Saturday, May 25, 2024


Another movie in TCM's Memorial Day lineup that I had marked for watching was Attack. This one shows up tonight at 8:00 PM, so I made a point of watching it.

The movie starts with a pre-credits sequence in "Europe, 1944". Obviously, this is in the middle of World War II, or more accurately, in the later stages of the European theater since it's after the D-Day invasion. (Place names on the signs suggest they're in Belgium which would place things around the time of the Battle of the Bulge, except that that took place around Christmas 1944 and nothing in the movie looks like winter weather.) A platoon gets caught in a skirmish, and things go badly. Second in command Lt. Costa (Jack Palance) orders a charge that should be backed up by cover fire, but the unit commander, Capt. Cooney (Eddie Albert) inexplicable fails to provide the covering fire, leading to a bunch of American soldiers needlessly getting killed.

Costa obviously has good reason to dislike Cooney, and they're going to be seeing a lot of each other, and not only in combat since they're still in the same unit. When they get back behind the front lines, they're set to meet Cooney's commander, Lt. Col. Bartlett (Lee Marvin). It's at this point that we get some exposition that makes things a bit clearer, and implies that we're going to get a stage-play like drama rather than an action movie. Cooney has a prominent family, and the implication is that it's family connections that got Cooney his rank as a commander. Bartlett, for his part, is worried about what's coming after the war, as he's thinking about politics; whether this is electoral or internal military politics isn't quite clear and not that relevant anyway.

When the three men are set to meet for a poker game, a fourth is also involved: Costa's friend Lt. Woodruff (William Smithers). Woodruff is closer to neutral in all of this, although he definitely gets why Costa dislikes Cooney and shares the belief that commanding troops in battle isn't exactly Cooney's strength. With that in mind, Woodruff talks to Bartlett and asks if it would be possible for Cooney to be given a transfer to a desk job well away from the front lines, as this would be better for everybody, including Cooney. Smithers of course doesn't know about the Bartlett's ties to Cooney, and Bartlett eventually puts Woodruff off by suggesting that after the last skirmish, their platoon is going to get sent to the rear and that, besides, the war is going to be over soon anyway.

Yeah, right, although in Bartlett's defense he couldn't know that the Germans were going to stage the Battle of the Bulge counteroffensive. Needless to say, this requires more American troops at the front, so any R&R away from the action is going to have to way. Cooney's squadron advances on a village, and things don't go well when the Germans turn out to be occupying said village. Cooney on the one hand, and the men under him, especially Costa, have differing ideas on how to deal with their being under fire.

Attack is one of those movies that's gone under the radar, no pun intended, I think in part because it was more or less an independent release through director/producer Robert Aldrich. Although there are combat scenes, the movie is decidedly more of a character study, and not a bad one at that. However, it does feel a lot at times as though it's belying its stage origins.

Intriguingly, Attack doesn't have any screen thanking the Department of Defense for their cooperation in making this movie. That's because the department didn't help at all. They saw the script and how it made some of the officers look quite bad, and basically said no way in hell were they helping. In some ways I think that works to the movie's advantage, although I think it also leads to the look that is at times a bit stagey.

If you want a war movie that's not quite the Hollywood rah-rah without being as revisionist as later movies -- especially those about the Vietnam War-- Attack isn't a bad little movie to watch.

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