Attack (1956)

107 mins | Drama | October 1956

Director:

Robert Aldrich

Writer:

James Poe

Producer:

Robert Aldrich

Cinematographer:

Joseph Biroc

Editor:

Michael Luciano

Production Designer:

William Glasgow

Production Company:

Associates & Aldrich Co., Inc.
Full page view
HISTORY

The working title of this film was Fragile Fox . The film opens, before the credits, on a European battleground during World War II, where two squads, Fragile Fox 1, led by “Lt. Joe Costa,” and Fragile Fox 2, led by “Sgt. Ingersol,” are attempting to overtake German guns mounted in pillboxes. Costa calls for assistance from “Capt. Erskine Cooney,” whose refusal results in the deaths of Ingersol and his squad. After “Sgt. Tolliver” observes that Costa is wasting batteries by continuing to radio for help that will never come, an empty helmet tumbles onto the grass, and the opening credits begin. The credits continue to run as the scene changes to company headquarters, where off-duty soldiers are attempting to keep warm, and jazz music plays over a loudspeaker. The camera follows “Jackson,” Cooney’s orderly, through a courtyard, and the credits end as the music on Armed Forces Radio concludes. The title Attack appeared without an exclamation point in the viewed print. However, various contemporary and modern sources list the title as Attack! , and advice for exhibitors in the pressbook indicates that the filmmakers considered the exclamation point optional.
       HR news items reported that actors Tom Laughlin, Ralph Reed, John Goddard and Robert Francis were cast in the picture, however, Francis died shortly before the start of production, and the appearance of the other actors in the final film has not been confirmed. According to the pressbook, women were banned from the set during rehearsal to establish authenticity for the actors. The pressbook also notes that battle scenes were shot on the Universal ... More Less

