FOR MEMORIAL DAY: MY INTERVIEW W/ EDDIE ALBERT ON ATTACK!

The tag lines aside, the powerful artwork spoke volumes for the film ATTACK!

The tag lines aside, the powerful artwork spoke volumes for the film ATTACK!

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 Below is the unpublished portion of that interview in which he elaborates further on the experience of working on Aldrich’s Attack!….

Another great example of the ad campaign for ATTACK!

Another great example of the ad campaign for 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…

The photo from the book "What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich" I showed to Eddie Albert that jogged his memory.

The photo from the book “What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich” I showed to Eddie Albert that jogged his memory.

E: [looking] Oh yeah. And that son-of-a-bitch, the other guy, he was a giant. Wasn’t he great?
D: Palance?
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?

Lee Marvin (left) goes over the attack plan with Eddie Albert (right).

Lee Marvin (left) goes over the attack plan with Eddie Albert (right).

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?

A rare photo from the film's pressbook showing director Aldrich (left) instructing actor Eddie Albert (right).

A rare photo from the film’s pressbook showing director Aldrich (left) instructing actor Eddie Albert (right).

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.

The presskit bio on Lee Marvin is added here as a bonus so readers can see just how much the actor embellished his acting career.

The presskit bio on Lee Marvin is added here as a bonus so readers can see just how much the actor embellished his acting career.

Also in the pressbook is this example of the studio taking advantage of the U.S. Military’s disdain for the film…

A pressbook item seeking to utilize the miliatry's dsidain for the film.

A pressbook item seeking to utilize the miliatry’s dsidain for the film.

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3 thoughts on “FOR MEMORIAL DAY: MY INTERVIEW W/ EDDIE ALBERT ON ATTACK!

  1. A wonderful interview, Dwayne. It may interest you–and all others who have read your most gripping post–that “Attack!” was the first movie to be denied aid by the Pentagon and Department Of Defense for what these institutions felt, after an advance reading of the shooting script, was the unfavorable depiction of American army officers as evidenced by the characterizations of Captain Cooney (to be played by Eddie Albert) and Lt. Col. Bartlett (to be portrayed by Lee Marvin), thereby causing Mr. Albert to protest that the film would also showcase fine, courageous officers such as Lts. Costa (to be played by Jack Palance) and Woodruff (to be played by William Smithers), and producer-director Aldrich to eventually buy a WWII-vintage American tank for use in “Attack!” out of his own pocket, such was his determination–and that of all others involved in “Attack!”‘s production–to craft a film of the highest calibre possible in terms of aesthetic brilliance, dramatic power, and historical accuracy–an objective at which the filmmakers succeeded most admirably.

  2. Thank you for your input, Perry, as it’s very much appreciated. I can tell you that I am fully aware of the Defense Dept.’s attitude towards the film at the time and so, by the way, was the studio that produced it. In fact, according to the pressbook, they also used it in their advertising, as I’ve added to the blog above!

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