George C. Scott in Patton (1970)


(director: Franklin J. Schaffner; screenwriters: Francis Ford Coppola/Edmund H. North/based on the books Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago and A Soldier’s Story by Gen. Omar N. Bradley; cinematographer: Fred Koenekamp; editor: Hugh S. Fowler; music: Jerry Goldsmith; 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), Tim Considine (Slapped Soldier); Runtime: 171; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Frank McCarthy/Frank Caffey; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1970)
“It’s Scott’s virtuoso performance that carries the film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The beginning of the modern-day blockbuster films. It’s a war is hell but can be fun drama and a lust for power biopic on the controversial and aggressive war hero from WWII, “Old Blood and Guts,” General Patton (George C. Scott), who was, perhaps, best remembered as the general who had to issue a public apology and got demoted by Allied Commander “Ike” for slapping a battle-fatigued and possible malingering soldier while visiting a hospital. It’s grandiosely directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (“Papillon”/”The Planet of the Apes”/”The Boys From Brazil”) and sharply written by Francis Ford Coppola, and is based on the factual books Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago and A Soldier’s Story by Gen. Omar N. Bradley.

It won 7 Oscars including for Best Picture, Best Script (Francis Ford Coppola) and Best Actor (George C. Scott). For whatever it’s worth, Scott refused the Oscar. The war drama glorifies Patton, but does it in a clever left-handed way whereby his heroic mythical portrait is debunked without minimizing his military accomplishments. It tells of the tough love Patton had for the men under him, but in its first-class character study it leaves serious questions open about the hidden aims of the officers in charge of war. Patton is shown to be willing to go to any lengths to sacrifice those under him to sate his largely egotistical aspirations.

The film opens with the memorable scene of the four-star General Patton, dressed in a tailor-made special uniform, standing before a tank-sized American flag and giving a six-minute speech that includes him saying “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.” It then rummages through Patton’s World War II career: his early successes in North Africa with the tank corps that shows him besting the acclaimed German tank commander Rommel, upset that after that impressive victory he was only given a secondary position during the invasion of Sicily, his bitter rivalry with British Field Marshall Montgomery (Michael Bates) that has the two jockeying for who gets the glory for retaking Europe back from the Nazis as Patton is racing through Europe to be first, and then Patton’s follow-up drive to Bastogne to rescue the 101st Airborne trapped in the Battle of the Bulge. It mentions Patton’s lingering jealousy for his old ally, the more even-tempered, American General Omar Bradley (Karl Malden). He was the general who stood by Patton and gave him his second chance to succeed with that tank command in France. In the process the film adequately covers the war operation at the Battle of the Bulge and shows how Patton sat out the D-Day operation as a decoy. In the end, it’s not the battle scenes (magnificently shot on location in England, Spain, Morocco, and Greece) that stand out but it’s Scott’s virtuoso performance that carries the film.