Cast & Crew
On a European battlefield in 1944 during World War II, Lt. Joe Costa radios his captain, Erskine Cooney, to provide cover while a squad led by Sgt. Ingersol makes a daring attempt to capture a German pillbox. Cooney indicates he will help, but then fails to respond to Costa's pleas to intervene, and Ingersol and his squad are killed. Later at the base camp, Cooney, who attained his rank through politics, anxiously prepares for the arrival of his superior officer, Col. Clyde Bartlett, for a card game. Lt. Harry Woodruff and Costa will be attending the game, and Harry privately tells Costa about his plan to confront Bartlett about Cooney's incompetence. Costa surmises that as Bartlett is from the same town as Cooney, whose father is a powerful judge, it is unlikely he will remove Cooney from his post. Costa blames Cooney for Ingersol's death, and at the card game, loses his temper and leaves. When they are alone, Bartlett listens to Harry's complaints. Although he refuses to remove Cooney, he assures Harry that the platoon will not be seeing any more action. However, when the Germans break through Allied lines, the unit is reassigned and is ordered to take the Belgian town of Lommel. Harry suggests a safe plan of attack, but Cooney insists on his own plan, whereby Costa's platoon will approach the town on the exposed main road and take a farmhouse on the edge of town. Costa and his sergeant, Tolliver, observe that this will leave them vulnerable to attack for four hundred yards. Cooney is immovable, however, so Costa demands he and Harry promise that they will send support if needed. After threatening to kill Cooney if he breaks his word, Costa moves out with the troops. The first squad to attempt the approach is shot down, so Costa leads the survivors, Tolliver and privates Abramowitz, Bernstein, Ricks and Snowden, to the farmhouse, where two German soldiers retreat unnoticed into the cellar. Surrounded by German tanks and snipers, Costa radios Harry for help, but Cooney refuses to send more men. After Harry reluctantly tells Costa that they are on their own, the Germans, a soldier named Otto and an officer, emerge from the cellar, and are disarmed. In order to determine the firepower against them, Costa forces the captain out the front door of the farmhouse, and he is swiftly killed by his own troops. A terrified Otto then admits that there are eighteen tanks and SS troops surrounding them. Costa notifies Harry that they are pulling out and requests smoke cover. Providing as best as he can for his men, Costa leads them across an exposed field, but Abramowitz is shot and dies in Costa's arms. At company headquarters, Cooney's orderly, Jackson, is overwhelmed by the number of wounded soldiers returning from the attack, but is pleased when Tolliver, Snowden and Bernstein return with their prisoner, Otto. Cooney further earns his subordinates' disrespect when he beats the defenseless Otto, and Bartlett, who has just arrived, reprimands him for failing to send in his entire company to take Lommel. As a result, the German Army is now approaching their position. Bartlett threatens to arrest Cooney if he falls back, as it would leave another company unprotected, and strikes Cooney after the coward begs to be reassigned. Harry then warns Bartlett of his intention to report the colonel and Cooney to their superiors, if he survives the next battle. Cooney sobs after Bartlett leaves, whimpering that he will never measure up to his father. Moments later, a wounded Costa returns intending to murder Cooney. However, when Jackson reports that Tolliver and the soldiers are trapped in a cellar by an enemy tank, Costa delays his plans to help his men. Costa attacks two tanks with mortar shells, but falls, and his arm is crushed when a tank rolls over him. Bernstein, meanwhile, is pinned under a beam in the cellar, and his injuries are treated by Snowden and Tolliver. As SS officers overrun the town, Jackson and Harry arrive to help, followed by Cooney, who has gone insane. Cooney intends to surrender, but Harry reminds him that the SS take no prisoners. Just then, Costa painfully drags himself down the cellar stairs and tries to shoot Cooney, but collapses and dies, after which Cooney kicks his body. When Cooney starts to go upstairs and threatens to kill anyone who opposes him, Harry shoots him in the back. Harry then instructs Tolliver to have him arrested when they are freed, but all the men agree that Cooney's death was just. In a show of solidarity, each man fires a bullet into Cooney's body. Moments later, Allied tanks move into the city, and Bartlett finds them in the cellar. Bartlett promotes Harry, and the men tell Bartlett that Cooney died trying to return to the company. Bartlett suspects how Cooney really died and, when he is alone with Harry, reveals he plans to get the Distinguished Service Cross for Cooney to satisfy Cooney's father. Harry is outraged and confesses to the murder, but implicates Bartlett because he refused to reassign Cooney. Bartlett urges Harry to accept the promotion and keep quiet, and that he will arrange for a posthumous citation for Costa as well. However, after Bartlett leaves, Harry contacts division headquarters to file a full report.
Peter Van Eyck
Jack R. Berne
Glen L. Daniels
David B. Koehler
Robert A. Reich
Robert G. Schiffer
Adele T. Strassfield
According to The Films and Career of Robert Aldrich by Edwin T. Arnold and Eugene L. Miller, Attack! was a very personal film for the director. Aldrich said, "My main anti-war argument was not the usual 'war is hell,' but the terribly corrupting influence that war can have on the most normal, average human beings, and the terrible things it makes them capable of that they wouldn't be capable of otherwise." It was meant, he said, to be a "sincere plea for peace."
