Attack (Robert Aldrich / U.S., 1956):

Robert Aldrich likes a jagged image: his preamble sketches a pillbox raid with staccato bursts of grass and fire, then a dissolve from a fallen helmet to a circular loudspeaker blasting big-band music. "Don’t go dramatic on me, dogface!" Europe circa 1944, under the shadows of the Battle of the Bulge waits an American battalion, "a bit shaky" after severe combat. Introduced as a pair of gloved hands squirming while his soldiers are wiped out, the craven captain (Eddie Albert) is a judge’s son guarded by the colonel (Lee Marvin) with his eyes on the political prize. (His doppelgänger is Peter van Eyck’s platinum-haired Nazi officer, "the same in every army.") Brass incompetence leaves fields of dead grunts, all the platoon leader (Jack Palance) needs is one more foul-up from above for his cathartic rupture: "By all that’s holy, I'll come back and take this grenade and shove it down your throat and pull the pin!" The war within the war, a raging position set in a bombed-out French village but analyzed from the vantage between Korea and Vietnam. Sometimes the weight of a demented world feels like a Panzer inching closer until it crushes you, Aldrich’s existentialism is blunt and ferocious like that. Buddy Ebsen’s note of paternal exhaustion as the seasoned sniper, the vaudeville sardonicism of Robert Strauss setting up Les Carabiniers, all shades of anguish for men trapped in gutted sets encircled by darkness. (Albert’s "gutless wonder" gets his own crack-up aria: "You can’t live, you can’t die... I didn’t ask for this!") Bloodied and messianically unhinged, Palance staggers into the climactic confrontation like a mangled totem pole and exits on a grubby stretcher, granite grimace frozen for a Guernica effect. In a corrupted system, mutiny becomes an act of sanity while a moral decision amounts to insubordination. The Dirty Dozen is a purposely degraded adjustment, deviously masked by Aldrich as a lip-smacking blockbuster. With William Smithers, Richard Jaeckel, Jon Shepodd, Jimmy Goodwin, and Strother Martin. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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