Attack

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Robert Aldrich made one of many people’s favorite war movies in The Dirty Dozen. In fact he made all kinds of great movies encompassing almost every genre. By 1956 he had turned out a handful of fine pictures, including Kiss Me Deadly and Vera Cruz. That year he turned his hand to the war movie and came up with the superior and intense Attack. This came at a time when the war film was transitioning from the flag-waving efforts of the forties to more bitter and realistic portrayals of combat.

The story focuses on the strains within a WWII company of US soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge. The company is under the command of Capt. Cooney (Eddie Albert), a privileged man who joined the army to satisfy the wishes of his father. However, Cooney is an undisguised coward whose position only remains tenable due to his friendship with Col. Bartlett (Lee Marvin), the battalion commander. The situation in the company has reached crisis point after Cooney’s inaction has caused the death of a squad of Lt. Costa’s (Jack Palance) men. When orders come through that a small town must be taken and held, Costa delivers an ultimatum to his superior – if he fouls up again then Costa will kill him.

Jack Palance reaches the breaking point

The film was adapted from a stage play and, as is often the case, is a real actor’s movie. Both Palance and Albert hold centre stage and the focus is on the duel between these two. Palance’s performance is raw and painful to watch as his endurance is fully tested. The latter part of the movie, when betrayal and the pointless slaughter drive him to the edge of reason, is something to behold. Eddie Albert gives him a good run for his money, forcing the viewer to both pity and despise Capt. Cooney. Lee Marvin’s colonel is at once cunning, ambitious, cynical, and the absolute epitome of cool machismo. Of the support cast, Buddy Ebson, Robert Strauss and Richard Jaeckel all give entertaining turns.

This is one of the finest war movies of the fifties and bears comparison to the best of Sam Fuller. It is probably one of Aldrich’s least known films but deserves a much wider recognition. It is on DVD in R1 and R2 from MGM and the full screen image looks very good. Being an MGM release the only supplement is a trailer. However, a movie as good as this should have a place in any self-respecting war collection.

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2 thoughts on “Attack

  1. I recall the first time I saw this and was shocked at the Albert role. Best bit he ever did in my opinion. I always think of Albert as sort of a comic player, but he did step into nasty roles upon occasion. Aldrich has a firm grip on the players in this one and all deliver. Several years ago I caught an episode of “Adventures in Paradise” from 1959 that Aldrich helmed called The Black Pearl that was quite good.
    (review up on IMDB) Lee Marvin just never seems to give a bad performance does he? Have you ever seen the war film, 8 IRON MEN 1952? Quite good WW2 film with Marvin and directed by Edward Dmytryk. Marvin made two films here in Calgary, PRIME CUT and DEATH HUNT. In the earlier film my kid brother is in one of the crowd shots in the film. Plus parts were made on the farm next to my uncle’s north of Calgary. We all drove out to watch some of the filming. Check out General Electric Theater episode “The Doctors of Pawnee Kill” 1957. It is tight western with Marvin, Kevin McCarthy, Ted de Corsia and Claude Akins. Review on IMDB

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