Wednesday, September 10, 2014

CRACKER? Attack! (1956)

“Attack!” is a 1956 film from Robert Aldrich (“The Dirty Dozen”) based on the play “Fragile Fox”.  The movie was low budget and was shot on the back lot in just 35 days.  Because of the plot, the Pentagon refused any cooperation.  Shame!  Aldrich had to rent two decidedly inauthentic tanks.  This justs adds to the “charm” of the film.  (First use of the word charm in a review of this movie.) 

The film is set in WWII Belgium before the Battle of the Bulge.  A depleted American platoon led by Lt. Costa (Jack Palance) is assaulting a pill box and gets pinned down.  The company commander Capt. Cooney (Eddie Albert) is a coward who refuses to support the attack.  Costas survives and is in a bad mood, to say the least.  It turns out that Lt. Col. Bartlett (Lee Marvin) is propping up Cooney for future patronage from Cooney’s father who is an influential judge.  Costas is very cynical and the only thing that prevents him from fragging Cooney is his friend Lt. Woodruff (William Smithers).  Woodruff is the buffer between Costas and Cooney.  He wants Cooney gone, but doesn’t want his friend in Leavenworth.

Bartlett orders Cooney to capture the next town.  Cooney decides a full scale effort (which would involve him facing flying metal) is uncalled for and orders Costas to lead a squad into an Alamo on the outskirts of the town.  Before leaving, Costas tells Cooney that if he leaves him hanging again, “I’ll shove this grenade down your throat.”  He forgets to add “sir”.  It’s “last stand” time.  Costas is shocked, shocked to find that Cooney pulls a Cooney.

you don't want to get Costas angry
It’s Hitler’s last great counteroffensive time as the Battle of the Bulge hits the company.  Bartlett arrives and literally slaps Cooney into defending the town at all costs.  Cooney does not have the cowardice slapped out of him.  Instead, he snaps and is psychiatrist couch-bound.  Unless Costas has survived the Alamo.  Indeed, Costas arrives in a friggin’ fraggin’ mood, but is distracted by having to take out a German tanks with a bazooka.  He then suffers one of the best woundings in war movie history.  The final scene takes place in a basement with Germans rampaging above.  Things are said, things are done.  Issues are resolved.  Not a happy ending, but satisfying.
Eddie Albert channeling the opposite
of his WWII persona

Talk about getting bang for your buck.  The only thing low budget is the sets and the tanks.  This was Aldrich’s seventh movie and he is definitely showing his style and panache.  The film does have the stage vibe you often get when plays are transferred to film, but he uses cinematic touches to negate that.  His camera shoots through barriers and doorways.  There are shots from above and diagonal views and deep focuses.  It’s a bit showy, but adds to the appeal of the movie.  The score gets attention with sometimes discordant piano music.  The acting is outstanding with Palance successfully treading the line between scene-chewing and scene-stealing.  It is a remarkable performance with tremendous energy.  Costas is one of my favorite war movie characters.  The rest of the cast is perfect.  Marvin is loathsome and Smithers (in his first big role) is solid.  Kudos to Eddie Albert (a war hero, as were Palance and Marvin) for daringly playing against type.  John Wayne would have never accepted a role like that and he was not even a veteran.  The supporting cast includes Buddy Ebsen, Robert Strauss, and Richard F’in Jaeckel (of course).  If you are of my generation, you will feel very comfortable watching this movie.   The combat scenes are fairly good for a play, but you’ll remember the dialogue more than the action.  The movie blends violence and exposition well.  There are some good lines.  My favorite comes from Pvt. Bernstein (Strauss), who after he encounters Bartlett and Cooney, says: “When you salute them two, you have to apologize to your arm.”  There is some good comic relief in the film. 

after the war, he used his shooting skills to
uncover some buubling crude
If your heart goes out to the officers instead of the enlisted men, you might not enjoy this movie.  It is not so much anti-war as it is anti-brass.  It tends to be moralistic in its anti-authority theme.  Other themes include;  the military is like politics, the higher up you go the more corrupt the officers are, and following orders can really suck.  Released in 1956, it was a harbinger of the 60’s wave of modern war films.  The fact that it is relatively unknown and did not do well at the box office shows that Americans were not yet ready for this type of flag furler.  This is 2014 – see this movie!   It will definitely crack my 100 Best list. 
P.S.  Check out that awesome poster.  Jack Palance is one of the few human beings that actually could pull a grenade pin with his teeth.  And for once the tag line is accurate.  And that is one kick-ass trailer.  Old school style. 

Grade  =  A-


  1. Yep, definitely an excellent film. I like your comment that it is anti-authoritarian, not anti-war. While all of the cast is good, Eddie Albert blows me away every time I watch it. Glad to see that it will make your list.

  2. Albert was a true war hero as he was awarded a Bronze Star at Tarawa where he rescued Marines while commanding a landing craft. He certainly was a good actor who could play anything. I remember him most as the clueless city slicker in "Green Acres", the malevolent warden in "The Longest Yard" and a detective in "Switch".

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  4. I just watched this outstanding movie. Came here to make sure you had reviewed it. What a performance by Jack Palance!

  5. Love this film! I'm a huge Aldrich fan but this one stands alone in the annals of war films. It's sad more people aren't familiar with it.


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