The working title of this film was Fragile Fox . The film opens, before the credits, on a European battleground during World War II, where two squads, Fragile Fox 1, led by “Lt. Joe Costa,” and Fragile Fox 2, led by “Sgt. Ingersol,” are attempting to overtake German guns mounted in pillboxes. Costa calls for assistance from “Capt. Erskine Cooney,” whose refusal results in the deaths of Ingersol and his squad. After “Sgt. Tolliver” observes that Costa is wasting batteries by continuing to radio for help that will never come, an empty helmet tumbles onto the grass, and the opening credits begin. The credits continue to run as the scene changes to company headquarters, where off-duty soldiers are attempting to keep warm, and jazz music plays over a loudspeaker. The camera follows “Jackson,” Cooney’s orderly, through a courtyard, and the credits end as the music on Armed Forces Radio concludes. The title Attack appeared without an exclamation point in the viewed print. However, various contemporary and modern sources list the title as Attack! , and advice for exhibitors in the pressbook indicates that the filmmakers considered the exclamation point optional.
       HR news items reported that actors Tom Laughlin, Ralph Reed, John Goddard and Robert Francis were cast in the picture, however, Francis died shortly before the start of production, and the appearance of the other actors in the final film has not been confirmed. According to the pressbook, women were banned from the set during rehearsal to establish authenticity for the actors. The pressbook also notes that battle scenes were shot on the Universal Studios and RKO-Pathé backlots, and at Albertson Ranch in Agoura, CA. A NYT article dated 19 Feb 1956 reported the production cost approximately $850,000.
       Although the script was approved by the PCA, which suggested changes to several death scenes, information in the Department of Defense Film Collection at Georgetown University Library indicates that the Army and Department of Defense (DOD) refused cooperation during the film’s production. As a result, the production had to purchase or rent military equipment. According to an article in Labor’s Daily , a previous film to be refused military cooperation was RKO’s 1952 motion picture One Minute to Zero (see below), to which the Pentagon initially gave assistance, but later recanted. The Department of the Army, Office of the Chief of Information reported in a letter, dated 13 Jan 1956, that the negative evaluation of Attack was because “it is a very distasteful story and derogatory of Army leadership during combat including weak leadership, cowardice, and finally, the murder of the Company Commander.” In a memo for the file dated 26 Jan 1956, the DOD concurred with the “Army appraisal.”
       Although the files indicate that the initial determination was based on a conversation with associate producer Walter Blake, the Army maintained its ruling after reading the script. Director Robert Aldrich protested to Donald E. Baruch, Chief of the Motion Picture Section, Pictorial Branch of the DOD, in a letter dated 27 Feb 1956, stating that “[t]heatrically and film wise, moral values are measured in comparatives; strength is measured against weakness; heroics against cowardice…. We feel strongly that our film is one that shows beyond question qualities of moral righteousness, leadership, courage, heroism and above all, personal integrity on the part of both enlisted men and officers of the Army. To make characters white it is necessary to have a reflective comparison against characters that are not white. Such is the case in our film."
       Aldrich added that he believed the DOD’s opinion of the film would improve after seeing the completed picture. In a response to Aldrich, Baruch referred to a DV news item dated 24 Feb 1956, which speculated that the producers would be unable to screen the film for servicemen due to the DOD disapproval. However, Baruch noted that approval for exhibitions was not influenced by his department. Baruch also pointed out that the film’s immediate production schedule had not allowed for any “discussions in an endeavor to work out possible story solutions.” Aldrich replied in a letter dated 11 Mar 1956, insisting that he would continue to pursue DOD approval, and added the following: “No citizen sets out intentionally to defame the defense organization of his country. There obviously can and at times should be differences of opinion as to what is for the good of the country and what is not. Should one lose such an argument at such a level, fine, but never to have the chance or the opportunity to make that argument to me seems a little ridiculous.”
       Various Aug 1956 news items reported that U.S. Congressman Melvin Price of Illinois, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, charged the DOD with censorship for its failure to assist Attack . According to a 7 Sep 1956 DV news item, after Price saw a special preview, and members of the State Dept. saw the film at the Venice Film Festival, the State Dept. reported that they found nothing objectionable in the film. According to articles in DV and The Washington Post and Times Herald dated 31 Aug 1956, Price attacked the DOD’s decision, and surmised that “[i]f [Cooney] were an enlisted man, he could apparently be presented with impunity as a coward and a moral weakling. But according to the Pentagon, an officer may not be shown in such unfavorable light,” and accused the DOD of trying to “depict all phases of military life through brass-colored glasses.”
       Following a private screening for Pentagon officials in Sep 1956, the DOD maintained its stance against the picture. On 14 Sep 1956, DV reported that the American Veterans Committee opposed the DOD’s decision, and stated that the department was doing “a real disservice” to Americans, and that “[i]f the time comes when our military chiefs refuse to admit that there can be anything wrong with an officer solely because he is an officer, then it is time to beware.” The matter was taken up by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights. The subcommittee Chief Counsel and Staff Director Charles H. Slayman, Jr. wrote to the DOD on 18 Sep 1956 inquiring as to the constitutionality of the DOD denying cooperation to Attack . In his letter, Slayman noted that members of the committee had viewed the film, and that they were seeking statistics about other cases in which cooperation had been denied to film productions. The final outcome of their investigation is not known. Although a Nov 1956 memo indicated that Attack was denied exhibition at Army bases in Germany, a 19 Sep 1956 HR news item reported that “Army and Air Force officials have given their seal of approval” and would assist in promoting the film. In addition, a 2 Oct 1956 DV news item reported that after the U.S. Navy also approved the film for exhibition, the picture was approved for all servicemen.
       In addition to sneak previews in various cities, Aldrich held a special preview screening of Attack on 2 Aug 1956 in New York for former war correspondents, which was followed by a screening the next day in Washington D.C. at the National Press Club, and a screening for Republican National Convention members in San Francisco, in mid-Aug 1956. The film won the Pasineti Award at the Venice Film Festival for best foreign film. Attack marked William Smithers' feature film debut. Modern sources credit Frank Beetson with costumes.
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
15 Sep 1956.
---
Daily Variety
24 Feb 1956
p. 1, 18.
Daily Variety
13 Jul 1956.
---
Daily Variety
31 Aug 1956
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
5 Sep 56
p. 3.
Daily Variety
7 Sep 1956
p. 1.
Daily Variety
11 Sep 1956.
---
Daily Variety
2 Oct 1956.
---
Film Daily
6 Sep 56
p. 6.
Harrison's Reports
15 Sep 1956
pp. 146-47.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Nov 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Nov 1955
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jan 1956
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jan 1956
p. 4, 10, 15.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Feb 1956
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Feb 1956
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Feb 1956
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Feb 1956
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jul 1956
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Aug 1956
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Aug 1956
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Aug 1956
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Aug 1956
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Sep 56
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Sep 1956
p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Sep 1956
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Sep 1956
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Oct 1956
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Oct 1956
pp. 6-15.
Labor's Daily
11 Apr 1956.
---
Labor's Daily
11 Jul 1956.
---
Los Angeles Times
19 Oct 1956.
---
Motion Picture Daily
7 Sep 1956.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
15 Sep 56
p. 65.
New York Herald Tribune
22 Apr 1956.
---
New York Times
19 Feb 1956.
---
New York Times
20 Sep 56
p. 29.
New Yorker
29 Sep 1956.
---
Newsweek
17 Sep 1956.
---
Saturday Review
1 Sep 1956.
---
The Navy Times
15 Sep 1956.
---
The Washington Post and Times Herald
31 Aug 1956
p. 42.
Time
10 Sep 1956.
---
Variety
12 Sep 56
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
Scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
Still photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
SOUND
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Dial supv
Asst to the prod
Casting supv
Tech supv
Scr supv
STAND INS
Stunts
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Fragile Fox by Norman Brooks, produced on the stage by Paul Vroom (New York, 12 Oct 1954).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Fragile Fox
Release Date:
October 1956
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 19 September 1956
Los Angeles opening: 26 September 1956
Production Date:
5 January--23 February 1956 at RKO-Pathé Studios and Universal Studios
Copyright Claimant:
Associates & Aldrich Co., Inc.
Copyright Date:
3 October 1956
Copyright Number:
LP7254
Physical Properties:
Sound
Glen Glenn Sound Company Recording
Black and White
Processed by General Film Laboratories Corp.
Widescreen/ratio
1.85:1
Duration(in mins):
107
Length(in feet):
9,673
Length(in reels):
11
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
18001
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

