(0006X) Patton

PattonApril 5, 1970 | 4 weeks at #1

Seen by Martin before? Yes

What did I expect? A big old epic war movie with a great George C. Scott dominating everything.

What did I get? As a war movie on an epic scale that’s actually a character study in disguise, Patton pulls off a neat trick. I think it’s this combination of otherwise incompatible elements that explains its rather outsize and enduring appeal, an appeal I don’t fully get. Schaffner has a kind of blank, obtuse eloquence, which makes the movie very legible, if not profound.

Patton‘s view of war is noticeably top-down; there are hardly any speaking characters below the rank of captain. (“Ike” — never shown — occupies a position roughly equivalent to that of God.) There’s something mildly obscene about focusing on a general to this extent, no matter how fascinating and pivotal a man he was, and even that premise, going by the movie, is a bit in question. The whole point of the movie is that Patton’s impolitic behavior disqualified him from some of the more important battles. It sometimes feels like war tourism.

The movie makes a case for Patton as a uniquely American type, tough and delicate, sensitive and brutal, and it’s this combination (so the thesis might go) that won the war. It’s an impressive movie, and it’s interesting to speculate what the movie would have been without Scott, who is magnificent and in practically every scene, except for the Nazi sequences, where all they do is discuss Patton. Scott brought unusual delicacy to the role, and he caught Patton’s essential vanity.

What here smacks of 1970? That’s an interesting question for this movie. Very little, and at the same time quite a lot. I think at the time, the movie was perceived as appealing to older and more conservative audiences, and surely there’s a lot of truth to that. But it may be that the reason it was so incredibly successful and remains so widely admired is that it was a World War II epic with a 1960s figure (rebellious, mystical, idiosyncratic, poetic) at its center.

IMDB score: 8.1

My score: 8

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Writers: Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North

Starring: George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Michael Bates, Karl Michael Vogler, Frank Latimore

IMDB synopsis: Patton tells the tale of General George S. Patton, famous tank commander of World War II. The film begins with Patton’s career in North Africa and progresses through the invasion of Europe and the fall of the Third Reich. Side plots also speak of Patton’s numerous faults such his temper and tendency toward insubordination, faults that would prevent him from becoming the lead American general in the Normandy Invasion as well as to his being relieved as Occupation Commander of Germany.

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