Filmsite Movie Review
Patton (1970)
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Background

Patton (1970) is the epic film biography of the controversial, bombastic, multi-dimensional World War II general and hero George S. Patton. The larger-than-life, flamboyant, maverick, pugnacious military figure, nicknamed "Old Blood and Guts," was well-known for his fierce love of America, his temperamental battlefield commanding, his arrogant power-lust ("I love it. God help me, I do love it so. I love it more than my life"), his poetry writing, his slapping of a battle-fatigued soldier, his anti-diplomatic criticism of the Soviet Union, and his firing of pistols at fighter planes.

The film, shot in 70 mm. widescreen color, received a phenomenal ten Academy Awards nominations and won seven major awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Scott refused to accept the honor), Best Director (Franklin J. Schaffner), Best Story and Screenplay (Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North), Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Sound, and Best Film Editing. Its other three nominations were: Best Cinematography, Best Original Score (Jerry Goldsmith), and Best Special Visual Effects.

The story was based on two books: Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago and A Soldier's Story by General Omar Bradley (portrayed by Karl Malden). As a result of Coppola's breakthrough win in 1970, he went on to write and direct The Godfather (1972).

Although George C. Scott portrayed the famous general perfectly and became Scott's archetypal film, the role was also considered by Burt Lancaster, Rod Steiger, Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum and John Wayne.

The subject matter was remade as a TV-movie entitled The Last Days of Patton (1986), also with Scott in the lead role.

The Story

A larger-than-life, egotistical, much-decorated, fierce American General 'Old Blood and Guts' George S. Patton, Jr. (George C. Scott) was featured in the opening scene before the backdrop of a huge American flag. He was addressing Allied US troops of the Third Army (off-screen) in a memorable, brilliant pep-talk monologue to raise morale just before they were deployed overseas at the start of WWII. The film opened with his classic, six-minute monologue about Americans and their fighting spirit. [Note: The screenwriters took excerpts from many of Patton's actual speeches, edited them, and created this enduring scene.]

After the anthem concluded, he ended his salute and with a cold, mean look, he delivered his speech to offscreen troops - peppering it with numerous profanities. His speech displayed his strong love of America. He praised those who would fight, promising potential glory for his soldiers:

...Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country. Men, all this stuff you've heard about America not wanting to fight - wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of horse dung. Americans traditionally love to fight. All real Americans love the sting of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, big league ball players, the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn't give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That's why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war, because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans. Now, an army is a team - it lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap... Now, we have the finest food and equipment, the best spirit, and the best men in the world. You know, by god, I actually pity those poor bastards we're goin' up against. By god, I do. We're not just gonna shoot the bastard, we're going to cut out their living guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We're going to murder those lousy Hun bastards by the bushel.

Now, some of you boys, I know, are wondering whether or not you'll chicken out under fire. Don't worry about it. I can assure you that you will all do your duty. The Nazis are the enemy. Wade into them, spill their blood, shoot them in the belly. When you put your hand into a bunch of goo that a moment before was your best friend's face, you'll know what to do. Now there's another thing I want you to remember. I don't want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We're not holding anything. Let the Hun do that. We are advancing constantly and we're not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy. We're gonna hold onto him by the nose and we're gonna kick him in the ass. We're going to kick the hell out of him all the time and we're gonna go through him like crap through a goose. Now, there's one thing that you men will be able to say when you get back home, and you may thank god for it. Thirty years from now when you're sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee, and he asks you: 'What did you do in the Great World War II?', you won't have to say: 'Well, I shoveled s--t in Louisiana.' All right now, you sons-of-bitches, you know how I feel and I will be proud to lead you wonderful guys into battle anytime, anywhere. That's all.

During the early years of the war in 1943, in the military campaign (the Battle of El Guettar) in Tunisia (North Africa) against Germany's Field Marshal Rommel (Karl Michael Vogler) known as "The Desert Fox," Patton's military genius was exemplified when his troops defeated the advancing German forces, and the Germans were expelled from N. Africa. They quickly annihilated and destroyed enemy tanks and infantry; Patton watched through binoculars at a nearby outpost, and exclaimed that he had used Rommel's own strategy against him in his book 'Infantry Attacks':

"Rommel, you magnificent bastard! I read your book!"

