Monday, 6 August 2018

Attack | Robert Aldrich, 1956

Division and unity. Two lieutenants, a captain and a colonel play a tense game of cards near the end of the war. One of the lieutenants recently led a dangerous attack against the Nazis, ordered by the captain with the promise of military support if required. The attack failed and, due to the captain's reluctance to send in the promised back-up, several men died in the battle. The colonel, an old friend of the captain’s and in need of his support for his future political ambitions, yet fully aware of his inability to lead men into war, allows him to remain in command, against both lieutenants’ wishes. During the card game, Aldrich separates the four men in the frame across a table with a pillar in the background: on one side, the colonel and the captain; on the other, the two lieutenants. No trust in their superiors, no middle ground to find, constantly at odds with gamblers. They try in vain to convince the colonel to take the captain off the frontline and put him behind a desk. “Then our worries are over, all we’ve got to do is fight the war”. But they fail. And so they return to the front, together with their men. Out in the open air there’s nothing to separate them, the dividing pillar replaced by a uniting lieutenant to rally around. They have a job to do, a duty to both their fellow soldiers and their country. They have no choice but to follow the captain’s poorly thought out plan of attack, designed to prove his own bravery to the colonel while his men risk their lives. They march blindly into the unknown. An act of self-advancement and an egregious failure of leadership, all at the expense of men in no position to say no to orders. There’s nowhere to hide on the battlefield. Useless, the captain stays inside.

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