On a European battlefield in 1944 during World War II, Lt. Joe Costa radios his captain, Erskine Cooney, to provide cover while a squad led by Sgt. Ingersol makes a daring attempt to capture a German pillbox. Cooney indicates he will help, but then fails to respond to Costa’s pleas to intervene, and Ingersol and his squad are killed. Later at the base camp, Cooney, who attained his rank through politics, anxiously prepares for the arrival of his superior officer, Col. Clyde Bartlett, for a card game. Lt. Harry Woodruff and Costa will be attending the game, and Harry privately tells Costa about his plan to confront Bartlett about Cooney’s incompetence. Costa surmises that as Bartlett is from the same town as Cooney, whose father is a powerful judge, it is unlikely he will remove Cooney from his post. Costa blames Cooney for Ingersol’s death, and at the card game, loses his temper and leaves. When they are alone, Bartlett listens to Harry’s complaints. Although he refuses to remove Cooney, he assures Harry that the platoon will not be seeing any more action. However, when the Germans break through Allied lines, the unit is reassigned and is ordered to take the Belgian town of Lommel. Harry suggests a safe plan of attack, but Cooney insists on his own plan, whereby Costa's platoon will approach the town on the exposed main road and take a farmhouse on the edge of town. Costa and his sergeant, Tolliver, observe that this will leave them vulnerable to attack for four hundred yards. Cooney is immovable, however, so Costa demands he and Harry promise ... +


