Attack! (1956)

Attack! (1956)

Attack!, based on the play The Fragile Fox, is one of those timeless officers vs. enlisted men movies that is made about all wars.  Here we pit one Lt. Costa (Jack Palance) vs. Captain Cooney (Eddie Albert), and as usual, much drama ensues.

It seems Cooney failed to follow through on support for one of Costa’s missions, this being one in a long string of incompetent moves on Cooney’s part.  Costa now has it in for Cooney, and it takes one of Costa’s fellow Lieutenants (William Smithers)  to keep him in line.

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The real story behind Cooney is that the only reason he has a command is due to Lt. Colonel Bartlett (Lee Marvin) who has him there as a favor to “the judge,” Cooney’s father.

Another mission comes up, to take and hold a nearby village.  Cooney sends in Costa’s squad, without really understanding what the whole situation is, and doing things “textbook style” rather than going off the available information.  Out of his squad of 20 men, Costa and four others, including Tolliver (Buddy Ebsen) and Bernstein (Robert Strauss) get pinned in a house on the edge of town by an SS Panzer division.

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They capture a German soldier and only three of the original five make it back with their prisoner.  Costa is not among them, or so it would seem.  He finally shows up as the Germans start to overrun their position, and the real drama ensues.

Really, I was worried when this film started.  The acting and script are just way overdone.  Stick a fork in it overdone.  Add to that a healthy dose of ‘film noir’-ish lighting and ambience, an overly-triumphant and out-of-place soundtrack, and you get the idea.  Like somebody tried to take the best of the stage, and mix it with the best of film from the early 40’s, and wasn’t quite sure how it would turn out.

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But as things start to unravel, all the pieces come together, and it really turns out to be a tension-filled drama at the end.  Palance is so freakin’ intense throughout the entire thing.  Picture an evil Dirty Harry, most of the time filmed with stark half-in half-out lighting, and that unmistakable Palance growl.  Yeah, that.

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Albert on the other hand, I had a hard time with him.  Had the role been cast with a younger guy I might have bought it, but he just seemed too out of place in the part.  Don’t even get me started on Lee Marvin’s part.  That terrible southern drawl and over dramatization just wasn’t him at all, and was actually a bit laughable.  Speaking of which, it was nearly impossible to get over Buddy Ebsen’s trademark Beverly Hillbilly accent, which was no fault of the filmmakers, but rather a chance coincidence of time that kept popping up.

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The battle scenes are surprisingly gritty and not quite as overplayed as the rest of it.  Couple that with the incredibly convincing scenery and sets, and this aspect of the picture really starts to bring things up a notch.  The “sniper” sequence especially was a fine bit of war movie.  Costa’s encounter with the tank is another incredibly intense and surprisingly matter-of-fact scene which adds to the final sum.

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If you can get through all of the problems, then you’ll be in for the real treat.  The final “act” in the basement is where the payoff is, make no mistake.  It’s a nearly Hitchcock-ian ending that will leave you appreciating this movie, despite its obvious flaws.

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Bit of war movie trivia: Attack! also pairs up Lee Marvin and Richard Jaeckel, who would later team up in The Dirty Dozen.

Here’s the trailer, which also seems to celebrate its ‘over-the-top-edness’ in style….


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