“Patton,” which originally premiered in New York City, New York, on February 4, 1970, was Nominated for ten Oscars, and won seven, at the 43rd Annual Academy Awards. Director, Franklin J. Schaffner, (Planet of the Apes) was one of the individuals who was nominated and won Best Director, even though he was not present at the ceremony to receive his gold statuette. Lucky for Schaffner, Academy Award and Golden Globe winner, John Huston, (The African Queen), Academy Award nominee, Henry Hathaway ( The Lives of Bengal Lancer), and Academy Award and Golden Globe winner, Fred Zinnemann (High Noon), all turned down the opportunity to direct the film.
The movie, which is parts biography, drama, history, and war, also took home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Writing, and Film Editing, among other Oscars. Surprisingly, George C. Scott (The Hospital), who was nominated for, and won, Best Actor, for his electrifying portrayal of the famous, military general, turned down the award. Scott’s actions marked the first time in the history of the Oscars that someone refused the Academy’s recognition of their work. According to Scott, he simply felt that he wasn’t in direct competition with the other actors he was competing against for the award, and he didn’t feel it would be right to accept it. The film’s producer, Frank McCarthy, did initially accept the award that evening, on Scott’s behalf, but apparently returned it to the Academy the next day, due to Scott’s insistence on not wanting it.
The 172 minute film was made for an estimated budget of twelve million dollars, half of which reportedly went to paying soldiers from the Spanish army to take part in battle sequences. Additionally, the equipment that was used in the parts of the film that depicted war, was also rented from the Spanish military. The opening of the movie, is the iconic image of General Patton, standing in front of an American flag that could easily cover the size of a movie screen. He is delivering a lecture to a group of soldiers, none of whom are ever shown on camera, which, made me as a viewer, feel as if Scott, who completely embodies the role of Patton, was talking directly to me. Almost all of what is said during the opening scene of the film, were quotes taken directly from Patton, however – to be historically accurate – they were never all said at the same place and at the same time.
The movie doesn’t just concern itself with Patton’s genius when it came to military strategy, but instead it deals with Patton’s personality. Schaffner’s film paints a visual portrait of a nuanced and complex individual. Patton is a man who believes in divine destiny and prays daily. He also believes in reincarnation, and makes mention of the different lives he has lived as a warrior, while speaking at the sites of various battlefields with vivid recollection. In addition, he writes poetry, and speaks French. The real life Patton was married, and did have three children, one son, and two daughters. The film made it seem as though he had little to no personal life – at least, in his on screen conversations, he didn’t speak of one.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve seen the film at least a dozen times over the years. During this particular viewing, however, one aspect of Patton’s life kept occurring to me. I kept thinking, that if General George S. Patton, or a person of his ilk, lived today, that individual’s 16th century mentality couldn’t survive in our modern, progressive society. His actions, would be viewed as too anti-politically correct; he would be lucky to stay in the army as a private, let alone rise to the rank of four star general. Patton simply didn’t care what anyone thought of him, which more often than not, got him into trouble. He frequently used foul language, would say anything that he wanted to, including making bigoted or disparaging remarks when describing America’s enemies, and, at least in one documented case, resorted to physically assaulting a soldier rather than issuing a verbal reprimand. The soldier in question is someone, who, according to his own words, couldn’t stand the shelling anymore. The scene, based on a true life incident, according to eyewitness, went down exactly as depicted in the film, and is as follows:
Patton is visiting a field hospital, where men who have been wounded in combat are being treated. These are men who have lost limbs, have had their bodies pumped full of lead, are dealing with gaping chest wounds, broken legs, and other visible wounds. One soldier, however, appears to be in seemingly perfect health. When Patton, who has shaken the hands of, and made conversation with, other wounded soldiers, asks the soldier in question what his problem is, the man responds, as aforementioned, that he can’t stand the shelling, he just can’t take it anymore. Patton becomes enraged at what he hears, and proceeds to smack the soldier hard across the face, while at the same time, letting loose with a verbal tirade, that lets the soldier know exactly how he feels about him. Patton, cannot for a second abide the actions of a coward, and will not, under any circumstances, permit the frightened soldier to stay inside the tent with – as Patton puts it – other brave men, who have been wounded in battle. Not only does he kick the soldier out of the tent, but he instructs that the man be sent to the front lines. I am no expert on military discipline, especially having never served a day in the armed forces, but I would be willing to bet money, if a general in this day and age, conducted himself in the manner in which Patton did, with the ‘shell shocked’ soldier, that general would most likely be court-martialed, and at the very least be stripped of rank.
The only other actor of importance in the film is Academy Award winner, Karl Malden (A Streetcar Named Desire). He portrays General Omar N. Bradley, who was an outstanding military tactician, but didn’t have Patton’s apparent thirst for blood. His role in the film, just as it was during the war, was to serve as the voice of reason. The film takes place in chronological order, no flashbacks are used to set up particular scenes. While I have spoken about certain character traits that Patton exuded and that Scott brings to cinematic life, as well as the slapping incident, to provide a scene by scene breakdown of the film would do a disservice to those of you who have not yet seen the movie. Credit for bringing “Patton” to the screen came from several different sources. Academy Award winner, Francis Ford Coppola (The Conversation), shared story credit and co-wrote the screenplay along with Edmund H. North (The Day the Earth Stood Still), who along with Coppola, would go on to win the Oscar for writing “Patton.” Additionally, source material came from Ladislas Farago (The Last Days of Patton), and material taken from General Bradley’s book “A Soldier’s Story.” For anyone, who enjoys engrossing biographical films about larger than life characters, or for those of you who are students of history, especially as it pertains to key players during the second World War, “Patton,” is a must see film.