Aldrich liked to use many of the same actors in his movies, a bonded repertory of sorts, which included Lee Marvin, Jack Palance, Richard Jaeckel and Eddie Albert. The latter four actors are particularly memorable in Attack!, giving their scenes an intensity which is rarely encountered in low-budget productions of this scale. In The Films and Career of Robert Aldrich, Richard Jaeckel remembers, "There were scenes of incredible tension - Palance coming down the stairs to get Albert - we were all impressed, even in rehearsals. It was a heavy project." Indeed, it was a war movie that went against the grain, a movie without traditional heroes, without the shiny gloss of the war movies of the time. Instead, it returned to the philosophical questioning of The Big Parade (1925) and All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) but also looked forward to such powerful anti-war films as Coming Home (1978).
Aldrich was a rebellious artist who came out of the old studio system, having worked with such legendary directors as Lewis Milestone, Joseph Losey and Abraham Polonsky. He was a fast learner and quickly established his own unique directorial style which resulted in a variety of innovative, rule breaking films such as The Big Knife (1955) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955). Eventually he came to own his own studio at the peak of his financial success but a few unfortunate career decisions in a row forced him to sell it a few years later as independent filmmakers faced tougher competition from the majors. He finally became disillusioned with much of the movie industry after he was deposed as president of the Director's Guild of America. Despite his successful lobby for more creative rights during his 1975-1979 term, he often felt that he had been secretly blacklisted for that same work. Aldrich officially retired in 1981 and died two years later from kidney failure. Despite the uneven quality of his work during his final years, Aldrich is still respected and revered by filmmakers today for the B-movie gems he made in the fifties and Attack! is one of the best.
In The Films and Career of Robert Aldrich, co-authors Edwin T. Arnold and Eugene L. Miller observed that the most dreadful loss of all for an Aldrich character is his self-respect. To retain that self-respect the character(s) have to, "Uphold the values of courage, decency, integrity and self-sacrifice - those values which give meaning to men's lives and bind them to the community; These values, of course, are evident in Aldrich's films and in his career and were among the reasons that he was first recognized outside the US as a true artist and not just an action director. He is revered by the French and considered an auteur in the same league with Nicholas Ray and Richard Brooks. In fact, Cahiers du Cinema, who referred to Aldrich as "le gros Robert," found "more love of the cinema" in his work than any other American director of the fifties. But there is something else going on in Aldrich's films besides the pure pleasure of making movies, and that is the continuing struggle between the individual and the system that surrounds him, something the director fought against his whole life. As Arnold and Miller put it, "Aldrich's films, although packaged as entertainments, were nonetheless moral studies of individual integrity - a conflict with the collective power of authority. If you stand against the system, you will be crushed. If you compromise with the system, you will pay with your self-respect. If you step outside the system, you forfeit your self-determination by default. Thus the conundrum posed by Robert Aldrich."
Producer/Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: James Poe, based on a play by Norman Brooks
Cinematography: Joseph Biroc
Art Direction: William Glasgow
Film Editing: Michael Luciano
Original Music: Frank De Vol
Special Effects: Dave Koehler
Principal Cast: Jack Palance (Lieutenant Joe Costa), Eddie Albert (Capt Erskine Cooney), Lee Marvin (Col. Bartlett), Robert Strauss (Private Bernstein), Richard Jaeckel (Private Snowden), Buddy Ebsen (Sergeant Tolliver), Jon Shepodd (Corporal Jackson), Peter van Eyck (German Officer), Strother Martin (Sergeant Ingersol).
BW-108m. Closed captioning.
by Joseph D'Onofrio
Listen to me, Cooney! If you put me and my men in a wringer---if you send us out there and let us hang---I swear, I swear by all that's holy, I'll come back. I'll come back and take this grenade and shove it down your throat and pull the pin!- Costa
The working title of this film was Fragile Fox. The film opens, before the credits, on a European battleground during World War II, where two squads, Fragile Fox 1, led by "Lt. Joe Costa," and Fragile Fox 2, led by "Sgt. Ingersol," are attempting to overtake German guns mounted in pillboxes. Costa calls for assistance from "Capt. Erskine Cooney," whose refusal results in the deaths of Ingersol and his squad. After "Sgt. Tolliver" observes that Costa is wasting batteries by continuing to radio for help that will never come, an empty helmet tumbles onto the grass, and the opening credits begin. The credits continue to run as the scene changes to company headquarters, where off-duty soldiers are attempting to keep warm, and jazz music plays over a loudspeaker. The camera follows "Jackson," Cooney's orderly, through a courtyard, and the credits end as the music on Armed Forces Radio concludes. The title Attack appeared without an exclamation point in the viewed print. However, various contemporary and modern sources list the title as Attack!, and advice for exhibitors in the pressbook indicates that the filmmakers considered the exclamation point optional.
