Attack! (1956): War Film Directed by Aldrich, Starring Lee Marvin

Robert Aldrich went to Hollywood in 1941 and worked his way up from production clerk at RKO. He was a script clerk then assistant to several directors (including Dmytryk, Milestone, Renoir, Wellman, Polonsky, Fleischer, Losey, and Chaplin), then production manager, and next associate producer. At the same time, he started writing and directing episodes for the TV series “The Doctor, China Smith.”

In 1953, he directed his first feature film, “The Big Leaguer.” In 1954 he established his own production company, Associates and Aldrich, and thereafter produced many of his own films.

Aldrich gained experience and dynamic energy from his TV background, as well as from working as assistant on such important films as The Southerner, G.I. Joe, Force of Evil, and Limelight.

“Attack!” the cynical, brutal chronicle of men at war is one of his very best films, bearing his personal signature in this portrait of infantry warfare, set in Belgium circa 1944.

Scripted by James Poe, based on the play “The Fragile Fox,” by Norman Brook, the saga centers on Captain Cooney (Eddie Albert), a coward who has achieved his rank due to family connections, specifically his father’s political power.

In a strong performance, Lee Marvin plays Colonel Batrtlett, an officer well aware of Cooney’s incompetence, who overlooks the problem in order to promote his own personal ambition. However, the platoon, led by Lt. Costa (Jack Palance) feels victimized, resenting the situation and even vowing to take vengeance.

As a realistic movie about the inner and outer politics of war, “Attack!” is grim, even noirish in its sensibility and style, deviating from most American movies of the era (and admired by Kubrick, who would make a cynical version of WWI a year later, in “Paths of Glory.”

The excellent cast includes Robert Strauss, Richard Jaeckel, Buddy Ebsen, William Smithers, Jon Shepodd, James Goodwin and Steven Geray.

Ace lenser Joseph Biroc gives the picture sharp, dark images that fit the subject matter and tone

Aldrich’s individual style was characterized by frantic motion within shots and in the progression of a sequence, often underlined by violence, brutality, and grotesque chaos.

“Attack!” represented the first big peak in Aldrich’s career. Indeed, he won the Silver Award of the Venice Festival for “The Big Knife” in 1955, the Italian Critics Award for “Attack!” in 1956, and the best director award at the Berlin Festival for “Autumn Leaves,” starring Joan Crawford, also made in 1956.

The commercial success of “The Dirty Dozen” (1967), his biggest commercial hit, prompted him to acquire his won studio, but subsequent debacles forced him to sell it in 1973.

Black and white

Running time: 107 Minutes