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4.4 out of 5 stars47
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 23 October 2004
A World War 2 tale, set in or around the Battle of the Bulge. An American colonel with political ambitions (Lee Marvin) pushes forward one of his companies, assuring the company commander (Eddie Albert) that the village he has to take is unlikely to present any dangers. Inevitably, the first platoon in there (led by Jack Palance) will find itself in a murderous trap. Arnold lacks the courage to do the job, but he comes from a good family with powerful political connections. Marvin needs this support if he is to succeed in politics after the war: he knows the war is won, he's already focusing on his own future ... and he's prepared to ignore the obvious cowardice and incompetence of Arnold.
Robert Aldrich offers a striking study in courage and cowardice, ambition and duty, leadership and indecision. Originally a stage play, the structure of the production does suffer in places from this. However, instead of the guns-blazing, flashy special effects of recent war movies, 'Attack' often feels claustrophobic, with men pinned into small rooms and glum cellars. While it sometimes feels a bit 'staged', at others, the sense of confined space means you can almost smell the sweat. There are echoes of Tennessee Williams here.
Shot in black and white, the film has a distinct noir quality. Indeed, one of its most attractive features is the photography, the use of light and dark to emphasise the loneliness and the isolation of the soldiers. Palance has a rugged face at the best of times, but his cragginess is emphasised by the noir lighting ... and by a little cameo scene where he strips to the waist to work bellows for a blacksmith. This is Hollywood realism, juxtaposing the muscular, masculine Palance against the podgy, effete, political Arnold.
The acting can become almost melodramatic at times - Arnold, in particular, is in danger of becoming a caricature. In the end, it's a method acting tour-de-force as Arnold comes unpicked at the seams.
A serious subject, sentimental in places, but the photography and direction often gives it an almost documentary feels ... and don't ever doubt that soldiers do get sentimental from time to time. For all its breathlessness and raw emotion, for all the bulging muscles and taut jaws, this is not a very physical - or physically energetic - movie. The tension is in the dialogue and the interaction between characters. This can be a bit dated in places, a bit stereotypical, but there is a quality in the writing and in the drama which is sadly missing in many better known war movies.
What is the moral of the 'play'? Courage? Retribution? Justice? I tend to feel it's actually dishonesty, corruption, perversion. Truth is the first casualty of war. 'Attack' confirms that warfare is ultimately about lies - convincing yourself that the enemy are sufficiently different from you to be worthy of hate, convincing yourself that you're not scared, convincing yourself that the war has a meaning and a purpose, convincing yourself that it will lead to a better future.
A film which aspiring screenwriters should study and deconstruct. 'Attack' has genuine qualities in both its drama, its acting, its direction, and its cinematography. It is a film which will engage.
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on 19 March 2016
War films which take a small part of the conflict to examine its characters in detail often succeed much better than the gung-ho epic efforts. If one looks at films like 'A Bridge too far' for instance, it is the smaller details, like the American sergeant forcing the doctor to examine his CO at gunpoint and thereby saving his life which are the most telling. In 'A Hill in Korea', the commanding officer stuck facing the advancing Chinese is on National Service and backed up by an experienced Sergeant-Major and other films like 'A Walk in the Sun' examine the dynamics of an American platoon making its advance in Italy.

'Attack' is a drama about people under extreme pressure. Most of them are experienced soldiers like Lt. Costa and Sergeant Tolliver whilst others like Captain Cooney have commands at that level due to serving in the National Guard. However, he is a coward whose Dad used to beat some guts into him but failing dismally. The only reason Cooney commands at all is due his 'friend' Clyde, a Lieutenant Colonel who has political ambitions with Cooney's father, The Judge, which would be wonderfully enhanced if he {a) brought Cooney home from the war or better still, (b) brought him home a hero. The latter wasn't going to happen,After Cooney has caused Costa's plat but a dead 'hero' would also serve the purpose

