Red Frag

ATTACK, or, according to the title sequence on my DVD, “ATTACK”, but also known in some territories at some times under the infinitely preferable ATTACK!, is a Robert Aldrich WWII pic which gets namechecked in the Bordwell-Thompson Film History: An Introduction which I just picked up for a song now that a few of Edinburgh’s charity shops have reopened, right next to KISS ME DEADLY (which, according to its own title sequence may actually be called DEADLY KISS ME). If that isn’t a recommendation, I figured, what is?

And indeed, some of the same pulpy energy is present, plus a Fullerseque sensorial assault, tabloid gonzo raving and sweaty manliness… the titles start as a slain grunt’s helmet bounces down a hill, coming to rest by a pretty flower. “You see the symbolism of it?”

The story plays out a lot like CROSS OF IRON, with Eddie Albert as coward/incompetent/psycho and Jack Palance as his opponent on the same side. While the Peckinpah is bold in telling the story from the German side, it’s MUCH braver to have an American officer as coward/idiot/maniac who needs to be snuffed for the sake of the war effort.

A typically, um, muscular perf from JP: at one point, having been shot in the leg and parked on by a tank, he slumps against a wall and raises himself up it, inch by inch, using only his head and neck. Meryl Streep can’t do that.

Greasy streak on wall from previous takes.

There’s also some backstage politics with Lee Marvin’s colonel protecting Albert’s captain due to personal connections back home in the South. It’s quite a good film to watch right now, since the southerners are the baddies. Feels timely.

Any consideration of Aldrich as a major figure, I find, has to reckon with the animated blood splash in THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE, a bit of cinematic “technique” that might otherwise mark him out as an utter clown. I feel like I need solid proof that wasn’t his idea. But this grimy potboiler does indeed have much of the same pulp frenzy as his Spillane adaptation. “Overwrought” doesn’t begin to cover it, but even with bum notes like Frank De Vol’s score playing Deutschland Uber Alles when the Germans appear, and an off-key London Bridge is Falling Down when Albert loses all the marbles, it’s quite bold politically and punchy as hell.

ATTACK! features Jesus Raza; Warden Barrot; Irving Radovich; Liberty Valance; Sgt. Stanislaus ‘Animal’ Kuzawa; Sheriff Kip McKinney; Jed Clampett; Hans-Dieter Mundt; Dr. Rudolph Frankenstein; Goff; & Coffer.


11 Responses to “Red Frag”

  1. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I got into an Aldrich phase two years back and I agree that ATTACK is a masterpiece and one of Aldrich’s best films in a long and often uneven career. It’s a very forceful and courageous film about war and more pertinently class in war. It’s interesting if you compare this to Walsh’s neuteured adaptation of Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead because Aldrich makes the same points that censors prevented Walsh from doing there. I think Attack was definitely influenced by Fuller’s The Steel Helmet, which inspired many war films in the early 50s.

    Aldrich is a fascinating figure. When he became president of DGA in the 70s, he actually did a lot to give directors’ creative leeway, a bigger percentage and so on, and also negotiated the “First cut” privilege by which any director on a major Hollywood production gets to do his cut before producers or others can provide feedback, when before directors were never allowed into the editing room. He was the son of a very rich Republican family, and a cousin of Nelson Rockefeller, but he became the family black sheep, the liberal dude who palled with commies or ex-commies and blacklistees. I think the criticism in ATTACK of the officer who is incompetent but being set up with a position (at the expense of his subordinates) with an eye for future political distinction is very autobiographical on his part, in terms of the kind of people that Aldrich knew and didn’t want to become.

    Among Aldrich’s best, truly great, films, there’s — Attack, Kiss Me Deadly, Autumn Leaves, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Hustle, All the Marbles. And others that are good and worth watching (Flight of the Phoenix, Emperor of the North, Ulzana’s Raid, Vera Cruz, The Dirty Dozen, The Big Knife). But when he overreaches he can misfire, like Legend of Lylah Clare which has inspired moments, and has the ingredients of greatness but just fails and it’s failure is due to Aldrich, miscasting, or rather failure of Aldrich to properly use his cast.

  2. All of those mid-1950s WW2 movies are really interesting, I think, especially ones with less of a budget to work with – the Army refused to cooperate with this production. I find that many of the 1950s war movies are very dark visually, they all seem to take place at night. I wonder if there’s any kind of connection to be drawn with those dark visuals and some kind of noir-ish cynicism about the American mission of democracy, post-Korea… I watched some of the 1964 The Thin Red Line recently and it all looks like it was filmed in a high-school gym. I definitely missed the atmosphere of a stylist like Aldrich.

  3. I must watch Kiss Me Deadly again to try to work out how he did it. Attack seems to have no dearth of coverage despite what I imagine would be a tight schedule. Whereas I recall World for Ransom missing entire sides of conversations, so either he got slammed for time or the lab messed up vital angles…

  4. James S Says:

    I think Adlrich was a brilliant director at times, but he was…variable , temperamental.

    They seriously wanted him to direct Alien in 1979, but he talked himself out of the job when asked about how he wanted the facehugger to look
    ““We’ll put some entrails on the guy’s face. It’s not as if anyone’s going to remember that critter once they’ve left the theater”

    I still dream of Aldrich’s Alien. All sweaty overwrought men. Lee Marvin & Ernest Borgnine hunting down a creature made of offal.

  5. It used to be that every pic of Aldrich I saw he looked like Big Gay Al from South Park and was showing some interested actor how to kick, punch, or fire a gun.

    I wondered if his directorial style influenced Leone, who worked for him on Sodom and Gomorrah, but then I reasoned that an Italian who doesn’t speak much English needs little inspiration to turn to gestures…

  6. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Leone was influenced by many figures from 50s Hollywood. Aldrich was among them and Vera Cruz was one of the films he liked of his.

    I think Leone’s trademark beeg eyes closeups come from Fuller who used it in 40 Guns. So Fuller…quote sn influential figure in that time.

  7. Palance’s performance is just too much for me. Marvin and Albert are good but seem the wrong ages.

  8. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Aldrich is fascinating. He was a Rockefeller yet quite left-wing. He does a fascinating acting turn in Abe Polonsky’s “Force of Evil.” Kiss Me Deadly is the kind of masterpiece it’s impossible to top. That said his career is wildly uneven. “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” is perfection, but Bette Davis is obviously the auteur. “The Dirty Dozen” was a monster hit I don’t much care for. His last “All the Marbles” is just terrible.

  9. If you really want to split hairs on the title, in prints I’ve seen ATTACK is actually spelled all lower case, even the ‘A’: “attack”.

  10. David Ehrenstein Says:

    “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte” is OK, mainly for Mary Astor’s turn. “Flight of the Phoenix” is quite nice but not as much fun as Cy Endfield’s “Sands of the Kahlahari” As for “Lylah Clare” I much prefer the first version of Robert Thom’s insane script. It was shot on video for TV , was directed by Franklin Schaffner and starred (wait for it !) Tuesday Weld

  11. Oh, I’d love to see that!

    I *think* my Attack is all upper case. But my memory grows dim and the disc is lying too far out of reach… Apparently there’s a limit to the hairs I will split.

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