Sunday, March 22, 2015
(April 1970, U.S.)
When you've embraced film and the history of film into your life and your existence as much as I clearly have, then you may also recall when, where and how you first heard of specific films. Traditionally, you likely sat down at your local movie theater or multiplex and discovered something through previous mass media publicity or for the first time as a surprise. For others, like myself, an introduction to a film may have come from unlikely and anti-traditional sources. For the case of the biographical war film of PATTON, my first glimpse came in an issue of Mad Magazine. Yes, you heard me correct! The first time I ever heard of the film PATTON and George C. Scott, for that matter, was this image in a compilation re-issue of the magazine in the late 1970s...
Even then, I had no idea what PUT*ON was supposed to mean exactly. I was just a young kid and knew nothing of World War II military history and it's prominent figures. Years later, I got my first taste when PATTON was shown on a re-broadcast of the ABC Sunday Night Movie. Of course, I was still a kid with a strict bedtime so I didn't get to see the entire movie. That came later in college with two long play video cassettes. Yes, sometimes it's a long, strange trip to finally get to the point where you really know and appreciate some of Hollywood's finer moments on film!
So let's begin with what every lover of this film already knows and that's the classic opening monologue, delivered by General George S. Patton (played by George C. Scott) with an enormous American flag behind him. It remains an iconic and very often quoted image in film, and believe me, even if you haven't seen the film, you've seen this at least once in your life...
Following this opening image, Patton delivers a raw, profane, rousing and highly motivating speech to unseen troops, imploring his soldiers to do their duty regardless of personal fear, imploring them, as well, to aggressiveness and always constant offensive action. Patton's profanity-laced speaking (well, as much profanity as a 1970 PG-rated film will allow, anyway) is viewed as unprofessional by some other officers but the speech seems to resound well with the men under his command. For there, the film takes us to the field of battle in different parts of Europe, including Italy and France. Like many war films of the latter part of the 20th Century, the battle images and sequences are visually striking and exciting to watch. However, director Franklin J. Schaffner clearly wants us to take in the man who George S. Patton was. A man shown to believe in reincarnation, while remaining a devout Christian. A man who believed in the glory and honor of battle as opposed to those who were there to do a trained job in the name of serving their country. A man who blatantly spoke his mind, even at the cost of getting into deep shit with his superiors and the politicians of war. A man who loved and honored his soldiers and yet, was ready to tear them down and slap them around, fair or unfair, in the face of cowardice or the probability of losing a battle. A man who was dedicated and effective, but who was also, nonetheless, a true fanatic! But one can't help but ask the question of when does fanaticism become on borderline par with brilliance or downright insanity. Patton was a fanatic, indeed, but did that help or hinder the American cause during World War II. Were I an American war historian, I may actually be able to provide a legitimate answer. I'm not, though. I'm here to discuss film and I can only conclude that an already gifted, somewhat eccentric and sublime actor like George C. Scott was perfectly fitted to represent an American military icon whose unorthodox methods and beliefs lead our American servicemen to great victories against Nazi Germany in Europe.
For almost any traditional Hollywood war film, conclusion is often an interesting and important element. For any typical combat film, a great victory with blood, guts and violence is likely the ticket! But for a bi-op as this that focuses more on the man than the action, the film ends with Patton simply walking his bull terrier, and George C. Scott speaking in a voice-over that a returning hero of ancient Rome was once honored with a triumph and a victory parade in which a slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering this warning in the hero's ear - "that all glory is fleeting." In other words, for a man of battle, a man of glory and a man of victory, his quiet and unassuming walk into the distant horizon with just his little dog may be nothing short of the perfect swan song.
PATTON won the Oscar for best picture of 1970, and who could argue that it wasn't well deserved? For my money, though, I would have given it to a somewhat bolder and more daring war film, and that's M*A*S*H!
Favorite line or dialogue:
George S. Patton: "God, how I hate the twentieth century."
I know just how he felt, because sometimes I really hate the twenty-first century!"