FF153 - Attack!

Intro by John Roderick

Today's film is adapted from a play, which is a little bit unusual for a war film. It is hard to imagine what it would even look like on stage because this is a war film with a diversity of settings: Infantry charges, machine gun nests, mortars, jeeps, tanks, and Jack Palance using crazy eyes to communicate fragmented emotion. The onstage version would be necessarily confined to drinking booze, seething, and being bitches to each other. This is one of the few movies where the battle scenes actually lighten the air.

We open on a weirdly staged battlefield betrayal, a thing you don't see too often portrayed. Palance is leading a squad to take out a German pillbox. Their captain, Eddie Albert, ensures them reinforcements wait in reserve, but their captain is a coward. He hesitates and withdraws, and Palance's squad is cut down. The two men, imbalanced by rank, are pitched against each other for the rest of the film.

Albert plays maybe the most contemptible officer we have ever seen. Not cruel, but unfathomably incapable of leadership. Remember: This is peak motion picture production code, so stories about cowardly officers betraying their men walked pretty thin ice. Really, it is meant to be a submarine film. That is a place where officers can go out of control. Come to think of it: A submarine setting would be pretty easy to imagine is the basis of a play.

Wait a minute! Playwrights of the world, why are there no submarine plays? Is it because there's no downstage? Hmm. Everyone enters stage left and then just stays on stage for the rest of the play? Hmm. What about a modern dance set in a submarine? You know, the kind from the 1990s where a group of dancers in white leotards run across the front of the stage and then run the opposite way across the back of the stage while the soloists stand up and kneel down. They could be wearing Navy whites instead in the soloists could turn giant imaginary handles on valves while the lead dancer looks through an imagined periscope.

*sigh* God, I used to go to so many of those modern dance productions! I was always dating someone in the chorus. It got so when a girl would walk into a cafe with leg warmers and a gym bag, I would just put my Bic pen down and the spiral notebook where I was recording my big ideas and just straight up walk over and say: "Hi, I am John! It is probable we are going to date, so why don't you just join me at my table and we can start deciding what we are going to fight about?" Anyway…

This film, Attack!, is very Friendly Fire because - well - it has an exclamation mark right in the title, and also: These major stars were not part of the accepted war movie actors of the period. Think about how many movies we have watched with - say - Lee Marvin! He would make sense in this movie. But Eddie Albert? What is he even doing here? Shouldn't he be playing a comedically unlikable fish-out-of-water-dad? And Jack Palance? Why does he always look 59 years old? And Lee Marvin? Oh, right. Lee Marvin is in this movie, too. Right, that makes sense! "I don't trust soldiers who shine their shoes every day!" Today on Friendly Fire: Attack!

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