After Cooney has caused the deaths of Costa's squad in a previous action in Aachen, It is obvious that the two will do more than cross swords. Costa knows that Clyde is protecting Cooney whose background was more privileged than his; Costa came from Pittsburgh and is physically strong and assertive - a natural soldier. His colleague Lt. Woodruff, Clyde's executive officer and liasion man is the only way Costa can get across his disgust of Cooney, his superior officer. A game of cards becomes very tense when, instead of believing that their war was over, the squad is summoned urgently back to duty because of the German breakthrough in the Battle of the Bulge. Costa tells Cooney that if he were to '-foul up, just once, I'll shove this grenade down your throat and pull the pin!' The battle lines are set.

The town of Lanelle has to be taken by Cooney whose orders are relayed to Costa. At this point, the squad is in the hands of officers who know what they're doing. The plan was to advance down hill into the ruins of Lanelle and hide up in that lil' ol' house at the edge of the town. Costa tells his soldiers to advance in line keeping timed spaces between the lines. If the town is occupied, the advance would be stopped so that not all of his squad would be trapped. What happened subsequently examined the details of fighting a war within the rules of the Geneva Convention and not succeeding and the consequences for Jewish soldiers if they are captured by the SS whose panzers occupy the town. The squad has to retreat , covered by artillery, but more soldiers are lost.

Costa is a brave soldier who almost saves his squad from tank attack by using a bazooka and grenade; unfortunately his heroism proved to be his downfall. Clyde meanwhile tells off Cooney about why he did not hold the town as he was told to do. At this point, Cooney broke down completely, reverting to childhood almost and it was up to Lieutenant Woodruff to take the situation in hand and take command. This all eventually ends up in a cellar and the confrontation between Cooney, the tin soldier, and Costa the dying man of steel .

These set pieces which stayed from the stage play heightened the tension. The war outside was less important than the conflict inside caused by soldiers failing to do their duty and putting others in danger. These were human conflicts which did not necessarily have war as their precursor but were deadly in a war situation. The acting by everybody was superb. Jack Palance as Costa was so convincing, Lee Marvin as the duplicitous Clyde using the war ruthlessly as a political stepping stone was terrific but Eddie Albert as Cooney had the most difficult role to play as it is not easy for a man to play a coward in a war film. Robert Strauss and other actors playing soldiers did not look as if they were acting whilst Buddy Ebsen as Tolliver put over in his folksy,down-home style what he thought of Cooney. In all,this was a gripping drama looking at human strengths and weaknesses under the stress of guns, smoke, violence and death - we choked on them all.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 December 2011
Attack is directed by Robert Aldrich and adapted to screenplay by James Poe from the play, Fragile Fox, written by Norman Brooks. It stars Jack Palance, Eddie Albert, Lee Marvin, William Smithers, Robert Strauss and Buddy Ebsen. Music is by Frank De Voll and cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc.

Europe 1944, Battle of the Bulge, and an American G.I. company not only have to contend with the German forces, but also with their own cowardly Captain.

Tough as nails and dripping with cynicism, Robert Aldrich's Attack falls into a small group of excellent war movies that exude a grim realism. The material to hand doesn't pull it's punches as it features heroic men captained by a coward (Albert as Erskine Cooney), whose cowardice is ignored by their superiors on account of his father's political pull. That it dared to suggest such a scenario ticked off the military to the degree they refused to give any aid to the production, meaning Aldrich had to make his movie on a minimal budget and with only a handful of military equipment he was able to rent or buy himself. This fact makes the finished product all the more remarkable, with Aldrich crafting a film of narrative potency that's punctured with periods of violence.

Starkly shot in black and white by ace cinematographer Biroc, film always feels claustrophobic, suitably edgy and bleak. Yet there is big heroic characters within the story, real men front and centre to the horrors of war. The military's refusal to aid the film seems daft, men such as Lt. Costa (Palance) and Lt. Woodruf (Smithers) are men to be proud of, that they stand against cowardice and the political manipulations of Lt. Col. Clyde Bartlett (Marvin) is note worthy and to be applauded. Would the might of the military rather the public be ignorant to the corruption of power? Attack depicts men of war as human beings reacting to said war, no soft soaping, differing responses are portrayed. This is no perfect world where thousands of personal are driven by a collective will, Attack calls it that there are bad eggs in every organisation, and it makes for a riveting viewing experience.

