Tuesday, 17 June 2008

ATTACK! (1956)

When Robert Aldrich's ATTACK! was shown at the Cannes Film Festival the American Ambassador left the theatre, refusing to sit through a movie that shows American soldiers betrayed by their own officers. Since then we've had Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq and the film seems even more topical than when it was first released. In the ten years following World War Two Hollywood made a whole series of what have been called "patrol movies" - A WALK IN THE SUN, MEN IN WAR, STEEL HELMET, FIXED BAYONETS, EIGHT IRON MEN and ATTACK! For me Aldrich's film is one of the best American films of the 50's. I was young when I first saw it and it's imagery has stayed with me ever since, helped along by at least half a dozen viewings since, none of which have reduced the power of this movie. The basic story is of a soldier who sees some of his men slaughtered because of the cowardly indecision of his commanding officer. He promises that if it happens again he will kill the officer. It happens and the soldier symbolically (as surely as Lee Marvin did in POINT BLANK) claws his way back from death to exact his revenge. The film is adapted from a play Aldrich's direction and the carefully framed cinematography help one forget this. Performances are top notch with three real-life war heroes, Jack Palance, Eddie Albert and Lee Marvin taking the leads with more than adequate support from William Smithers (who really deserved better parts after his pivotal performance here), Buddy Ebsen, Robert Strauss and Richard Jaekel. Strother Martin has a small role right at the beginning. This is a powerful film and a perfect companion to Aldrich's other play adaption, THE BIG KNIFE, also starring Palance. Palance was, as illustrated by ATTACK!, a great actor and was sadly given few roles worthy of his talents after the 1950's, too often being relegated to low budget horror films and villains (however enjoyable a Palance villain may be) in Spaghetti Westerns. Rating *****


Cerpts said...

I have never seen ATTACK but I believe it's mentioned in the indispensible book SEEING IS BELIEVING by Peter Biskind: a seminal examination of the films of the 1950s. I've read the damn thing numerous times, I reread it about 6 months ago and before you wrote this post I had already pulled the book out yesterday and was thinking about rereading it AGAIN. The subtitle is (hopefully I get this right) "How We Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties". It's an extremely illuminating and fun look at many representative 50's films and what they were saying about American culture in the 50s. Everything from the usual suspects like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, ON THE WATERFRONT and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE to telling gems like EXECUTIVE SUITE, BROKEN ARROW and the aforementioned ATTACK. Particular attention is given to the dialogue between conservatism and liberalism, city vs nature and the all important battle between the sexes. I've never read anything else by Biskind but I can't recommend this book highly enough. And now that I'm talking about it, I'll have to take a look at some of his other books -- if I can find them.

Cerpts said...

Actually, it's a whole chapter -- or chaptoid -- about ATTACK! in the book.