Saturday 23 July 2011

Attack (1956)

Robert Aldrich was a great director of tough, cynical films who liked to pick up rocks and observe what was going on underneath.  He was interested in depicting life with the veneer stripped away, laying bare our bitterness, hypocrisy and self-delusion.  If he had a world-view at all, he was a nihilist - think of the climax of KISS ME DEADLY (1955) or John Cassavetes exclaiming in THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967) that he has enough dynamite "to blow up the world!".  In fact, it's worth considering how many of his films end with the death of the central character.

ATTACK is classic Aldrich.  Set during WW2, it follows an Infantry Company commanded by the cowardly Captain Cooney (Eddie Albert).  His failure in the field is costing the lives of the men; Lieutenant Costa (Jack Palance) wants to kill him but Lieutenant Woodruff (William Smithers) would prefer to register a complaint with their Colonel (Lee Marvin).  Unfortunately the Colonel and the Captain are old friends from the Deep South and have a mutual agreement that will benefit them when the war is over.

This is war as I imagine it must be: an horrific muddle of compromise, self-interest, cowardice, bravery, corruption and treachery.  It's a million miles from the heroic self-sacrifice of, say, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.  The acting is terrific: Palance is outstanding as the essentially decent Lt Costa who becomes consumed by his hatred for Cpt Cooney.  At one point, his left arm crushed by a tank, Costa still manages to pick himself up to do what he believes has to be done.  Albert is really good too: his Cpt Cooney is a pathetic man in every sense but even he is shown to be a victim, of his own weakness.  Marvin is typically commanding as the corrupt Colonel Bartlett and the supporting cast features the likes of Richard Jaeckel, Strother Martin and Buddy Ebsen.

It's great stuff.  There isn't a single female character in the entire picture.  but don't let that fool you into thinking Aldrich only made men's movies: remember, this is the guy who went on to make WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962) and THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE (1968).

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