Counter-Attack (1945) Poster

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The Russian Front
bkoganbing22 September 2008
Counter-Attack, a film celebrating the Russian contribution to the victory of Nazism, earned a place in history for the blacklisting of screen writer John Howard Lawson, member of the Hollywood Ten and a guy who really was a Marxist. He never denied it during his lifetime.

Nevertheless the Russian contribution was certainly real enough and red enough and that's not a political statement either. Paul Muni and Marguerite Chapman play a pair of Russian soldiers who get trapped on the wrong side of the front in a cellar with seven members of the German Army of varying feelings about their leader. Muni and Chapman are on an advance mission to obtain intelligence and they're certain one of their 'prisoners' is an officer in disguise. How to ferret the information from these men is the question.

The film is one claustrophobic exercise and on stage it was done only on the one set of the cellar. It was based on a Russian play Pobyeda and ran under the name Counter-Attack on Broadway during the 1943 season for 85 performances. Morris Carnovsky originated the role Paul Muni has in the film.

Since both sides have no idea who will rescue them eventually it becomes quite a cat and mouse game with Muni and Chapman fighting fatigue. Yet they have a few tricks of their own.

Counter-Attack is a well acted film with Paul Muni under a lot of effective directorial restraint and the ever present helpful hints from his wife Bella. They were one interesting combination, Bella knew her man well and was his best critic. Of course directors getting the idea that they were in charge did not want her around. Harry Cohn got her off the set of A Song To Remember and without her there, the result was Muni's hammiest performance.

Counter-Attack is not a great war film and it got buried during the McCarthy era. Still it's decent enough wartime propaganda and we can view it now with the history of the times in mind.
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The terror of it all.
dexter-1021 February 2001
Seldom does a film capture the tone of the moment of significant historical events. This movie indeed does. One of the most dramatic events of World War Two was the counter attack by the Soviet troops against the Nazi invaders. The power of it all is beyond comparison to this very day. This film gives the audience a good account of the action, the drama, and the sense of just how far the Russians would go to drive the German army from its land. Paul Muni is extraordinary, and his acting gives meaning to the theme of this film that "there is no such word as impossible." In this movie, the heroic revenge of the Russians is exceeded only by the terror of it all.
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Well acted and exciting war flick
jmatrixrenegade11 January 2007
Recently saw this movie on TCM. Very powerful. It concerns a Russian soldier (Paul Muni) and a female resistance agent (well played by Marguerite Chapman, who I'm not familiar with) trapped in a bombed factory (?) with seven Germans. The director has some better known films, including "Four Feathers." Muni is well known. The others appear to be character actors.

It becomes a battle of wills, most of the action taking place in a condensed space -- the small area they are trapped in. But, meanwhile, we also get some excellent shots of the happenings outside in the battlefield and thereabouts. These add a nice touch to the movie, realistically so as well (a sort of newsreel feel in some cases).

The movie has a 1945 publication date but is played basically straight. It is always interesting as well when Russians are the good guys.
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from Russia with love
RanchoTuVu28 January 2010
An engrossing WW2 film set somewhere on the Russian Front with Paul Muni as a member of a Russian assault team who is trapped in a collapsed building with seven German soldiers, one of whom is an officer. Along with him is Margarithe Chapman as a Russian partisan. His character is in the lead part of a big Russian counter-attack that is to be launched across a river on a bridge that's being built eighteen inches under the surface of the water. The setting in the collapsed building with the German soldiers whom he has captured and is trying to extract information from is beautifully done with tension and humor amidst fading light, all captured by cinematographer James Wong Howe, one of the greats of B&W photography (and color, too if you've seen Picnic). Maybe Muni was a tad bit better in I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, but he's awfully good here as a crafty Russian fighting sleep deprivation and fading light. The Germans are great as well, each getting enough lines to establish himself. Margarithe Chapman's part as Muni's comrade captures the idea of equality in the ranks among men and women. She's tough but tender.
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impact on a little kid
hofstra72-115 June 2007
I was 7 years old when I saw this movie in 1945. the war swirled around me and this was a movie about success against an enemy of America. At 7, you have no political insights as to what is going on. It's the "good guys vs. the bad guys", the "cowboys vs. the indians" from a little kids perspective, and I was for the good guys, which in this case were the Russians. I guess it was OK to root for the Russians as long as we had a common enemy. This was my first exposure to propaganda movies, but not my last. When Paul Muni and Larry parks were identified as "Commie supporters" after the war was over, they paid a price for what they believed in. With the Communist conspiracy lurking, this hysteria impacted and destroyed a lot of people, a sad day for our country. Obviously, this movie made an impact on me, as it still is one of my favorites, all politics aside. From a historical perspective, it showed, that the Russians weren't always our enemies, a fact we would rather not acknowledge today. I guess it will always hold true, that "the enemy of my enemy, is my friend".
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You Russians are stubborn, that's you weakness
sol121814 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS*** A bit drawn out and looking a lot more like a play, which the story originally was, then a movie Counter-Attack looks like it was filmed in almost total darkness. With just one or two scenes outside the factory basement, where most of the film takes place, where there was any sunlight at all.