Packed with powerful performances and directed with a keen and clinical eye, Attack is a bold and brilliant movie that still packs a punch even today. 9/10
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This is not so much about war itself as a psychological study of ordinary men subjected to extraordinary circumstances. Director, Robert Aldrich, manages to elicit an astonishing performance from its lead, Jack Palance, as the agonized platoon leader, Lt. Joe Costa, suffering under the cowardly yoke of Eddie Albert’s monumentally incompetent company commander, Captain Erskine Cooney. Lee Marvin also turns up as the Machiavellian battalion commander, Lt. Colonel Clyde Bartlett, who comes from the same town as Cooney whose father is a local ‘big shot’ in a position to help Bartlett’s projected post war political career: hence Bartletts’ ‘blind eyes’ to Cooney’s combat avoidance tactics.

The black and white photography gives a bleak and gritty appearance to the combat scenes and the cast give first rate support to Palance’s mesmeric enactment of the tortured Costa, trying to keep his men alive despite the lack of leadership from the gutless Cooney.

In many respects, this film bears close comparison with Don Siegel’s later ‘Hell is for Heroes’: both illustrate the psychological effects on rifle companies of prolonged exposure to enemy fire in the field.
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on 4 August 2009
Attack is a very well known film, its not just a war film, although there are plenty of battle scenes (a little dated by modern standards perhaps) but rather a descent into madness by the central characters each in their own way. Palance ends up mad and raging, even Marvin's character is slightly mad in a cool and calculating way while Eddie Albert as the incompetent and ultimately pitiable captain in charge provides a contrast to all the heroism going on around him as his cowardice and fears born of his upbringing costs lives. Attack is an iconic film, full of drama and well worth the watch, repeatedly!
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on 30 May 2011
This is a fantastic war film that focuses mainly on incompetent leadership. Jack Palance is brilliant as well as all the supporting cast. The film is from a play and that is noticeable in many scenes that seem theatrical but that doesn't stop this film from being a legitimate masterpiece. Theres a great script accompanied by some great action. This movie is alot better than modern hollywood efforts about American soldiers in Europe after the D Day landings like Saving Private Ryan.
I think this film would be more well known if it had a more memorable title, 'Attack' in my opinion doesn't quite work and doesn't fit that well with the movie, unless the movie makers were refering to attacking authority before it's too late.
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on 15 December 2015
This is a great film, much brooding atmosphere, forget that it's in black & white, war's horrible in any colour.
Great acting and fine cast.
I think this is one of Jack Palance's best films.
We are constantly reminded of famous lines from films such as On the Water Front, Gone With the Wind, Casablanca etc., but this film has one better:
"Play the gutless wonder once more Cooney and I'll ram this grenade down your throat and pull the pin!" (eat your heart out Marlon Brando).
Make this a 'must' buy for the festive break.
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on 6 May 2012
The stage original remains in the interior set pieces: playing cards with Lee Marvin; under attack in the shell of a house; confrontation with the spineless officer (unconvincingly done); hiding in a cellar whilst German tanks attack. But they are involving and the acting is very good. The opened-out moments of battle are pretty good too but particularly near the end where Palance's face manages to convey the heroism and pain despite the absence of special effects gore.
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on 2 February 2014
This movie was just pure magic totally brilliant the action from the start was just awesome and well worth recommending.
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on 13 September 2009
Devastating, bleak and depressing.

Fantastic acting, sharp picture with good sound.

The futility and corruption of war shown with human weakness and virtue.

Probably the best second world war film ever made and one which goes way beyond the horror of war in its message.
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