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Although it can be didactic at times, Franklin Schaffner's Patton (1970) is one of the more viscerally entertaining World War II films you'll ever see.It's strange to say that about a picture that features such grueling ordeals as D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, but the reason, of course, is due to George C. Scott's riveting performance as Gen. George S. Patton, one of the most arrogant, egotistical military figures in U.S. history, along with his equally self-aggrandizing cohort, Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
At times, Scott's rip-roaring work here for which he won, but refused to accept, an Academy Award - is reminiscent of his over-the-top theatrics in Dr. Strangelove (1964). The difference is that Strangelove is a satire that pointedly deflates the military mindset, while Patton salutes the idea of immense power. It makes perfect sense that Richard Nixon repeatedly screened the picture while he was in the White House.
The narrative follows the high and low points of Patton's career, as he self-consciously unfurls his banner across World War II. Schaffner orchestrates such sweeping events as Patton's defeat of Rommel's army in Africa, and his glorious march to Bastogne, with a grandiosity that befits the subject matter. Since the battles stand as extensions of Patton's oversized personality, personal confrontations with such fellow generals as Omar Bradley (Karl Malden) and Bernard Montgomery (Michael Bates) also generate their share of fireworks. Still, it's probably Patton's famous slapping of a shell-shocked soldier (Tim Considine) that best displays his attitude toward warfare: in a nutshell, only the strong survive.
Regardless of your own politics, it's hard not to be impressed by Scott, and by the dialogue supplied to his character by a then up-and-coming young screenwriter named Francis Ford Coppola. Patton's opening scene, as you probably know, consists of a profane speech being delivered by the General to his gathered troops. The real-life Patton never made such a speech, but Coppola brilliantly cobbled together an assortment of statements that Patton actually uttered, thus formulating one of the best-known movie monologues of all time.
It's interesting to note that the monologue was originally intended to take place in the middle of the film, after a brief intermission. Schaffner's decision to place it at the beginning was fortuitous, since it quickly immerses the audience in the magnetism of a man who might otherwise be viewed, quite frankly, as a lunatic. You may not want to run out and die for Patton after listening to this little pep talk. But you'll be more than curious to see where this gung-ho cowboy is heading.
Scott's refusal of the 1970 Academy Award for Best Actor caused such a stir at the time, his name is probably more closely associated with "Oscar®" than it might have been had he just given a gracious acceptance speech and left the stage. Scott was a hard-drinking, opinionated man who wasn't particularly well-liked in movie circles, so it's not altogether surprising that many of his colleagues felt his public dismay over simply being nominated was, in fact, a crafty way of campaigning to win the award.
Actually, Scott admitted that, at one point in his life, he was quite anxious to have an Oscar® on his shelf. In 1960, he was so demoralized when his nominated performance for Anatomy of a Murder (1959) didn't earn him the award, he swore that he would never again focus on such shallow things. "I came to see (the awards show) as a fawning, dizzy 'meat contest' staged every spring. The process was not something I could live with comfortably." He also once told The New York Times that "(the show) encourages the public to think that the award is more important to the actor than the work for which he was nominated." Who knows how Scott would have felt had he not lost to Hugh Griffith (for Ben-Hur) back in 1960?
Patton was one of the first blockbusters of the 1970s. It earned $28-million, which was quite a staggering sum at the time, but, today would stand as a mildly disappointing opening weekend for a Vin Diesel movie. It also raked in a pile of Academy Awards outside of the one that Scott refused. Schaffner won for Best Director, Coppola won Best Adapted Screenplay, the film itself won Best Picture, and there were three other wins in technical categories. "Old Blood and Guts" would have been pleased, although he might have smacked Scott for not standing up and proudly receiving his decoration.
Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner
Producer: Frank McCarthy and Frank Caffey
Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola (based on the books Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago and A Soldier's Story by Gen. Omar N.Bradley)
Cinematography: Fred Koenekamp
Editing: Hugh S. Fowler
Art Design: Urie McCleary and Gil Parrondo
Special Effects: L.B. Abbott and Art Cruickshank
Set Design: Antonio Mateos and Pierre-Louis Thevenet
Principal Cast: George C. Scott (George S. Patton), Karl Malden (Omar Bradley), Michael Bates (Sir Bernard Law Montgomery), Ed Binns (Walter Bedell Smith), Lawrence Dobkin (Gaston Bell), John Doucette (Lucian K.Trescott), James Edwards (William George Meeks), Frank Latimore (Henry Davenport), Richard Munch (Alfred Jodl), Morgan Paull (Richard Jensen), Karl Michael Vogler (Erwin Rommel.)
by Paul Tatara