene, set in a basement as the GI's hide from the advancing Germans, where men pushed to their limits, do what they have to do.
ATTACK is filled with some to the finest tough guys and character stars of its time, starting with Jack Palance as Lt. Costa, a brave soldier on the battlefield who is tired of suffering the ineptitude of his immediate superior and Lee Marvin as Colonel Clyde Bartlett, an officer with his eyes already fixed on a post war political career. In between them is Eddie Albert's Captain Cooney, the useless son of an important Kentucky politician, a man so utterly unfit for the responsibility placed upon him that he curls up on his bed when the German's attack. This is one of Palance's finest performances, worthy of an Oscar nomination; it is notable in that Palance, one of the great scenery chewers, really underplays it here until his final, agonized confrontation with Albert in the cellar. Eddie Albert had a long, very versatile career, often playing nice guys and sidekicks to bigger stars, but he had a knack for portraying unsympathetic characters as well, and his Erskine Cooney was one of his best examples of the latter-a man who won't even try to over come his weaknesses, who would rather surrender to the Germans than face the risk of combat. Palance, Albert and Marvin were decorated veterans, Albert winning a Bronze Star for bravery at Tarawa. It's obvious their wartime experiences infuse their work here.
The supporting cast include a lot of familiar faces such as Buddy Ebsen as a capable Sergeant; gravelly voiced Robert Strauss playing a variation of the character he played in STALAG 17; Richard Jaeckel playing essentially the same soldier he played in at least a half dozen other war films. Strother Martin turns up briefly and German born Peter Van Eyck, playing an SS officer, was a naturalized American citizen who served in the US Army during the war. William Smithers plays Palance's fellow Lieutenant, who ultimately faces a difficult choice in the end between doing what is expedient or doing what is right.
The B&W cinematography by Joseph Biroc, who worked often with Aldrich, is superb; there is also some terrific dialog that hits with effect of a bullet: "Captain, down around where I come from, we dearly love our whiskey. But we don't drink with another man unless we respect him."
A few years later Ebsen and Albert would be starring in "The Beverly Hilbillies" and "Green Acres," two of CBS's top rated rural comedies, material about as far from ATTACK as they could get. Marvin would go on to work with Aldrich several times, most notably in THE DIRTY DOZEN; interestingly his Colonel Bartlett, swaggering in his spotless uniform, gives us the only hint what his PATTON might have looked like-he was the producers first choice for the role, but Marvin passed on the part. Smithers would go on to do a lot of work on TV, most memorably a decade later on a classic episode of "Star Trek" where he played a Star Fleet officer who, unlike his officer in ATTACK, does not do his duty. Albert and Aldrich would reunite when he played the Warden in THE LONGEST YARD.
Many of the reviewers for ATTACK on IMDb mention how they first saw this movie as a kid on TV and how it made a strong impression on them. It has some of the strongest scenes in any war movie of its time, especially the part where a German tank roles over a screaming Palance's arm and pins him there. I can attest that this stuff, not BAMBI, was what we wanted to watch when we were young boys. It has been called a forgotten film, but not by anybody who has seen it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's 1944 in France, and a cowardly American captain (Eddie Albert)
causes the needless deaths of his men, led by Lt. Jack Palance. Palance
promises to kill Albert if it happens again. And it does.
Jack Palance is an acquired taste, but there's always something gripping and unique about his panting and breathlessness and gnashing of teeth. He's usually a decent or damaged man caught in an uncaring society - whether it's the American army or (as in THE BIG KNIFE) a film studio. With his voice, he does things to lines that no one else can. His bravery and heroism lead him only to death in ATTACK, but Albert ends up no better.
The performances seem rather melodramatic by today's standards (or are modern 'standards' nothing more than a fashion?), especially Albert's complete breakdown toward the end. Lee Marvin appears to be the great survivor here, providing military leadership without losing his eye for the political fast lane back home. But it's a toss-up what will happen to him once William Smithers has finished his phone call. But the film ends there, and we'll never know. Buddy Ebsen is good here, his acting rather measured and careful, steadying the noisy pyrotechnics of Palance and Albert.
Looks good in black & white - the war scenes are quite realistic for the Fifties, and the more talkative scenes are in suitably claustrophobic settings. I spotted a brief bit of wartime documentary stock about half way through, but the rest of it is Aldrich through and through. (Its treatment of the philosophy of war bears some similarity to Kubrick's PATHS OF GLORY.)
Interesting twist of a war drama about a National Guard infantry
company stuck with an incompetent, politically appointed, company
commander, Captain Cooney, played by Eddie Albert. Cooney's father is a
big whig back home and the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Bartlett,
played by a very young looking Lee Marvin has big political ambitions
for after the war so he puts Eddie Albert in command of Fox Company as
a favor to the 'Old Man'. Captain Cooney is a coward and at the
beginning of the movie leaves one of his squads hanging out to dry and
they are quickly killed. When Lt. Costa (Jack Palance) is ordered to
take a farmhouse at the edge of an enemy infested town, he warns Cooney
what will happen if the company doesn't show up as promised. Cooney's
behavior eventually puts the whole battalion at risk and pushes each
man nearly to his breaking point.
The performances are brilliant all around with Albert and Palance turning in arguably the best performances of their careers. Lee Marvin essentially does Lee Marvin and if you've seen a few of his movies you know what to expect. Attack is 107 minutes but felt more like two hours. The pacing is spotty and another round of editing, cutting six or seven minutes, would vastly improve the film. I'm not sure but there were a few spots in the beginning where it seemed they mixed up the ranks and had a lieutenant in charge of the squad that was killed. Lieutenants command platoons in an infantry company, sergeants command squads.
I first saw this when I was nine years old. It has stuck in my mind
because it was the first war movie I'd seen that was not basically guts
and glory. Rather it showed a nasty side of war, focusing on a cowardly
US Army company commander (as the Allies approach Germany during WW II)
and how his men react (has some similarities in tone to "Paths of
I just saw it in the cheap videos ($9.98) section of Shopper's Drug Mart and bought it. It is as good as I remembered and well-worth getting. Even has Geneva Convention moments that are relevant today. Lee Marvin is the best I've ever seen him, and Jack Palance and Eddie Albert are very good.
My father was a veteran of World War II, and he suffered all of his
remaining life - 20 years - after it was over. This was his favorite
film. And this is back when you had to be lucky enough to catch it on
When it became available of VHS cassette, I immediately bought it, years after my father died.
I asked him why he loved this movie so much. He told me it was just like the way it was. Each day was the day you were going to die. And, no one was going to help that.
He fought because he had to, and wanted to. But that didn't make it any easier.
The film shows much of the conflict and interplay between senior officers, but underneath all of that, it is a film about fighting in that war.
I cannot recommend it more.
Don't expect anything glorious. It is hard to watch. But it makes movies like 'Saving Private Ryan' look weak.
This film is remarkable for all the reasons shown in your review but there are one or two things that need to be emphasised. The none-datedness of the film is incredible - it stands up alongside any film before or since . The performances of three of the leading actors, Jack Palance, Eddie Albert and Lee Marvin are arguably the best of their careers. It is also notable for the quality of the supporting actors. Buddy Ebsen gives his usual superb performance alongside regular support stars like Richard Jaekel and Robert Strauss. The "introduction" of William Smithers was a landmark even though he did not go on to the sort of stardom he seemed to promise. The only downside was in some of the scenery and the vehicles used. Shots of the same war-torn tower, from different angles, appeared in scenes supposed to be in two different towns, whilst the mocked-up German tanks bore no resemblance to those used in reality in the Ardennes, where the action is set.
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