However, Patton often ran into resistance from traditonal or conventional military leaders, such as General Omar Bradley (Karl Malden). During plans for the invasion of Sicily in 1943 with the 7th Army to wrest it away from the Axis Powers, Patton was forced to work with the more cautious and ineffective British Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery (Michael Bates), who Patton regarded as a hindrance rather than as a complement. On his own initiative, Patton demonstrated his winning philosophy by beating Montgomery to Messina (the island's main eastern port) with a lengthy pincer movement strategy (that took down Palermo along the way). Afterwards, the Italian leader Benito Mussolini was removed from power in Italy and the Allies were able to invade Italy.

An Army field hospital incident nearly damaged Patton's entire career (he also missed out on D-Day in mid-1944 after being reprimanded and losing his command). He responded to a 'cowardly' combat-fatigued, shell-shocked soldier (Tim Considine) who whimpered: "I-I guess I just can't take it, Sir...It's my nerves, Sir. I-I just can't stand the shelling anymore." Patton was exasperated with the recruit:

"Your nerves? Well, hell, you're just a God-damned coward."

Patton slapped the soldier back and forth with his gloves: "Shut up! I won't have a yellow bastard sitting here crying in front of these brave men who have been wounded in battle! (He knocked off the soldier's helmet) SHUT UP!" He then ordered the doctors to not admit the patient:

"Don't admit this yellow bastard. There's nothing wrong with him. I won't have sons-of-bitches who are afraid to fight stinking up this place of honor! (To the soldier) You're going back to the front, my friend. You may get shot, and you may get killed, but you're going up to the fighting. Either that, or I'm gonna stand you up in front of a firing squad. I ought to shoot you myself, you god-damned bastard! Get him out of here! Send him up to the front! You hear me? You God-damned coward! I won't have cowards in my army."

After Patton was reprimanded and demoted as punishment for his verbal abuse treatment and slapping of the fearful, battle-fatigued soldier, he delivered a very curt public 'apology' speech to assembled troops:

"I thought I would stand up here and let you people see if I am as big a son-of-a-bitch as some of you think I am. (laughter) I assure you I had no intention of being either harsh or cruel in my treatment of the soldier in question. My sole purpose was to try to restore in him some appreciation of his obligations as a man and as a soldier. 'If one can shame a coward,' I felt, 'one might help him to regain his self-respect.' This was on my mind. Now, I freely admit that my method was wrong, but I hope you can understand my motive and will accept this explanation - and this apology."

The fearless, flamboyant, pugnacious and self-confident maverick Gen. Patton ran out of a meeting mid-stream in a headquarters building during an air raid (right after an Allied Air Force officer had bragged: "You will see no more German planes"). He stood in a street and bravely fired his pistol at German planes strafing the area - he yelled out: "Come on, you bastards. Take a shot at me, right in the nose." One of his officers cautioned: "Get back in here, George. We need a corps commander, not a casualty."

Before the Battle of the Bulge, Patton requested a weather-related prayer from the chaplain, and then read outloud:

"Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee of Thy great goodness to restrain this immoderate weather with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for battle. Graciously harken to us as solders who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations. AMEN."

Under Patton's leadership, the Third Army swept brilliantly across France. He dramatically rescued the trapped 101st Airborne under siege at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. Then he swept into Germany - moving faster and covering more ground than any army in US history. Patton pushed his troops all the way to Czechoslovakia but was ordered to step aside to allow Montgomery and the Russian troops to wipe out the already defeated German army. Patton despondently displayed his arrogant power-lust as he confessed: "I love it. God help me, I do love it so. I love it more than my life."

As the war ended on the battlefield, the outspoken Patton insulted and snubbed America's current ally Russia, and then unwisely compared the defeated Nazis to other US political parties. He was removed and relieved from command and delivered a sad farewell to his staff.

In the film's conclusion after the war, Patton's voice-over recalled history. His words were delivered while he was walking his bull terrier Willie over the countryside. He spoke about a returning Roman war hero who was given a victory parade:

"For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph - a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning, that all glory is fleeting."