Hollywood Reporter news items reported that actors Tom Laughlin, Ralph Reed, John Goddard and Robert Francis were cast in the picture, however, Francis died shortly before the start of production, and the appearance of the other actors in the final film has not been confirmed. According to the pressbook, women were banned from the set during rehearsal to establish authenticity for the actors. The pressbook also notes that battle scenes were shot on the Universal Studios and RKO-Pathé backlots, and at Albertson Ranch in Agoura, CA. A New York Times article dated February 19, 1956 reported the production cost approximately $850,000.
Although the script was approved by the PCA, which suggested changes to several death scenes, information in the Department of Defense Film Collection at Georgetown University Library indicates that the Army and Department of Defense (DOD) refused cooperation during the film's production. As a result, the production had to purchase or rent military equipment. According to an article in Labor's Daily, a previous film to be refused military cooperation was RKO's 1952 motion picture One Minute to Zero (see below), to which the Pentagon initially gave assistance, but later recanted. The Department of the Army, Office of the Chief of Information reported in a letter, dated January 13, 1956, that the negative evaluation of Attack was because "it is a very distasteful story and derogatory of Army leadership during combat including weak leadership, cowardice, and finally, the murder of the Company Commander." In a memo for the file dated January 26, 1956, the DOD concurred with the "Army appraisal."
Although the files indicate that the initial determination was based on a conversation with associate producer Walter Blake, the Army maintained its ruling after reading the script. Director Robert Aldrich protested to Donald E. Baruch, Chief of the Motion Picture Section, Pictorial Branch of the DOD, in a letter dated February 27, 1956, stating that "[t]heatrically and film wise, moral values are measured in comparatives; strength is measured against weakness; heroics against cowardice.... We feel strongly that our film is one that shows beyond question qualities of moral righteousness, leadership, courage, heroism and above all, personal integrity on the part of both enlisted men and officers of the Army. To make characters white it is necessary to have a reflective comparison against characters that are not white. Such is the case in our film."
Aldrich added that he believed the DOD's opinion of the film would improve after seeing the completed picture. In a response to Aldrich, Baruch referred to a Daily Variety news item dated February 24, 1956, which speculated that the producers would be unable to screen the film for servicemen due to the DOD disapproval. However, Baruch noted that approval for exhibitions was not influenced by his department. Baruch also pointed out that the film's immediate production schedule had not allowed for any "discussions in an endeavor to work out possible story solutions." Aldrich replied in a letter dated March 11, 1956, insisting that he would continue to pursue DOD approval, and added the following: "No citizen sets out intentionally to defame the defense organization of his country. There obviously can and at times should be differences of opinion as to what is for the good of the country and what is not. Should one lose such an argument at such a level, fine, but never to have the chance or the opportunity to make that argument to me seems a little ridiculous."
Various August 1956 news items reported that U.S. Congressman Melvin Price of Illinois, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, charged the DOD with censorship for its failure to assist Attack. According to a September 7, 1956 Daily Variety news item, after Price saw a special preview, and members of the State Dept. saw the film at the Venice Film Festival, the State Dept. reported that they found nothing objectionable in the film. According to articles in Daily Variety and The Washington Post and Times Herald dated August 31, 1956, Price attacked the DOD's decision, and surmised that "[i]f [Cooney] were an enlisted man, he could apparently be presented with impunity as a coward and a moral weakling. But according to the Pentagon, an officer May not be shown in such unfavorable light," and accused the DOD of trying to "depict all phases of military life through brass-colored glasses."
Following a private screening for Pentagon officials in September 1956, the DOD maintained its stance against the picture. On September 14, 1956, Daily Variety reported that the American Veterans Committee opposed the DOD's decision, and stated that the department was doing "a real disservice" to Americans, and that "[i]f the time comes when our military chiefs refuse to admit that there can be anything wrong with an officer solely because he is an officer, then it is time to beware." The matter was taken up by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights. The subcommittee Chief Counsel and Staff Director Charles H. Slayman, Jr. wrote to the DOD on September 18, 1956 inquiring as to the constitutionality of the DOD denying cooperation to Attack. In his letter, Slayman noted that members of the committee had viewed the film, and that they were seeking statistics about other cases in which cooperation had been denied to film productions. The final outcome of their investigation is not known. Although a November 1956 memo indicated that Attack was denied exhibition at Army bases in Germany, a September 19, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that "Army and Air Force officials have given their seal of approval" and would assist in promoting the film. In addition, a October 2, 1956 Daily Variety news item reported that after the U.S. Navy also approved the film for exhibition, the picture was approved for all servicemen.
In addition to sneak previews in various cities, Aldrich held a special preview screening of Attack on August 2, 1956 in New York for former war correspondents, which was followed by a screening the next day in Washington D.C. at the National Press Club, and a screening for Republican National Convention members in San Francisco, in mid-August 1956. The film won the Pasineti Award at the Venice Film Festival for best foreign film. Attack marked William Smithers' feature film debut. Modern sources credit Frank Beetson with costumes.
Winner of the Italian Critics Award at the 1956 Venice Film Festival.
Released in United States 1994
Released in United States Fall October 1956
Released in United States 1994 (Shown in New York City (Walter Reade) as part of program "Apocalypse Anytime! The Films of Robert Aldrich" March 11 - April 8, 1994.)
Released in United States Fall October 1956