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Patton

Patton

By Max Lalanne • March 29th, 2014
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
PATTON (MOVIE)
20th Century Fox

Original release: April 2nd, 1970
Running time: 172 minutes

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Writers: Francis Ford Coppola, Edmund H. North

Cast: George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Karl Michael Vogler, Michael Bates

Patton

“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’s always good when you know you’re in for a treat right from the opening sequence of a film. Such was the case with Patton.

As a gigantic American flag hangs over a stage, filling up the screen and instilling – or forcing, rather – a decidedly patriotic feel in us, we see Gen. George S. Patton (George C. Scott), in full military regalia, approach and give what’s perhaps the best speech ever committed to celluloid. And there, by the force of Scott’s powerfully engrossing performance alone, we don’t care whether we hated Patton or loved him, we just want to hear what else he has to say – even if we disagree agree with him.

The first time I saw Scott on the big screen, he was hamming it up with hilarious results in Kubrick’s 1964 masterpiece Dr. Strangelove as Gen. Buck Turgidson. What’s almost ironic is that Scott wanted to play Buck “straight” – without the over-the-top, pointedly ridiculous delivery Kubrick requested. Four years later, Scott was back in the game portraying Patton, a real-life character he could play “straight” – but one that’s almost as crazy as Buck.

In Patton, Scott gives a new definition to the phrase “an electrifying performance”. He’s funny, sharp-witted, stubborn, powerful, and impetuous, and most of all he gives much insight into the controversial character Patton was in real life. He does this without making us feel overly sympathetic for this misunderstood guy or playing him as a hard-nosed single-minded lunatic.

Scott brilliantly infuses Patton all of these traits, and in turn makes Patton one of the best war films ever made with one of the most strikingly memorable heroes ever.

Patton

You could indeed write tomes about who Patton really was. He’s one of the most strikingly irregular, memorable, and crazy, divisively controversial men history (both real, and cinematic) has every witnessed. In short, he was a real man, a real human being, and again, whether you appreciate Patton or not, there’s no denying that, but perhaps a Nazi officer tasked with researching Patton for Rommel (Karl Michael Vogler) and describing him as a “romantic warrior lost in contemporary times” hits the nail right on the head.

His love for military history knew no bounds and even veered into the impossibly absurd. He very firmly insisted to his aides that he was there with Napoleon during the French Emperor’s disastrous retreat from Russia in 1812. He also passionately described how a Carthaginian force was overrun by Romans in a bygone era in a way that showed his wished he was there. It also showed the old-fashioned way he regarded war and admired it. He even proclaims he loves it more than his life, but the thing is; war was his whole life.

He wishes World War II would never end and when he’s locked out of action – a result of him furiously and impetuously slapping of an enlisted G.I – he truly is a man without purpose, for he lives and breathes on his beloved battlefield and isn’t comfortable doing anything else. Yet he has a fierce and proud love for his men, Pattonnothing makes him happier than commanding them against the enemy. He also has a penchant for ridiculously stubborn grudges, like when he butts heads against the British commander, Gen. Bernard L. Montgomery (Michael Bates).

Patton doesn’t care about and isn’t good with politics, he’s disastrously bad – unlike his friend, the level-headed Gen. Omar N. Bradley (a restrained yet scene-stealing Karl Marden) – at keeping his profanity-filled mouth shut when it comes to tiptoeing on fragile diplomacy issues, the lack of such seriously undermine his post-war career. Patton might be a formidable soldier who knows what he’s doing when planning tanks and infantry against enemy positions in Tunisia, but in Washington, he’s far from the favourite.

Patton is a biopic centred on Patton, but apart from being a compelling character study it also is one hell of a war epic. Starting in the dusty, German-filled sands of North Africa in 1943, where Patton arrives and immediately instils his trademark brusque, no-foolin’-around attitude into the dispirited American forces, the Pattonaction follows all of Patton’s real-life involvements (and some notable and embarrassing non-involvements, such as the D-Day landings) in World War II all the way into the end of the Normandy campaign and Germany’s surrender.

Even there, Patton wished the American forces would “finish” the war completely – meaning go into battle against the Russians with whom they victoriously captured Berlin together – because he knew the two countries wouldn’t stay Allies for long. That, and Patton knew that because of his controversial behaviour, he wouldn’t be invited to fight in the Pacific and wanted to go out with a bang.

The real Patton, unless you listen to the numerous conspiracy theories, died in 1945 in a car crash in the United States. In Patton, the story doesn’t go there, but the silent implication of Patton’s post-war future is even more powerful. Like the remarkably acute Nazi officer noted, “The absence of war will destroy him.”

Max Lalanne

Max Lalanne

Max Lalanne is an award-winning student filmmaker - whose debut short won a prestigious award at the Houston Intl. Film Festival when he was just 13. The bi-lingual film blogger and critic also has his own movie website, SmellofPopcorn.com.

He loves almost all kinds of cinema and watches a diverse array of movies on a regular basis, some of his favourites include Dr. Strangelove, Fight Club, Lord of the Rings, Aliens, and Finding Nemo. You can follow Max on Twitter @maxlalanne.

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