US, 1956, 107 minutes, Black and white.
Jack Palance, Eddie Albert, Lee Marvin, Robert Strauss, Richard Jaeckel, Buddy Ebson, Peter van Eyck.
Directed by Robert Aldrich.
Attack is one of the earliest films by Robert Aldrich, coming after he made the westerns Vera Cruz and Apache and the thrillers The Big Knife and Kiss Me Deadly. Jack Palance had starred in The Big Knife and stars here. It is a strong performance as a commander at the end of World War Two setting up an observation post, clashing with the Germans, but despised by his men, especially Captain Cooney (Eddie Albert in a strong role) who fears that he is being promoted simply because of his connections with the top brass.
The film not only shows the Americans in conflict with the Germans in a tense manner, but highlights the dramatic tensions between officers as well as officers and men in the field. The film is grim, shows details of active warfare and has a pessimistic ending.
Lee Marvin who was the lieutenant colonel in this film was used as the commander in Robert Aldrich’s 1960s classic, The Dirty Dozen. The film was in competition in Venice in 1956. It won the Italian film critics’ award.
1. Was this a good war film? What attitude did the screenplay take towards war? What attitudes did it want from its audience? Did it successfully elicit these responses?
2. What conventions of war films did it use? In a commonplace way? Well? For a moral and message purpose?
3. The film was made in the mid-50s. Is this evident? In what way? Its impact on audience response to war in this decade? Its impact on audience response to war now? Is the film easier to accept now?
4. The tone of the title and its irony? The attack facts of the film? The message implied by the facts presented and the tone of the title? What was the basic was message?
5. How were the incidents portrayed in this film a microcosm of the whole war? The effect of these incidents and their multiplication throughout the whole war theatre? Is this an effective way of making a war film?
6. The initial situations the isolation of the men, their deaths, Cooney's refusal of responsibility? The initial impact of this? Its repetition in the film? And the reinforcing of audience attitudes towards Cooney and the men?
7. Was Costa an effective central character for the film? Was he sympathetic? Did he have right on his side? The fact that he was so nervy, the experience of being isolated, seeing his men killed? his attitudes towards war and his wanting to succeed? his attitudes towards Cooney? The important sequences of his talking and explaining what he stood for? Standing up to Cooney and to Bartlett? The leadership that he could exercise over the men, especially in their predicament in the house? His leading them to safety? The ultimate fighting? His confrontation with Cooney and his wishing him to hell? The impact of his death and continually seeing him dead with his mouth open in shock? What comment on war was made via his character?
8. How did Cooney contrast with him? what did Cooney stand for? His cowardly behaviour? The background of his father's proving himself, getting a commission without deserving it, being used by Bartlet for politics after the war? His inability to make decisions? The screenplay's showing him withdraw from making decisions? And yet his bullying when his authority was challenged? His fear, his growing insanity? Was it credible that he would be shot? The question of his posthumous decoration? What message of war was communicated via his character?
9. How villainous was Bartlett for this film? His authority and abuse of it? Using Cooney for his own purposes? An effective soldier but corrupt? His enjoying Cooney's hospitality? Yet his knowing the truth about him? His using of Woodruff and Costa? The discussion about Cooney's decoration and his threatening Woodruff? What message was communicated via Bartlett?
10. Woodruff and his companionship for Costa? His seeing the truth about Cooney and Bartlett? His inability to help Costa during the attack? The decisions that he had to make about the truth? Was he right in deciding to tell the truth at the end? What values did he stand for?
11. Were the ordinary men credible in this film? The Jewish comedian etc? The ordinary men in their following Costas being abandoned by Cooney, using their wits, held-up in the house, escaping back, their reaction to the shooting of Cooney? What did the film say war did to men? The themes of power, fear, cowardice, heroism, responsibility?
12. The place of death in the film? The initial deaths, Cooney allowing people to die, the massacre in the attack itself, the death of the Germans, the death of Costa, the death of Cooney? What message about war and death was given?
13. What did the film have to say about personal and human integrity?
14. Was the film a pessimistic one about war and human behaviour? Was it modified by Woodruff's decision at the end?