Leading an attack on German units across the river a team of Russian commandos are shot to pieces with only two of the group Alexie Kulkov and Lisa Elenko surviving. Trapped underground in a German occupied Russian factory the two Russians, who are the only ones with firearms, find themselves together with seven also trapped German soldier's! That leads to a standoff between the two combatants each trying to get information out of each other. With the hope if they survive or are rescued by their own men it would help in the battle shaping up outside between their two armies.

It what later turns out to be a battle of wills the Russian private Kulkov and German officer Von Sturmer who play a deadly game of cat and mouse. Feeling out each others strengths and weaknesses as the fighting goes on outside. With both of them, Kulkov & Von Sturmer, having no idea who's side is not only winning but is in control of the devastated factory where both of them, with their fellow comrades, are trapped in.

Not the usual war film that you would have expected with most of the fighting not taking place on screen or among the cast members. Instead concentrating on how fear of the unknown in who's outside, the Germans or Russians, to either save execute or imprison them as well. Lack of sleep also drives the men, and one woman, to the point of madness far more then exploding bombs artillery shells and bullets coming from the other side of the battle-line.

What surprised me most about the movie is how it portrayed the German, who were the bad guys in the film, in putting them almost on an equal footing with the Russians, the films good guys, on moral issues. Like being more then ready to gun down each other if members of the opposing side is the first to come to their rescue. Because of the slow pace and darkness it's hard to follow what exactly is happening. There's a confusing scene with Lisa during an attempt by the captured Germans to overpower her. There's also Kulkov when the what little light there was in the cellar, from a flashlight, went out we find her badly injured and even dying from a knife wound. Yet later she seemed to have completely recovered without as as much as a scratch on her only to see her much later on at the very end of the movie being carried out on a stretcher! Again being on the brink of death from her knife wound by the Red Army troops and medics who broke into the cellar to rescue her and Kulkov!

The movie was also a little hard to swallow in that one of the Germans soldiers Pvt. Stillman trapped with both Kulkov and Lisa was crazy enough to go over to their side. thinking that it would save his skin. This in the spring of 1942 when the Germans were well on their way, or so it looked at the time, of winning the war against the USSR.

Also in regard of the Red Army's brutal treatment, the USSR in fact didn't sign the 1929 Geneva accords in the human treatment of POW's, of German prisoners it made you wounder why Pvt. Sillman would voluntarily give himself up in the first place!

It made no sense, unless he just lost his mind, and was driven to become a traitor to his country and fellow German soldier's. With his family back home facing a stay in a German concentration camp and him being shot by the Gestapo or being sent to Siberia by the NKVD if either one got there, the cellar, first!
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Early film shows Russians as worthy WWII allies
SimonJack3 June 2013
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, East European sources began putting World War II stories on film. And, some movies that had been made since the 1970s were being released in the West. As a result, most people in the West for the first time saw the contributions Russia had made to help win the war. These films tell stories about the war on the Eastern Front, and the ravages of war on those countries and their people. But there were some movies made much earlier in Hollywood about Russia's fighting Germany. Americans living during World War II would have seen those films. They were produced to show Americans the heroic efforts of the Russians as allies in WW II, and to win public support for the U.S. programs to supply arms and weaponry to Russia.

