This being Memorial Day Weekend, I can think of no better way to honor it’s true meaning then to highlight a film in Lee Marvin’s canon of work that has been sadly overlooked for decades. I wrote about it, of course, in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank, but it could still use some more overdue attention. Based on the play “Fragile Fox” (the film’s working title, by the way) director/producer Robert Aldrich’s Attack! (1956) may be the first film to daringly question the abilities of American military commanders.
Not an easy movie to sit through, I grant you, but it’s certainly worth the effort. A stellar cast, led by Jack Palance (in a rare turn as a hero), the stand-out, Oscar-worthy performance really belongs to Eddie Albert in the thankless role of a cowardly officer. Albert was actually a hero in WWII but didn’t care to talk about it, understandably. Prior to his passing in 2005 (at the ripe old age of 99!) I was fortunate enough to interview him at his home back in 1997. Below is the unpublished portion of that interview in which he elaborates further on the experience of working on Aldrich’s Attack!….
Dwayne: Do you remember the Robert Aldrich film, Attack!?
Eddie: Oh yeah. Oh my god, he was so fucking wonderful. Geez, he was good. That was a few years later. He was … he should have gotten…well, we all should have gotten something for that.
D: You especially. You were great in that film. Let me show you something real quick. Sometimes seeing photos can bring back memories. This is a book that came about Robert Aldrich’s a few years ago [shows him pix]. Right there is you and the back of Marvin’s head…
E: [looking] Oh yeah. And that son-of-a-bitch, the other guy, he was a giant. Wasn’t he great?
E: Yeah. God, he was good. He was kind of a new kid at the time. He came out of the mines of Pennsylvania somewhere. [Laughs] But man….I was sick the whole time because I had to…I had just come from the war and I had a bad time during the war….I had to talk myself into that I was a coward, which will make you sick. All day, like the master at that time..the other guy, what was his name?
D: Jack Palance?
E: Yeah, he was a master. He whipped himself to such a hatred against me. Really, he did.
D: That could be pretty frightening. So, it made you more of a coward in your part.
E: Yes, but he had no intention of holding his punch, either So, I’d put a foot out like that [demonstrates] because I was ready to move if he made the slightest move. I was going to get out of there. It was that close. I had nothing but admiration for that guy. I think he was one of the most individual actors that I have ever seen. Jack, I’m talking about. Now, going back to our friend Marvin here, he was totally in charge. He was always in charge. He had done his homework.
D: Do you remember the two big scenes you had with him in the movie?
E: I can’t think of anything special about that but every time I saw him, he had grown tremendously in charge of the peculiarities of acting. He had a wonderful voice. [looks at Aldrich book] I never saw this book about him. I did about four pictures with him. I loved him.
E: What was he like? What kind of man was he?
E: He knew acting. He selected us [Marvin & Albert] all the time with several other guys he could count on…I forgot all the things I did with him. I remember one thing about him. We were just starting Attack! We had rehearsed for a week. I think it was a Monday and we were all there. But the kid from New York, I’ve forgotten his name…he was a leading part. He played the main soldier.
D: William Smithers?
E: That could be. Anyway, he was about 15-20 minutes late and Aldrich didn’t say anything. Tuesday came and he was 20 minutes late again. Aldrich said, “I want to have a conference.” He said to everyone gathered the importance of being on time. Then, looking right at Smithers, he said, “Now, this is very important: if you are ever late again, I’ll run your ass right out of this town…”
D: That’ll do it.
Also in the pressbook is this example of the studio taking advantage of the U.S. Military’s disdain for the film…