During the summer of 1941, Germany and its European allies invade the Soviet Union. Fascist Italy participates at the invasion. The first trains carrying Italian soldiers arrive in the Soviet Union during grain-harvest season. The Soviet Army withdrew during the initial German onslaught that spearheaded the invasion. The newly arrived Italian soldiers wonder at the size of the Soviet countryside that seems to never end. The soldiers also notice the Soviets withdrew so fast that many fields have not been harvested yet. Fields of wheat, sunflower and corn glow golden under the bright summer sun. The Italians attempt to make friends with the Soviet civilians whom they meet at various stopping points along the way. But the civilians are scared of the invaders and rightfully so. The German troops have already passed through, terrorizing the Soviet populace. The Italian soldiers even try to share their bread rations with the civilians and they try to cheer the Russians up by singing a ...Written by
I remember seeing this movie (Attack and Retreat) as a kid back in the seventies. There are many, many images which have stuck in my mind from this film: The young soldier and girl in the vast sunflower field, the lone Russian tank mowing down Italian troops in a Russian town, Soviet cavalry charging over the snow fields, "Stalin's Organs" rocket launchers filling the skies with fire, a good-natured chase to get to a dead snow rabbit in no-man's land, all this after 30 years!
I recently bought the video of this film, and forgot how good it really is. The best thing about it is the subject matter. One-it is a war film Two-it lacks a sappy romance angle Three-it deals with the Russian Front and Four-it deals with the Italian Army on that front.
Strikes against it (only from a modern film viewers point of view, not mine) One-it was done in Italian, then over-dubbed in English Two-it is, after all, a war film without sappy romance and Three-it is in black and white.
The feeling of loneliness, fear, panic, and desolation come out well in this movie. I can easily imagine the story of these men on the Russian front as having been real...it was as if the director himself had been there (not sure if he was). No character is expendable in this film (as it should be in a war film), so the fear of danger for each character is always there (much like Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front). The viewer is made to feel close to these men, because they are shown as being good, decent men caught in a huge man-destroying machine called the Eastern Front. The director shows much disdain for the German allies, portrays the Spanish allies as being rather silly running around with their banner even when the Earth was crashing down around them, and shows much respect for the Soviet soldiers, almost admiration. Pro-communist sympathy from a 1960's Italian director should be far from surprising. Even the characters liked the Internationale. One soldier liked to play it on his harmonica, and near the end two of them are whistling it. The Black Shirt "elite troops" were shown as thieves, cowards, and rapists. The average Italian soldiers were portrayed as victims along with the Russians.
One interesting thing about the film was the appearance of Peter Falk as an Italian Army surgeon/playboy, about ten years before he became better known as the TV character Columbo.
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