George C Scott in Patton

Patton

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

11 April

 

President Truman fires General MacArthur, 1951

Today in 1951, President Truman fired his most popular, successful general, Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur had been chief of staff of the US army in the 1930s, had been commander of the US Army in the Far East and supreme commander of the southwest Pacific during the Second World War. It was MacArthur who accepted the surrender of the Japanese in 1945 ,and it was MacArthur who effectively governed Japan between 1945 and 1951. It was also MacArthur who led the United Nations forces into Korea, where he was initially successful, before being pushed back south of the 38th parallel, the dividing line between north and south Korea. In early 1951, under General Ridgway, the US eighth army retook Seoul and pushed on to the 38th parallel. It was at this point that MacArthur wrote a letter to the US Congress – bypassing the president – which criticised Truman’s policy both in Asia and globally. Truman responded by firing him, which made the already unpopular president even more unpopular – his approval rating of 22% being an all time low for a serving president.

 

 

 

Patton (1970, dir: Franklin J Schaffner)

Patton is the film that the 1977 biopic MacArthur wants to be. And that’s largely down to the casting of George C Scott as the bulldog general, knocking Gregory Peck’s somnolent MacArthur into a braided hat. Francis Ford Coppola’s screenplay (written with Edmund North) is heroic too, injecting that fierce love of combat into the character of Patton, as Coppola would later into the combatants in Apocalypse Now. The sense of the epic is here too, with Coppola and North painting Patton as a general whose dedication to his craft and his country are founded on something almost supernatural, certainly something bigger than himself (whether Patton actually believed that in a previous life he had been an imperial Roman warrior I don’t know, but Coppola has him state it here). Released at the height of opposition to Vietnam, the film managed to be well received on both sides, thanks to Coppola’s work on the script which plays to a certain anti-war sentiment. And here’s where Scott comes in, playing Patton as at least 25% mad, the sort of man who you want inside the tent pissing out, as Lyndon Johnson said of J Edgar Hoover, rather than vice versa. Devotees of Dr Strangelove will notice more than a touch of Scott’s General Buck Turgidson in his Patton too.
It’s a long film, and Scott is there for most of it. Though it concentrates mostly on the closing years of the Second World War, Patton’s finest hour, it opens with the iconic shot of Patton, huge, standing in front of the American flag, even huger – and in its original 70mm awesome – then moves to his defeat of Rommel in North Africa and the invasion of Sicily, where he disobeys orders in order to beat the British general Montgomery to the prize of Messina. In the “boy loses girl” segment, structure borrowed from romantic comedy, we also see Patton lose his command for slapping an apparently uninjured soldier he happens upon in a hospital. Before he comes back stronger than ever to win battle after battle as the Allies head towards Germany after the D-Day invasion. Ra ra ra. In an echo of MacArthur’s dismissal, it is Patton’s unguarded remarks that get him fired, bringing to a muted end a glorious life of service.
Fox chucked a vault of cash at Patton and it’s all there on the screen – big names, lots of locations, a cast of thousands, and cinematography of remarkable virtuosity. It’s all here, in other words.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • George C Scott won an Oscar – which he declined
  • Schaffner’s follow-up to Planet of the Apes
  • Great support from Karl Malden, Michael Bates, Jack Gwillim
  • Fred Koenekamp’s 70mm cinematography

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Patton – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Patton”

  1. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of reading "The Patton Papers," a collection of Gen. Patton’s diary entries and letters edited by Martin Blumenson. Having seen the movie, I think that no actor has ever better captured the spirit of a man better than George C. Scott, nor has any movie better portrayed that spirit than PATTON.

    Patton was a man who lived for war. World War II was the high point and culmination of his life. He didn’t fight for any principles, he didn’t fight to defend freedom or democracy or any abstract idea; he fought because he loved fighting. In his diaries you can read of his fear of flunking out of West Point; the prospect terrified him because he was certain that he would never be good at anything except being a general or a leader of a country.

    As a leader of men, he was exceptional. His speech at the beginning of the movie is vintage Patton, an almost exact reproduction of a speech Patton actually gave to Third Army. It’s tough, and no-nonsense; Patton lets you know in no uncertain terms that he is here to win, to destroy the enemy, and by God you’d better be too. I don’t know if Patton actually directed traffic on the roads as he is shown doing in the movie, but it was a very Pattonish thing to do. Patton did on at least one occasion get out of his staff car and join a squad of G.I.’s in heaving a vehicle out of the mud. Try to imagine Montgomery doing that; the very thought is hilarious!