On a European battlefield in 1944 during World War II, Lt. Joe Costa radios his captain, Erskine Cooney, to provide cover while a squad led by Sgt. Ingersol makes a daring attempt to capture a German pillbox. Cooney indicates he will help, but then fails to respond to Costa’s pleas to intervene, and Ingersol and his squad are killed. Later at the base camp, Cooney, who attained his rank through politics, anxiously prepares for the arrival of his superior officer, Col. Clyde Bartlett, for a card game. Lt. Harry Woodruff and Costa will be attending the game, and Harry privately tells Costa about his plan to confront Bartlett about Cooney’s incompetence. Costa surmises that as Bartlett is from the same town as Cooney, whose father is a powerful judge, it is unlikely he will remove Cooney from his post. Costa blames Cooney for Ingersol’s death, and at the card game, loses his temper and leaves. When they are alone, Bartlett listens to Harry’s complaints. Although he refuses to remove Cooney, he assures Harry that the platoon will not be seeing any more action. However, when the Germans break through Allied lines, the unit is reassigned and is ordered to take the Belgian town of Lommel. Harry suggests a safe plan of attack, but Cooney insists on his own plan, whereby Costa's platoon will approach the town on the exposed main road and take a farmhouse on the edge of town. Costa and his sergeant, Tolliver, observe that this will leave them vulnerable to attack for four hundred yards. Cooney is immovable, however, so Costa demands he and Harry promise that they will send support if needed. After threatening to kill Cooney if he breaks his word, Costa moves out with the troops. The first squad to attempt the approach is shot down, so Costa leads the survivors, Tolliver and privates Abramowitz, Bernstein, Ricks and Snowden, to the farmhouse, where two German soldiers retreat unnoticed into the cellar. Surrounded by German tanks and snipers, Costa radios Harry for help, but Cooney refuses to send more men. After Harry reluctantly tells Costa that they are on their own, the Germans, a soldier named Otto and an officer, emerge from the cellar, and are disarmed. In order to determine the firepower against them, Costa forces the captain out the front door of the farmhouse, and he is swiftly killed by his own troops. A terrified Otto then admits that there are eighteen tanks and SS troops surrounding them. Costa notifies Harry that they are pulling out and requests smoke cover. Providing as best as he can for his men, Costa leads them across an exposed field, but Abramowitz is shot and dies in Costa’s arms. At company headquarters, Cooney’s orderly, Jackson, is overwhelmed by the number of wounded soldiers returning from the attack, but is pleased when Tolliver, Snowden and Bernstein return with their prisoner, Otto. Cooney further earns his subordinates’ disrespect when he beats the defenseless Otto, and Bartlett, who has just arrived, reprimands him for failing to send in his entire company to take Lommel. As a result, the German Army is now approaching their position. Bartlett threatens to arrest Cooney if he falls back, as it would leave another company unprotected, and strikes Cooney after the coward begs to be reassigned. Harry then warns Bartlett of his intention to report the colonel and Cooney to their superiors, if he survives the next battle. Cooney sobs after Bartlett leaves, whimpering that he will never measure up to his father. Moments later, a wounded Costa returns intending to murder Cooney. However, when Jackson reports that Tolliver and the soldiers are trapped in a cellar by an enemy tank, Costa delays his plans to help his men. Costa attacks two tanks with mortar shells, but falls, and his arm is crushed when a tank rolls over him. Bernstein, meanwhile, is pinned under a beam in the cellar, and his injuries are treated by Snowden and Tolliver. As SS officers overrun the town, Jackson and Harry arrive to help, followed by Cooney, who has gone insane. Cooney intends to surrender, but Harry reminds him that the SS take no prisoners. Just then, Costa painfully drags himself down the cellar stairs and tries to shoot Cooney, but collapses and dies, after which Cooney kicks his body. When Cooney starts to go upstairs and threatens to kill anyone who opposes him, Harry shoots him in the back. Harry then instructs Tolliver to have him arrested when they are freed, but all the men agree that Cooney’s death was just. In a show of solidarity, each man fires a bullet into Cooney’s body. Moments later, Allied tanks move into the city, and Bartlett finds them in the cellar. Bartlett promotes Harry, and the men tell Bartlett that Cooney died trying to return to the company. Bartlett suspects how Cooney really died and, when he is alone with Harry, reveals he plans to get the Distinguished Service Cross for Cooney to satisfy Cooney’s father. Harry is outraged and confesses to the murder, but implicates Bartlett because he refused to reassign Cooney. Bartlett urges Harry to accept the promotion and keep quiet, and that he will arrange for a posthumous citation for Costa as well. However, after Bartlett leaves, Harry contacts division headquarters to file a full report. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.