It was hardly surprising that the US Defence Department refused to co-operate with producer/ director Robert Aldrich in the making of this powerful and controversial screen adaptation of Norman Brooks’ play The Fragile Fox. Indeed, the play spared few sensibilities in its brutal portrait of infantry warfare in the Second World War and Aldrich’s concentrated direction was equally uncompromising.
In Belgium in 1944, infantry Captain Erskine Cooney’s (Eddie Albert) cowardice has already caused heavy casualties among his men. Lieutenant Harold Woodruf (William Smithers) reveals the situation to Colonel Bartlett (Lee Marvin) who, although aware of the situation, is unwilling to act since he hopes Cooney’s father will help him after the war. Lieutenant Joe Costa (Jack Palance) is ready to kill Cooney rather than allow him to further endanger the lives of his men, but is ordered to lead an attack on a German-occupied town and his platoon suffers heavy losses. Cooney is afraid to commit his reserve troops, let alone go near the battle, and one-by-one Costa’s platoon members die. Costa is fatally wounded after knocking out two tanks single-handed. He manages to reach Cooney’s basement refuge but dies before he can kill him…
The official American reaction to Attack was unsurprising since, at the time, the admission that a United States soldier might be rather less than an officer and a gentleman was considered to be heresy. After all, 1955 had seen the release of the archetypal hagiographic biopic To Hell and Back, which had alleged to tell the story of real-life hero Audie Murphy’s war career, and audiences were judged still to be unready to accept a less-than-sanitised version of men in war.
Cast: Jack Palance, Eddie Albert, Lee Marvin, Robert Strauss, Richard Jaeckel, Buddy Ebsen, Strother Martin, Jon Shepodd, Peter van Eyck, James Goodwin, Steven Geray, Jud Taylor, Louis Mercier, William Smithers
Director: Robert Aldrich
Writer: James Op, from the play The Fragile Fox by Norman Brooks
Producer: Robert Aldrich, Walter Blake
Composer: Frank De Vol
Director of Photography: Joseph F. Biroc
Production Companies: The Associates & Aldrich Company
Release Date: 19 September 1956
Running Time: 107 minutes
Genres: Action, Drama, War
Country: United States of America
Tagline: The Story of the “Fragile Fox” Company!