But, unlike other movies produced during the war years, the films on Russia's conflicts with the Germans were not shown as reruns in theaters or on TV beginning in the 1950s. No sooner had the war ended, when Joe Stalin began his power grab to control and enslave many eastern European countries and to oppress and murder his own people. Thus, the former ally in war was now an enemy in peace and a threat to western democracy. So, reruns of wartime propaganda films about the freedom-fighting Russians would conflict with the news of the day and the horrors reported on the Soviet oppression. The Cold War was on.

But now the Cold War is more than two decades behind us. With modern technology we can transfer movies from film to DVDs. And, so older films too are now available. One of the best of those is "Counter-Attack," starring Paul Muni. The movie came out in 1945 and is based on a play that ran on Broadway in 1943. A very strong point of the film is that it doesn't portray German soldiers or Russians as buffoons or as ignorant. Indeed, the dialog of the Russians in the early scenes, and of Muni throughout the film, is of intelligent, discerning individuals. While the Germans are the enemy here, none of those individuals portrayed is seen as uneducated. They do come across as menacing and clever.

The plot is excellent, and the directing and cinematography are exceptional. Muni plays his role perfectly, and several of the Germans are very good. This is a good propaganda film that put a WW II ally in good standing with Americans. If all Russians were like Muni and the rest of his special unit, we knew we had a competent, tough and capable ally. One worth fighting for and with. This movie is a welcome addition to my WW II film library.
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GManfred2 January 2018
Most of "Counter-Attack" takes place in a collapsed factory building in which 2 Russians and 7 Germans are trapped. Ordinarily, in a picture of this type, the action comes to a screeching halt and the film becomes a talkathon. But the story benefits greatly from the presence of Paul Muni, one of America's great actors, as the Russian soldier who is holding the 7 German soldiers captive until rescuers arrive.

The Russians are trying to drive the Germans from Russian soil, and have sent a handful of paratroopers ahead to gather information on troop movements, and the group is trapped after an explosion at a factory doubling as a German messaging outpost. That the film does not perish from Death by Dialogue is a tribute to Paul Muni's superior acting ability as well as an excellent script. If it comes on soon, catch it and see if you don't agree.
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tries to be smarter
SnoopyStyle21 June 2019
It's 1942 and the Soviets have fallen back under German attack. The Soviets are secretly building a bridge to launch a counter-attack. They sent paratroopers to help partisans in enemy territory to locate German forces. With intel of impending German reinforcements, they launch a surprise attack. Paratrooper Alexei Kulkov with local guide Lisa Elenko take seven German soldiers prisoners but become trapped under a collapsed building.

This was shown at a time when the Soviets were still Allies. Aside from the war action scenes, this is essentially an one room play. My only concern is that I don't see these characters talk so easily. The writing is definitely trying to be smarter than most. Alexei should definitely force the prisoners to sit down. There is a few things about this that rings a little false. It wouldn't matter as much if this isn't reaching for the higher levels. This is not the standard war movie. It's trying to be more and the little annoyances hurt.
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Play adaptation
Leofwine_draca20 July 2018
Warning: Spoilers
COUNTER-ATTACK is a WW2 movie with a unique perspective; the hero is a Russian soldier, played by Hollywood star Paul Muni, best known for his turn in the original SCARFACE. The setting is a bombed-out basement, where Muni takes refuge among a group of German soldiers, one of whom he suspects is a disguised officer; he must seek to identify the man to learn of Nazi plans. Like many older Hollywood films that are based on plays, this one is somewhat stagey and talky, although the premise is a suspenseful one. I did find that it had dated somewhat and there's not quite enough in the way of tension and plot twists to keep it going, so it flags at times.
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Psychological World War II drama featuring Paul Muni
jacobs-greenwood16 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Produced and directed by Zoltan Korda with a screenplay by John Howard Lawson from an adaptation by Janet Stevenson and Philip Stevenson of Pobyeda, a play by Ilya Vershinin and Mikhail Ruderman, this psychological war drama features Paul Muni as Alexei Kulkov, a Russian soldier who, along with a female resistance fighter as his assistant Lisa Elenko (Marguerite Chapman), finds himself in a position to extract vital intelligence information from some Nazis that he's taken prisoner while all are trapped in a bombed out building.

