Patton was released in April of 1970. A majestic movie about triumph and humility. Victory and death. Franklin Schaffner directs the film like a combat general while George C. Scott’s performance is equally commanding.
I saw Patton for my first time in grade school. My guess? Ten or eleven years after the movie’s theatrical release. Like many “adult” movies this was watched one evening at my cousins’ house.
My cousins who had cable.
My cousins’ where I had also seen Jaws, Close Encounters of Third Kind, Rocky, and a host of other “adult” movies from the Seventies and into the early Eighties.
I clearly recall the opening monologue. My juvenile mind laughing at the PG-rated juvenile profanity. However, I was also watching in wonder. This was not a scene I was accustomed to seeing.
Having the main star talking from the TV screen directly to an audience.
This was different.
The movie is also too long for a grade-schooler. Those war scenes? Especially single-shootin’ Patton’s defiance against the Luftwaffe? Man. Those were everything a young boy wanted to see.
The dialogue? The tactics? The arguments? The disgrace? I’m sure I was reading through my cousin’s trove of Action Comics and DC’s 100-Page Giants during such scenes.
Patton is a war movie. Easily one of the best. In 1970, when America was slogging through Vietnamese jungles – a war action everyone was trying to forget – Patton praised a time when America was a victor. Where there was a clear-cut enemy. An enemy who fought using tactics on the battlefield.
Patton stands as a grand military parade.
Starring George C. Scott as the titular character, the movie is a glorious showcase of good ole Hollywood achievement. Shot on location in Morocco, Greece, Italy, and England, director of photography Fred Koenekamp captures the beauty, expanse, and destruction of a real war in a real world complete with real, practical effects. Koenekamp deliberately places the viewer as a solider as well as an observer taking full advantage of the movie’s Dimension 150 cameras. There are constant views of the horizon, the skies, and the enemy.
At the turn of the century I worked at a local video store. Patton was a two-tape set complete with an intermission and fanfare of Jerry Goldsmith’s beautifully iconic score. Watching the movie as a college grad allowed me to appreciate the plot, Patton’s actions and anguish, all the politics I missed as a little guy solely wanting to see a real-life G.I. Joe movie.
During a long shift, I had Patton playing on the store’s TVs. I was cheering on Patton’s ballbusting of a shellshocked private. I was digging his friendship with General Bradley. I was jamming to Goldsmith’s overture as the second tape started its show.
“What movie is this?” a customer asked.
I answered. Not really paying attention to him. The explosions had died down. Patton was dealing with it all.
“Is this available to rent?” The customer was equally captivated.
I was stuck. I was completely into the movie. Was I supposed to stop the viewing experience halfway through in order to make the sale? The weight of artistic obligation and my dedication to my job sat upon like I was a grunt in Bastogne.
Artillery was firing again.
Patton shouting out his orders.
I downright lied.
“Ah, no. The first tape is busted. Sorry, man.”
I convinced him to rent Spartacus so it was a win-win deal all around.
As gorgeous as the movie is – and man, this a work of beauty – the narrative falls a few times into traps many biopics also trip over: trying to show as much as possible in quick doses within a confined time. This results in a loss of the narrative’s timing, the jumping of locations, that are as jarring as a slap to the helmet. What is not jarring is Scott’s stampeding through the film. He is a Howitzer with zero concern over backwash.
Until that backwash ends up hurting him.
Patton’s long, final walk in the movie was only the beginning of accomplishments and accolades. Patton would go on to win seven Academy Awards including Picture, Actor, Director, Screenplay, Editing, as well as two technical achievements in sound. Fred Koenekamp was nominated but the Oscar went to another Fred, this one Young, for Ryan’s Daughter. That’s like Patton being overlooked by MacArthur.
Patton is a film about redemption. Coming back to achieve victory after dealing with defeat. Ultimately, Patton is also about sorrow. Where do old soldiers go to die after the war has been won? Patton doesn’t seem to know.
There are mountains out on that horizon, though.