Monday, September 2, 2019

A Flawed Hero

This is my second entry in the WW2 Blogathon hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films and Cinematic Essentials

Some of you may already know this story, but it bears repeating.

When I was growing up, a trip to the movies was a rare treat.  My father ran a gas station/convenience store/garage that catered to the lake crowd (at a time when Dallas had no lakes so they made the 75 mile trip north to Lake Texoma).  It was rare that he would close up early to go to the movies.  I personally can only recall three separate occasions.

I don't actually recall this one, but I have word from my father that we went.  In 1970 Patton was at the drive-in and we went.  I'm not sure if we stayed for the entire thing or if Dad got disgusted during the opening sequence and left.  (I meant to ask him before he passed away, but never got around to it...)  I do know that because of George C. Scott's foul language that Dad refused to let my sister and me go to any PG movies after that.  I had to actually beg and plead to be allowed to see Star Wars.

I never got to see the uncut version of Patton until I was well into my 20's, after it came out on video, although I had seen censored TV versions of it.  By then I had been exposed to the language in school.  And compared to such movies as Pulp Fiction and Brian de Palma's Scarface, the language is pretty tame.

Earlier this year, the local movie theater, as part of a series called Flashback Cinema released Patton again.   Flashback Cinema, which may be available at your local theater, has older movies that run on Sundays and Wednesdays, with a different movie every week.  (Just this year I have seen Gone with the Wind, The Princess Bride. Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Raiders of the Lost Ark just to name a few).

Experiencing Patton in a theater was a treat, in more ways than one.  Not only did I FINALLY get to see it on the big screen, but the showing I went to had one patron, me... it was like getting a private viewing.  These days I don't go to the theater all that often, and it usually requires some good special effects (like things blowing up) to get me to go.  If it's just a regular drama I'd much rather wait until it comes out on video.  (A far cry from 1984 when I went to no less than 43 movies, maybe more, over the course of the calendar year.)

Patton won big at the box office.  It was the 4th highest grossing movie of the year (behind Love Story, Airport and M*A*S*H).  It also garnered a buttload of Oscars.  It was nominated for 10 Oscars and won 7 of them.  (Note:  How it, or maybe Tora! Tora! Tora! didn't win Best Cinematography is beyond me.  That award went to Ryan's Daughter...)  George C. Scott, notably, was a no-show at the Oscars, having already stated if he won he would not accept the award.  He claimed that the Oscar ceremony was just a "two-hour meat parade".  (Back then it was just a two-hour ceremony, I guess, not the interminable 3½-4 hour extravaganza that Hollywood puts on today).  Anyway, he did win, and sure enough, producer Frank McCarthy had to go to the stage to accept on his behalf.

A couple of interesting notes about the film.  According to a DVD interview with Patton's grandson, Robert, the film studio tried to get permission from Patton's family to go more into detail about his life outside of his service in WWII.  But according to the legend, the day they chose to try to negotiate just happened to be the day of Patton's grandmother's funeral.  Oops, bad timing.  The Patton family dug its heels in and refused to allow any of his private affairs to be filmed.  So the film had to focus only on his accomplishments and actions during the War in Europe.

According to an article by Paul Fussell, in the collection Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies, there are a few details that were left out, primarily due to the theme of the movie, that of a flawed but ultimately heroic man.  One incident, he tells, that was left out was an ill-fated attempt to rescue his son-in-law from a German P.O.W. camp.  Not only did a number of American soldiers end up either killed or wounded, Patton did not succeed in his rescue attempt either.  While it may have fit in with the theme of George Patton as a man who does things as he wants, with or without his superiors'  approval, the failure of the attempt would probably have detracted from the overall theme.

Patton (1970):

Patton opens with an iconic scene.  Backed by a huge American  flag, and bedecked in all his glory, George S. Patton (George C. Scott) delivers an address to an unseen audience of soldiers (and by inclusion, the audience in the theater).  {And it is here that I can imagine my father packing up the car and leaving the theater in disgust, but again, I really don't know.}  Patton delivers an address that defines his character for the rest of the movie, that of a man who glories in the fight and relishes the coming defeat of his enemies.

The movie then cuts to the real action.  Gen. Omar Bradley (Karl Malden) surveys the devastation of a recent battle, and expresses dismay at how the American forces fought in their first foray in the war.  He tells his aide that they need a good commander to whip the boys in to shape, to which the aide replies "Patton?  God help us!"