It's 1942 and the Russians have been driven back such that the German front is a thousand miles into their own country. But Ostrovski (Ian Wolfe, uncredited) and Colonel Seminov (George Macready) have a plan - to build an unseen bridge eighteen inches under the river which will enable Russian tanks and troops to cross - the first step of which is to drop paratroopers behind enemy lines. Among these are Kulkov, his German Shepherd dog and Kirichenko (Larry Parks), who are led by Elenko once they land. They attack the German stronghold at a factory and the Russians win the battle until an alerted squadron of enemy planes bomb the facility, trapping Kulkov and Elenko with seven German soldiers that they'd just discovered and captured. Fortunately, Kulkov's dog sniffed out this fact and, using a kind of Morse code on a pipe that extends from the room to the surface, Kirichenko learns the situation from his comrade and decides to venture back across the river to inform his commanding officers.

By flashlight, lantern, then even candlelight, Kulkov and Elenko take turns keeping a machine gun trained on the Germans at the other end of the large room. Over the course of many hours, Kulkov uses his cunning and reasoning abilities to learn that among his prisoners is a German officer who might have important information that will help his country's counterattack. Of course, the Nazis do their best to keep the identity of their officer a secret while they scheme to overcome the increasingly tired Kulkov and Elenko, who is stabbed in a brief scuffle that ensues when the lantern is knocked out. As the hours become days, through interrogation and tricks, Kulkov learns the identity of the officer and then plays a dangerous game of "who knows what" during which he reveals more than he intended about the "invisible" bridge being built by his countrymen. When the trapped hear digging and voices on the surface, they know that the end is near but it's unclear who it is. Kulkov knows that he must kill his Nazi prisoners if it's Germans who are about to rescue them, but it turns out to be his Russian comrades, dog and Col. Seminov, who is thrilled to learn the location of his enemy's concentration.
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Just. Shoot. Them.
So you find yourself trapped in a bombed-out building with a peasant girl and 7 members of the enemy. Luckily, you hold the gun. The enemy soldiers start jerking around and refuse to co-operate when interrogated. What do you do? Keep asking them questions until you feel sleepy and hope they don't jump you? No. You shoot them. One at a time until somebody talks. Well, that's if you want to live to see daylight again. On the other hand, if you want to fill out 90 minutes of a stagebound movie you pen this commie-inspired screenplay and bore moveigoers to death.
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Great concept...
nickharvey-283914 January 2019
...for a film. Great acting and a great film showing the differences of culture and values between the Nazis and Russians.
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Weak Unless Your A Red Army Fan Maybe
verbusen13 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Not much a "counter-attack" but a "stuck behind enemy lines" movie. I also saw this on Turner Classic Movies and that's probably the only place you'll ever see this movie as it has little main stream appeal. Think of this as a remake of "Sahara" without all the cool action, just the constant diatribe dialog. Released (according to IMDb) less then one month before the fall of Nazi Germany, this movie was clearly a propaganda war movie among all the rest to motivate the masses in America. Except I question who or even where this film would have been shown to. I guess like where most of the previous reviewers here live, it was shown in the North East (mainly New York City) and probably in Chicago. Since Communism was still a slightly mainstream political movement in America, I guess it was also made for those people in America to help support the war effort more. In only about one year things would dramatically change starting as soon as only a few months when Russia would not declare war on Japan until less then a month before the A bomb and total surrender so they could take part of the spoils. Then of course the Iron Curtain would go up and well, I'm sure surprised this film was even found in the vaults after all this time. One chilling scene if I can just point it out, is when the Leader says that a word does not exist anymore and that you cannot find it in the dictionary anymore, and Muni crosses out that word in his pocket dictionary. This would be reprised in the movie "Alphaville" where the society's leader erases words and the people can no longer use the word "love". It's hard for me to root for one s-bag group that is only slightly less s-bagish then the other group. Anyway, I like Muni and I liked Korda in some of their other works and I like war movies and had never seen this one, so I gave it a try. It's not out of line with anything else done at the time, it's just that there aren't many good war movies made during the war because they are all done for propaganda. 5 of 10, I see many others enjoy this but they are probably Travelers so take that into account.
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