#71) Patton (1970)

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#71) Patton (1970)

OR “Ol’ Blood and Guts Is Back”

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner

Written by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North. Based on the biography “Patton: Ordeal and Triumph” by Ladislas Farago and the autobiography “A Soldier’s Story” by Omar N. Bradley.

Class of 2003

The Plot: The true story of General George S. Patton (George C. Scott) as he spends World War II trying to lead his men into a battle worthy of his idea of war. Along the way he earns the respect of his men and his country, but ends up irritating his colleagues; among them General Omar Bradley (Karl Malden), British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (Michael Bates) and the always unseen Commander General “Ike” Eisenhower.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “one of Hollywood’s most enduring screen biographies” and praises the work of Schaffner, Scott, Malden, Coppola and North.

But Does It Really?: As an iconic piece of filmmaking “Patton” is top-notch. The main attraction is George C. Scott’s wonderfully layered, complex performance, but underneath that is a genuinely well-crafted film. What could have been a standard biopic that bordered on propaganda has been turned into a surprisingly insightful war epic. It may have lost some of its luster over time (the AFI kicked it off their revised 100 Films list), but “Patton” is a true piece of work that offers a unique perspective of a man who could only thrive in times of war.

Everybody Gets One: That’s Tim Considine from the old “Spin and Marty” show as the solider that Patton slaps in the medical tent. And special mention to Abraxas Aaran as Patton’s dog Willy. What kind of dog name that is I have no idea.

Wow, That’s Dated: “Patton” is one of only two films shot in the curved Cinerama process called Dimension 150. Interestingly enough, the other film, “The Bible: In the Beginning”, also stars George C. Scott.

Take a Shot: For a film whose title is the main character, they don’t say “Patton” as often as you’d think. Most people just call him “George” or “Sir”.

Seriously, Oscars?: At a time when America was divided over the Vietnam War, the Academy firmly embraced a film that, while showing a complexity about war, showcased the glory of a war that could be won. “Patton” took home seven Oscars, including Picture, Director and Original Screenplay (even though it’s based off of two different books. I just don’t understand these things.). George C. Scott won a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar, which he famously declined, telling the Academy he refused to participate in competition among actors. The film’s producer Frank McCarthy gracefully accepted the award, but returned it to the Academy the next day. The Academy held no hard feelings: they nominated Scott again the following year for “The Hospital”.

Other notes

  • For those of you curious about Coppola’s participation in this film, he had written a “Patton” screenplay draft in the mid-60s that got shelved. When Fox wasn’t completely satisfied with Edmund North’s draft, they brought back Coppola’s version and used enough to get him a co-writing credit. The two writers did not work together at any point during this film.
  • Where does one get an American flag that big?
  • The WTF on the side of Patton’s vehicle stands for “Western Task Force”. Nothing else.
  • I appreciate a war movie were the Germans actually speak German.
  • It takes a while for George C. Scott to give us one of his classic explosive line readings, but it finally shows up in “You magnificent bastard I read your BOOK!”
  • Listen carefully for legendary voiceover actor Paul Frees dubbing a handful of minor characters throughout the film.
  • No wonder George C. Scott is perfect casting; Patton plays this war like it’s a chess game, and Scott loved him a good chess game.
  • Is anyone else seeing the bits of hair occasionally stuck in the camera lens?
  • Shoutout to cinematographer Fred Koenekamp. Camera hair aside, there’s some lovely one-take scenes at play here. Also worth mentioning is Jerry Goldsmith’s minimal, but effective score, which has been used and reused many times over the years. Sadly, no Oscar for either of them.
  • Karl Malden successfully sneaks in Sekulovich, his birth name, into one of the battle scenes.
  • I assume there will be a scene where Patton slaps his dog for being too cowardly.
  • If Patton believed in reincarnation, then swearing something upon your life has little to no meaning. Kind of an empty promise.
  • It’s a shame that Franklin J. Schaffner never again reached the same directorial peaks he did with “Patton”. “Papillion” and “The Boys from Brazil” have their supporters, but you’d think the man who helmed this and “Planet of the Apes” would have become the Ang Lee of the ‘70s.

Legacy

  • George C. Scott reprised his most famous role 16 years later for the TV Movie “The Last Days of Patton”, a sequel/prequel.
  • “Patton” was one of Richard Nixon’s favorite films. He viewed it several times during his years at the White House, especially while facing tough decisions regarding the Vietnam War. Spoilers: It didn’t help.
  • There was so much extra battle footage left out of “Patton”, a lot of it was reused for the 1972 TV Movie “Fireball Forward”.
  • Everyone has stood in front of a giant American flag and done a “Patton” parody, but the only one I could get a hold of (The Carson spoof costs money) is this teaser for “Smokey and the Bandit 3” back when it was going to be “Smokey IS the Bandit”. I was not expecting to reference this film on this blog…ever.

Listen to This: He received zero screen time in “Patton”, so listen to Dwight Eisenhower give a radio speech to European citizens regarding the D-Day invasion, preserved by the National Recording Registry in 2002.

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