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Attack and Retreat (1964)

Italiani brava gente (original title)
Chronicle of the unheralded and unsuccessful invasion of the Soviet Union by the Italian army during World War II.


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Ferro Maria Ferri
Raffaele Pisu ...
Andrea Checchi ...
Valeri Somov ...
Medic Captain
Nino Vingelli ...
Lev Prygunov ...
Grigory Mikhaylov ...
Russian Partisan (as Grigorij Mikhailov)
I. Paramonov ...
German Deserter
Boris Kozhukhov ...
Vincenzo Polizzi ...


Chronicle of the unheralded and unsuccessful invasion of the Soviet Union by the Italian army during World War II.

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Drama | History | War






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Release Date:

16 September 1964 (Italy)  »

Also Known As:

Attack and Retreat  »

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Did You Know?


The Russian tanks featured in the film are T-34/85's, which were not produced until early 1944, a full a year after the events in this film took place. See more »

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User Reviews

The most definitive extant film on the subject of the Mussolini's Russian Adventure, 1942
23 August 2013 | by (Los Angeles, CA) – See all my reviews

This is up there with STORM OVER THE PACIFIC as one of the most criminally unappreciated films dealing with the subject of World War 2. To my mind, it may well be the only film that depicts or even mentions the Italian expeditionary force on the Eastern Front battling against the Russians from 1941-1943, largely routed and destroyed along with their Romanian allies during the surrounding of the 6th Army at Stalingrad.

The film follows a small unit of the much larger ARMIR force beginning with their hopeful and largely uncontested advance through the Ukraine in 1941. Things get a little wonky with the Germans contesting who gets to claim victory over a hard-fought battle over the Bug River, and even more-so with a unit of Italian Black Shirts led by an unscrupulous Arthur Kennedy and their organized looting. A tacked-on episode involves Peter Falk as a disillusioned Italian medic traded with Russian Partisans to provide some altruistic care in the midst of a lot of embittering carnage and insanity. Toward the end, things turn into an existentially nihilistic death march across the frozen steppes of Russia where the separated soldiers attempt to escape back to the imagined safety of their retreating front lines.

Filmed in stark high-contrast black-and-white, the Soviet influence upon this film is very clear with its frequently artistic and experimental approach to the grim subject matter. This clashes a bit when we see it saddled with the expressive physical gesturing and bad dubbing we've become accustomed to from low budget Italian Euro-war movies. The film feels like an odd mish-mash of war epic, exploitation B-movie, and documentary-style art film all in one package so it fails just about as much as it succeeds, but contains more than its fair share of memorable moments.

Who can forget the image of the lone Russian girl screaming in the middle of a sea of sunflowers while soldiers charge through... the T-34 machine-gunning bewildered soldiers riding a merry-go-round... the horizon ablaze with Katyusha rocket fire... or the Russians charging their cavalry through the snow into a mechanized column of retreating Axis soldiers?

While the film is mostly a collection of loosely connected darkly ironic slices of life on the front, it is most successful when it sticks with history and presents the big battles. Depending on which cut you come across, this film contains a lot of historically accurate reenacting of some of the biggest battles of the early Eastern Front on the largely on locations they actually occurred at. The full cooperation of the Soviet Union was thrown behind this film with lots of tanks, trucks, extras, and armaments generously provided, and really shows in the scope. Unfortunately the filmmakers go too far in trying to play to many masters at once, painting the Soviets as noble heroes, the Germans and Italian Fascists as brutal thugs, and the regular Italian soldiery as patriotic family men who turn into hapless malingerers and deserters once they come to suffer from poor leadership, provisions, and lack of equipment. Much of this may be based on history, but the stereotyping at play becomes increasingly distracting and annoying as the film progresses to the point where it feels like the advancing waves of noble Soviets are invincible and infallible... like an unstoppable typhoon our bewildered protagonists have found themselves caught up in.

It's likely the pro-Red stance of this film which caused it to be swept under the carpet and never get much of a release in the United States, coming at the height of the Cold War. For the casual modern viewer or student of history though there's a lot of entertainment and educational value to take away here once one sifts through the propaganda as merely a product of the time of the film's historiography. It almost says more about what was going on in a very politically divided Italy in 1965 than what was going on in Russia in 1941-42. Either way, this awkward and flawed, yet beautifully crafted film certainly has the artistic merit to deserve a wider and cleaned up, definitive release.

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