Aldrich on the Attack
Following the death of a soldier due to Capt. Erskine Cooney's (Eddie Albert - Oklahoma!) cowardice and incompetence Lt. Joe Costa (Jack Palance - Shane) becomes increasingly angered and Executive Officer, Lt. Harold Woodruff (William Smithers) has to try and keep the peace by paying battalion commander Lt. Col. Clyde Bartlett (Lee Marvin - Bad Day at Black Rock) a visit to try and have Cooney removed to a desk job. But Bartlett, well aware of Cooney's failings, is more intent on giving him a chance to be a hero so when the war ends Cooney and his important father will look after him. When Cooney is ordered to seize the town of Nelle he sends Costa and a small platoon to recce the area only to come under heavy fire with Cooney failing to support them. It leads to Costa going MIA and waiting his time to get revenge on Cooney for his cowardice.
One of the problems with watching and reviewing lots of movies is that you can end up watching one movie which merges in to the next. This is particularly the case when it comes to watching old war movies from the 1950s as so many of them had similar storylines as well as often featuring the same actors. But "Attack" is very different and a movie which right from the word go grabs you with powerful visuals as well as stunning action.
The thing about "Attack" is the less you know about the storyline the better so the build up is all about the tension between Costa and his superiors. Firstly he has no respect for Capt. Cooney who he knows is weak and a lousy leader whose incompetence is costing lives. But Costa's issues extend further as whilst he respects Bartlett as a man who has seen action knows that Bartlett is looking out for himself by having Cooney in charge. It is powerful stuff because you can feel the tension between the men with Costa having a real loathing of Cooney that he can barely bare to be in the same room as him. You just know that at some point things will boil over with Costa eventually having enough of Cooney and doing something he might regret.
This build up is combined with some powerful visuals none more so that the opening scene with a soldier's helmet tumbling down a hill after he has been gunned down. It is such a simple scene but yet so amazingly powerful and we get more of these throughout the entire movie with cinematographer Joseph F. Biroc enriching this war drama with some camera work which is rich in depth. The interiors of buildings look detailed and full of atmosphere which makes it feel like you are in the room with them.
As to how this all plays out, well I mentioned after another foul up by Cooney Costa goes MIA and biding his time to get revenge. But trust me whilst that might sound simple what we get is anything but simple with a powerful series of events which blow you away.
Now "Attack" features many familiar faces who cropped up in countless war movies during the 50's but this movie belongs to Jack Palance. He dominates every scene he is in, moody and broody, arrogant, angry, dangerous and demanding he creates a character with so much depth and tone that on one hand you like him but at the same time you fear him. You also understand him and know exactly why he is so enraged by Cooney whose cowardice is well played by Eddie Albert who gives him plenty of bluster.
What this all boils down to is that "Attack" is a stunning 1950s war movie with an amazing look, great performances and a different sort of storyline as well. It is almost the perfect package with Palance delivering a commanding performance full of depth to marry Aldrich's rich vision and Biroc's cinematography.