Patton follows the colorful general through World War II from being brought in as a "tank man" by General Omar Bradley (Karl Malden) after the humiliating American disaster at Kasserine Pass to becoming the American command's unchained pit bull as the brazen general barrels his way through El Gitar and Sicily. Then, after Patton's infamous slapping incident, he becomes a decoy man to fool the German high command as the Allies prepare to invade Europe. It all culminates with Patton's command of the Third Army and his army's brilliant race through Germany to end the European war.
Written by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund North and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, Patton is a film that has it both ways in gloriously noncommittal ambiguity. Released in 1970 at the height of the Vietnam War, the film is pure Hollywood vagueness. On the one hand Patton appeals to conservatives with its glorification of the reactionary general ("All this stuff you've heard about America not wanting to fight, about staying out of the war, is a lot of horse dung... Americans have never lost and will not lose a war because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans.") while liberals can fold their arms around Patton as a rebel bucking the system ("I'm going to keep my mouth shut -- I'm going to play the game.") personified in Patton by the unseen Eisenhower, a Zeus pulling the strings of his performing field commanders.
But Schaffner, like one of Patton's campaigns, keeps the film pushing forward, and the viewer has no pause to take a position right or left. There is also the brilliant maneuver of keeping the film almost hermetically sealed around Patton. From the faceless but intense battle scenes to the few scenes where Patton is not on screen, the subject of the film is Patton; the war itself comes in second place. No wonder the Germans lost. Patton is busy getting down and dirty with his boys on the field of battle (he even directs traffic) while the stuffy, well dressed German commanders are stuck at headquarters shuffling files, staring at charts, and getting Patton updates.
Scott takes up the challenge and delivers one of the great film performances. Scott's Patton is riveting and all too real, allowing the audience to enter Patton's head to the point where the audience begins to think like him. Rather than an over-the-top reactionary like his Buck Turgidson of Dr. Strangelove, Scott reflects Patton's intellectual grandeur while at the same time subtly indicating Patton's arrogance and madness. This a character who believes conclusively in reincarnation, predestined greatness, and cocksure immovability. The only time Turgidson emerges from Patton's schizo id is when he rants on a telephone to a fellow general about starting a shooting war with the Russkies.
Scott is extraordinary -- intense, brazen, passionate. He holds the film by the nose and kicks it in the ass.
Aka Patton: A Salute to a Rebel.
You magnificent bastard, I saw your damn movie!
Run time: 172 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 2nd April 1970
Box Office Worldwide: $89.8M
Distributed by: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Production compaines: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Fresh: 40 Rotten: 1
IMDB: 8.0 / 10
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Producer: Frank McCarthy
Screenwriter: Francis Ford Copolla, Edmund H. North
Starring: George C. Scott as Gen. George S. Patton Jr., Karl Malden as Gen. Omar N. Bradley, Stephen Young as Capt. Chester B. Hansen, Michael Strong as Brig. Gen. Hobart Carver, Carey Loftin as General Bradley's driver, Albert Dumortier as Moroccan minister, Frank Latimore as Lieutenant Colonel Henry Davenport, Morgan Paull as Captain Richard N. Jenson, Karl Michael Vogler as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Bill Hickman as General Patton's driver, Pat Zurica as First Lieutenant Alexander Stiller, James Edwards as Sergeant William George Meeks, Lawrence Dobkin as Colonel Gaston Bell, David Bauer as Lieutenant General Harry Buford, John Barrie as Air Vice-Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, Richard Münch as Colonel General Alfred Jodl, Siegfried Rauch as Captain Oskar Steiger, Michael Bates as Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, Paul Stevens as Lieutenant Colonel Charles R. Codman, Gerald Flood as Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, Jack Gwillim as General Sir Harold Alexander, Edward Binns as Major General Walter Bedell Smith, Peter Barkworth as Colonel John Welkin, Lionel Murton as Third Army chaplain, David Healy as clergyman, Sandy McPeak as correspondent, Douglas Wilmer as Major General Francis de Guingand, John Doucette as Major General Lucian K. Truscott, Tim Considine as the soldier who gets slapped, Abraxas Aaran as Willy, Clint Ritchie as tank captain, Alan MacNaughton as British briefing officer, Florencio Amarilla as soldier, Brandon Brady as Lieutenant Young, Charles Dennis as soldier, Paul Frees as voice, Dolores Judson as Knustford Welcome Club Dignitary, Hellmut Lange as Major Dorian von Haarenwege, Bruce Rhodewalt as cynical wounded soldier, Lowell Thomas as himself, Harry Towb as G.I. cook