Sunday, August 14, 2011

Stubs - Patton

PATTON (1970) Starring: George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Michael Bates, Karl Michael Volger. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffer. Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North; based on Patton Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago and A Soldier’s Story by Omar Bradley. Music Composed by Jerry Goldsmith. Produced by Frank McCarthy. Run Time 172 minutes, Color. U.S. Biography, War.

This is an epic film about a larger than life figure, General George S. Patton. Set during World War II, the movie tells the mostly true life adventures of one of the great generals to ever serve in the U.S. Army. A poet, a believer in reincarnation, but still a devote Christian, Patton is a complex man. Patton’s biggest enemy wasn’t the Germans, rather it was himself. Brilliant with war strategy, Patton got into trouble over things he said and how some of his actions were covered by the press.

George C. Scott, who throughout his career gave great performances in such films as ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959); THE HUSTLER (1961); DR. STRANGELOVE, OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964), seemed to find a defining role as the foul-mouthed, Bible reading, Blood and Guts Patton. Scott got the role when the likes of Rod Steiger turned it down and made the most of the opportunity. His portrayal was good enough to earn Scott the Academy Award for Best Actor, a well-deserved accolade that the actor turned down.

Karl Malden, himself an Academy Award winner [Best Supporting Actor for A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951)], portrays Omar Bradley, who was also known as the G.I.’s General. As down to earth as Patton was a diva, Bradley was nevertheless an important part of the war effort. But Bradley is portrayed as more of a plodder to Patton’s genius, and as someone who gets promoted by not rocking the boat. Eventually, Bradley becomes his old friend’s superior officer.

The film starts with the arrival of Patton in North Africa, where he takes over the command of the U.S. forces, who had recently suffered a devastating loss to the Germans, led by Field Marshall Erwin Rommel (Karl Michael Volger). While Patton was bigger than life, he expected his men to toe the line when it came to being disciplined soldiers. He turns his troops around and hands Rommel a major defeat.

This leads the Germans to have an increased awareness of Patton. He becomes someone they both admire and fear. And they find it hard to believe he is later punished for slapping a soldier suffering from battle fatigue, which is tantamount to cowardice in Patton’s eyes. It is the furor over this incident that makes you wish Patton could have learned from his mistakes, because he keeps making them.

When his plans for the invasion of Sicily are scuttled for ones drawn up by Field Marshall Sir Bernard Law Montgomery (Michael Bates), Patton goes along, but only long enough until he can go his own way. Ultimately, Patton disobeys orders but is there to meet Montgomery when he marches into Mesina.

After the slapping incident, Patton is sidelined by Allied Forces. With the Germans believing Patton will lead the invasion of Europe, the Allied Forces set him up with the fictitious First United States Army Group in southern England. But Patton isn’t satisfied with being the commander of a dummy army and fearing he is missing out on his destiny, Patton pleads for reassignment.

Given the U.S. Third Army by Eisenhower, he marches through Europe, stopped only when supplies are diverted to other troops, including Montgomery’s. Still Patton plays a major part in the defeat of the Germans. But when the German’s surrender, Patton is relieved of command because of things he has said, including comparing the Nazi Party to the Democrat and Republican Parties in the U.S. and for badmouthing our then allies, the Russians, whom Patton felt we were destined to fight next.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film isn’t the war and battle scenes, it’s the relationships between the generals. While the film concentrates more on the relations between Patton and Bradley, there is also the more important one, career-wise, between Eisenhower and Patton. Eisenhower is often referred to, but never seen in the movie. Rather he is shown working through intermediaries, like and Major General Walter Bedell Smith (Edward Binns). This leaves the viewer with the idea that Eisenhower never dealt directly with Patton, though in real life he did. Since they were close friends before the war, it must have been difficult for Eisenhower to have to discipline a man he once considered his mentor.

There is also the battle of the divas between Patton and Field Marshall Sir Bernard Law Montgomery (Michael Bates). Throughout the movie, Patton always seems to be competing with Montgomery for both supplies and the spotlight. While they have a common enemy, the Germans, there appears to be no love lost between these two as they fight alongside and with each other throughout Africa, Sicily and Europe.

Technically, this is a great movie. The battle scenes are still quite powerful to watch and the re-enactments seem very real even by today’s standards; maybe even more so. One of the differences is that there are no CGI special effects. This makes the action more real and more visceral.

This is simply a well-made film and it succeeds on all levels, both in front of and behind the camera. It is no surprise that it would win not only the Best Picture, in addition to Actor, but also Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Sound and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay based on Factual Material or Material Previously Published or Produced.

Patton is more than a war film. One of the great films of the 1970’s, it is driven as much by the characters it develops as by the action it depicts. Patton is a biography that shows all of its subject’s warts, faults and eccentricities, well as the attributes that made him a hero.

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