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Review by Walter Frith
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'Patton' is the film the elevated many careers. It also caused controversy,
inspired bravery and honour, and made a false prophecy in its opening
monologue that is now legendary. Combine it with its intellectual look at
war (there isn't that much action) and you have the makings for one of the
20th century's top five films about war. Many say that 'Patton' is a great
biography. If you want to talk about two to three years of a man's life, I
suppose you could make that argument but it's a weak one. A character study
would be a more appropriate description of this great motion picture set in
World War II.
Although he is known for the 'Godfather' films and 'Apocalypse Now', people
should be constantly reminded that one of the authors of the film's
screenplay is none other than Francis Ford Coppola who shared an Oscar with
Edmund H. North for this film. A winner of six other Oscars ----- Best
Picture, Best Director (Franklin J. Schaffner), Best Actor (George C.
Scott - who refused the award), Sound, Film Editing and Art Direction/Set
Decoration, 'Patton' has the dubious distinction of producing a leading
actor in his most famous role and wondering if at times you're being fooled
into thinking the real Patton is on screen. George C. Scott is absolutely
riveting as the no-nonsense, outspoken and mean tempered general with a
compassionate side and knows when to use these two main sides of his
The film begins in a glorious manner with a platoon of soldiers being
brought to attention as General Patton makes his way to the platform and
discusses all that is American about war with a huge American flag hanging
in the background. When he's done, you're ready to sign up! He says at one
point that "Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. Because
the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans." Upon the film's
release in 1970, right in the middle of the Vietnam War, the general would
turn out to be wrong about this.
The film then opens after its credit roll to a massacre of American troops
under British command in North Africa during the middle of the war. A new
commanding general is assigned and it is none other that Patton himself.
Working with Patton is General Omar Bradley (Karl Malden) in a top
performance that should have netted Malden a Best Supporting Actor
nomination but didn't.
The two sides of Patton's moody personality come into full view in a tent in
Sicily when he comforts the men wounded seriously in battle and kneels at
the bedside of one soldier who is incapacitated with his eyes bandaged and
oxygen being fed into him. Patton whispers something in his ear which the
audience doesn't hear and he then lays a medal on the soldier's pillow and
gives him a gentle touch on the head. Patton then turns around and sees a
soldier crying and after repeated attempts at getting him to stop, Patton
slaps the helmet right off his head and curses at him. He orders the man
out of the tent and threatens to shoot him before two men forcibly remove
him from the tent.
After this incident, Patton must apologize to the soldier he slapped on
direct orders from his superiors and the scene where he apologizes is
probably Scott's best scene in the film. A real life performance by Scott
shook up the motion picture academy when he refused to accept his Best Actor
award by saying that he felt the acting community was a group effort and
that actors shouldn't be in competition with each other. Scott received two
other Oscar nominations previously for 1959's 'Anatomy of a Murder' and 'The
Hustler' in 1961 and had asked that his name be removed from the list in
both cases. He would receive one more nomination to date after 'Patton' for
his 1971 performance in 'The Hospital' and how his performance in 'Dr.
Strangelove' in 1964 wasn't nominated is only one of many Oscar mysteries.
The climax of 'Patton' is memorable from a scene involving Patton's request
to an army chaplain where he wants a weather prayer to relieve blizzard like
conditions and he gets both the prayer and relief. Director Franklin J.
Schaffner cross cuts Patton reading the prayer with intense battle scenes
which is haunting, moving and unforgettable. A testament to how serious
Patton was about winning the war with the enemy comes in a scene in the last
third of the film where he shouts "If we are not victorious, let no one come
back alive!" This film is alive and well today and is one of the most
victorious films of all time with its peers, historians (both film and war)
and with audiences. As long as there is war in the world, it will stand the
test of time.
Copyright © 1999 Walter Frith