This week’s pick is Patton (1970) which is a bio pic of famed World War II American General George S. Patton. George C. Scott stars as the man who was feared by his enemies, as well as his allies. Patton is noted for many things such as its music score by famed composer Jerry Goldsmith, top notch direction from Franklin J. Schaffner Planet of the Apes (1968), but is most noted for its amazing screenplay from a young USC film graduate named Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North. The screenplay was based on two sources which were Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago and General Omar N. Bradley’s memoir A Soldier’s Story.
The film’s opening sequence is one of the most iconic and emulated images of all time. Patton emerges from a series of stairs in front of a huge American flag where he begins to give a pep talk to his men who double as the audience.
The speech was actually several speeches that were compiled by Coppola for the opening scene. The opening sequence gives insight into the kind of a General Patton was and how he inspired his troops to follow him into battle.
The film opens up in Tunisia, North Africa in February 1943 after the American II Corp is defeated by the numerically superior German Africa Corp. Maj. Gen. Omar N. Bradley (Karl Malden) needs the best tank man in the U.S. Army to go up against German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s (Karl Michael Vogler) forces. Patton takes over II Corp and makes Bradley his adjutant. Over time Patton shapes up his rabble of an army and leads his forces to victory, while making a name for himself among his German adversaries.
One of my many favorite scenes in the film occurs when Rommel is ordered out of N. Africa by Hitler due to health reasons and the American and British forces who are driving the Germans in a pincer move into Tunisia. A smug German officer hands Rommel a report about their victory over the Americans at Kasserine Pass.
The adjutant proclaims that the Americans are not very good soldiers. Rommel asks whether or not he believes such a statement after only just one battle. The adjutant further belittles both the Americans and the British while trying to impress the Field Marshal. Rommel turns in anger and reminds his adjutant that Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery (Michael Bates) is a British officer who has driven the German forces half way across N. Africa. Patton’s decisive victory occurs later at El Guettar where he finally defeats the Africa Corp where he predicted Rommel’s strategy due to his book The Tank In Attack which Patton had been reading.
Rommel, Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl (Richard Munch), and Captain Steiger (Siegfried Rauch) who is researching Patton’s life and the method to his tactics, try to predict Patton’s next move while studying the past. Patton is a military historian who lives as if he were a Carthaginian, A Roman, A Greek, or a barbarian. After examining certain chivalrous exploits in his early years and his “always take the offensive, never dig in” attitude, Rommel pledges to destroy Patton before he can do the same.
Schaffner’s direction and the superior cast make Patton one of the best war films ever made. As history unfolds and the General’s exploits land him in danger of being relieved of his command, fate intervenes and Patton is allowed to fulfill his destiny and command an army in combat.
After the D-Day invasion, Patton is given command of the U.S. III Army which is now beginning to sweep through northern France and driving the Germans back towards their borders. During the famed Battle of the Bulge, Patton’s army moves farther and faster than any other unit to attack the Germans in the Ardennes sector of the Bulge where the American 101st Airborne was surrounded by German panzer units.
My absolute favorite scene is when Patton is angered by the inclement weather and orders his military Chaplin to write a “weather prayer” in order for the weather to cease in order to relieve the 101st. The Chaplin is hesitant at first to ask god for clear weather in order to kill their fellow men. Patton tells the Chaplin that he stands in with the almighty and demands the prayer written in one hour.
The following scene is a montage of snowy weather and battle scenes, along with Goldsmith’s music lingering in the background as Scott’s voice is heard reading the actual prayer that was written. By the next morning, the sun is shining and the American forces are on the move to liberate Bastogne and to save the 101st. Patton turns to his adjutant Col. Charles Codman (Paul Stevens) and says “Cod that Chaplin stands in good with the lord and I want to decorate him.” A truly emotional and wonderful scene.
Patton went on to win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay , Best Film Editing, Best Sound, and Art Direction in 1970. Scott won for Best Actor and refused his award due to the voting process of the Academy, and he couldn’t stomach the concept of competition among his fellow actors.
Francis Ford Coppola was originally fired over his first draft of the film and when the film was being considered for an award, he was notified that he was possibly going to receive his first ever nomination. Coppola said years later in an interview “When you’re young they fire you for the things they eventually give you awards for later in life”.
Patton is available on Blu-Ray and DVD disc through 20th Century Fox and can be rented through Netflix.