Franklin J. Schaffner
Francis Ford Coppola, Edmund H. North (Book Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago, Book A Soldier’s Story by Omar N. Bradley)
George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Stephen Young, Michael Strong, Carey Loftin, Albert Dumortier, Frank Latimore, Morgan Paull, Karl Michael Vogler
A United States Army general finds his path to glory a difficult and contentious one as director Franklin J. Schaffner explores the life of real life General George S. Patton.
The film, taking its title from the famed general’s last name, is as conventional a war film as you can imagine. Interspersed in the biopic framework are scenes of battle and resultant carnage. However, the blend of biopic and war film is an interesting approach that ends up rewarding the viewer with an honest portrait of a man both loved and hated.
George C. Scott makes Patton a harsh and overbearing presence on the screen. This is as the story would require. The real life person was, from accounts, every bit the chauvinist and die hard military supporter. His intolerance for laziness and incompetence was legendary and his hatred of cowards was even more renowned.
The film begins as Patton is first assigned to help shore up North African operations over General Omar Bradley (Karl Malden). Bradley wrote one of the books on which the film’s screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund M. North is based. We see the determined man stamping out undisciplined actions such as restricting mess hours, requiring men to be in dress uniform at all times and to never go without wearing a helmet. He even tells the doctor who protests that he can’t wear his stethoscope with his helmet on to “drill holes in the sides”.
He successfully defeats plans by famed German commander Erwin Rommel (Karl Michael Vogler). He later goes out of his way to try and show up British historical figure Bernard Law Montgomery (Michael Bates) by marching into the north of the isle of Sicily ahead of him.
Contentious to a fault, Patton irritates his superiors with his frank vocabulary and intolerant behavior. His notorious slapping of a soldier in a military hospital suffering from nerves, landed him in hot water and prevented him from carving out the name he wanted in history. We learn a great deal about his knowledge of world military history. His inclusion among those greats is debatable but he certainly carved out a niche of his own in history books.
Scott is amazing as Patton. His performance creates in the audience the necessary confusion of emotions. On one hand, we can’t help but admire his bravado and tactics. On the other, it’s impossible not to despise his irascible actions.
Malden’s performance as the friendly and more likeable alternative to Patton is good but nowhere near as deep as the titular character. This has more to do with the narrative’s insistence that Patton believed himself the only one important to military operations and thus the film takes the same approach. We learn little of Patton’s opponents both on the field of battle and in the military hierarchy. His narrow view of their actions is embodied in the magnificent Coppola/North script.
If Patton suffers, it’s because of its breadth. The film plods through military battles that would only be pleasing to those enjoy such things. It takes nearly three hours to get to the film’s conclusion and could have taken less with more judicious editing. However, what exists is still an oft-compelling, oft-languid biographical look at the loved and hated General George S. Patton.
November 28, 2006