The arrival of Patton at the base sets the stage.  Within the first 15 minutes of his arrival he establishes some hard rules about the conduct of his officers, dresses down a cook for not wearing a proper uniform and tells a doctor that he must wear a helmet even if he has to drill two holes in it so the doctor can use his stethoscope.  He also demands that two soldiers who are in the hospital from self-inflicted wounds be removed, even if they die as a result, thus establishing his view of cowardice.

During the course of the film we are treated to some of the most excellent battle sequences, thus proving Patton's expertise in battle.  But Patton's personality often gets in the way.  As portrayed by Scott, Patton was apparently an egotist of the highest caliber.  He fights with the Army brass every step of the way, trying to get the glory which he views is being siphoned away from him by British General Bernard Montgomery (Michael Bates).


At one point he takes the lead and arrives in Messina on the island of Sicily prior to Montgomery's arrival (which was supposed to be Montgomery's privilege.)  This doesn't set well with General Eisenhower and the top army brass.  But Patton's own ego is his downfall in another area.  At a field hospital he reprimands and slaps a soldier whose only "injury" is that he is suffering from battle fatigue, which Patton views as cowardice.  When the press gets wind of it, Eisenhower demands that Patton make a public apology.

But that isn't the only humiliation to which Patton is subjected.  He is also relieved of his command and is used as a decoy to convince the Germans that he will be leading an invasion at Calais, rather than the real objective of Normandy for the real D-Day invasion.  Eventually Patton does get a command again, despite the fact that he continues to do things that gets him in trouble with the brass, including a slight against the Russian allies by omitting their future in a world that will exist after Germany's defeat.

The real Patton died shortly after the defeat of Germany (although the film ends with Patton walking off into the sunset with a statement that "All glory is fleeting.").  One wonders how Patton would have dealt with a world at peace, although the Korean Conflict may have been some source of salvation.  I imagine Patton would not have been happy without a battle to look forward to.  For further research, if you are of a mind, I recommend the book Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago.  I read it at as a teenager and it still remains in my memory.  (I have yet to read the other book that was used for source material, A Soldier's Story by Omar Bradley, but I imagine it is just as good.)

One of the most interesting facts about Patton is the fact that Francis Ford Coppola was one of the scriptwriters.  His original script, which included the iconic opening, was misunderstood by the studio heads and he was subsequently fired.  He still got co-writing credit and when the movie won the Oscar for Best Screenplay it turned out to be a salvation for Coppola who was on the verge of being fired as director for The Godfather at the time.  Plus, the opening is probably the most well known part of the whole movie...

Well, folks, the Plymouth isn't exactly a tank (although it's built like one..)  Time to head home.  Drive safely.



  1. Those book recommendations have been taken down.

    No one but George C. Scott could have or should have won that Oscar. He had every right to refuse the trophy, but that is a fact.

    1. Jack Nicholson came the closest in my opinion, but yes Scott was the best. Thanks for reading.

  2. That opening scene is a masterstroke. It really sets the tone for the film. We just have to assume there's an audience of GIs there, but maybe he is just talking to the audience and whipping us into shape!

    What's clever about the film is that its able to have it both ways. It looks like a celebration of Patton but it also seems to be subtly undermining him at times.

    Interesting that your dad took against it. I guess it must have been a bit sweary for the time.

    Thanks for bringing this one to the blogathon.

    1. Believe it or not that opening almost didn't get done. It was part of the reason Coppola got removed from the movie, even though they ended up crediting him for his efforts. And I think Scott didn't want to do it.

      My Dad was a decon in the church and took us to church every Sunday, so he had some apprehension about foul language from the start.

      Thanks for reading.

  3. This is so easily one my favorite movies ever, and it's the one that made me love George C. Scott!

    1. Scott was a great performer in everything he did. Even movies that were basically falling apart around him. Thanks for reading.

  4. What?! You went to a screening of "Patton" and you were the only person in the audience? That would've been an interesting experience but, by the same token, it makes me want to weep a little.

    George C. Scott is mesmerizing in this film. I can't imagine anyone else in that role. To me, he IS Patton.

    1. THat's happened to me twice. I saw the last screening at my theater for "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" by myself.

      Imagine Rod Steiger as Patton. He turned down the role, but he was the first option (according to wikipedia). Thanks for reading.

  5. Another great review! I love the film and Scott's iconic performance. BTW, what ever happened to his Oscar? I've read that Brando eventually received his (for Godfather) and used it as a doorstop! (not sure if the story is true, though).

    1. Somebody probably knows. Maybe Scott didn't even want it in his house and never took possession of it. Thanks for reading.


I'm pretty liberal about freedom of speech, but if you try to use this blog to sell something it will be deleted.