    Patton’s character explains his treatment of his men. To those who had been wounded fighting for him he was always kind and considerate. But to those whose minds could not stand the horrible strain that war imposed on them, he was merciless; he could not comprehend the fact that other people didn’t share his love of violence for violence’ sake. PATTON shows this aspect of his character very well.

    Karl Malden’s Omar Bradley is shown in an almost father-like role; he sees and recognizes Patton’s immense talents as a general, and uses them in spite of Patton’s natural ability to antagonize everybody around him. Not shown in the movie is Patton’s unloveable characteristic of turning on his subordinates once they surpassed him in their careers. Patton had nothing but good to say about Bradley, until Bradley was promoted over Patton’s head, whereupon Patton savaged Bradley in his diary. Patton did the same to Eisenhower.

    A general can have no higher compliment than the fear and respect of his adversaries, and as PATTON demonstrates, Patton was more feared by the Germans than any other Allied general, at least on the Western front. As one German officer observes all too prophetically, "the absence of war will destroy him [Patton]." And although mankind’s single greatest stroke of good fortune in the 20th century was that Russia and America never came to blows, it is still hard not to feel sorry for Patton as he desperately seeks his superiors’ approval to carry the war on eastward into the Soviet Union – anything, just to have a war to fight. Patton is like an addict to a destructive drug.

    Hollywood has rarely given us such a textured and human portrait of a great man: cruel, often foolish in his relations with others, rude, and psychopathically attached to violence, but brave, dedicated, and loyal. Certainly those who, like myself, have Jewish blood, or who were otherwise marked for death by the Nazi state, all owe him a great debt of gratitude for his pivotal role in destroying that state. And yet, had he been born German, Patton would surely have fought just as devotedly for the Nazi side. I’m glad he wasn’t.

    Rating: **** out of ****.

  2. Oliver Stone has said this film glorifies war, i disagree, what it does is show a man {Patton} who gloried in war, the war is shown through his perspective,and to Patton war is glorious and he revels in it.The performance of George c scott as Patton is brilliant, it shows a complex and demanding character riddled with contradictions ,who believes he was born to be a leader of men,the supporting cast is very good particularly karl Malden who plays general Bradley a calm experienced soldier with no dreams of glory, the perfect foil to the maverick Patton, the combat scenes are well shot and are never more than is necessary to support the narrative,the film rises above being very good to excellence due to George c Scotts intuitive grasp of the character.

  3. The best comment on this film was made by my father. This was the last movie he saw in a theater. He had served under Patton in WW2 and said that Scott had nailed Patton’s character and mannerisms so perfectly that halfway through the opening speech, he expected Scott/Patton to look down and say, "$@%#$@, Sears, get a haircut – your hair’s too &#%#$%@ long!"

  4. Patton is a movie about a man who on one hand was one of America’s greatest generals, and on the other hand was only marginally saner than Gen. Jack D. Ripper. According to several vets I got to talk to (who actually served under the real Patton!), George C. Scott’s portrayal was spot-on. A few observations on the movie: Even when I was a kid, seeing Patton when it came out in 1970, I was suspicious of the tanks used in that battle scene in North Africa. Even then, they didn’t look like the classic German tanks…Patton’s speech in the beginning of the movie was edited for content. If you ever read the original version of his speech, it makes the movie version sound like a church sermon.

    I also wished that the movie had pointed out that in WW1, Patton commanded the first ever American tank battalion, and was severely wounded in battle, yet kept fighting until he just about passed out from loss of blood. I thought this should have been brought out that he had practiced what he preached… Gen. Omar Bradley: portrayed in the movie as Patton’s "buddy", he was nothing of the sort. Jealous of Patton, the real life Bradley would go to Eisenhower behind Patton’s back to stymie George’s success.

    Monty: Sorry, Monty fans, but the movie points out one historical fact. Monty usurped needed gas and supplies from Patton in September of ’44 for his disastrous "Market Garden" attack (watch Richard Attenborough’s "A Bridge Too Far" as a companion movie to "Patton"). Thanks to Monty, the war went on much longer than it probably would have if Patton had been allowed to drive into Germany. Patton’s arrogance helped win battles. Monty’s arrogance gave us the Battle of the Bulge, the fire bombing of Dresden, not to mention countless Jewish lives lost. Patton had the Germans reeling in the fall of 1944, and, as the movie pointed out, had the army in just the right place at the right time to end it. Unfortunately, thanks to Monty’s political pull and crappy generalmanship, the war went on longer than it should have…

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