Movies That Everyone Should See: “Patton”

“Be seated.

I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.

Men, all this stuff you’ve heard about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of horse dung. Americans, traditionally, love to fight. All real Americans love the sting of battle.

When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big league ball players, the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. Now, I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. Because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans.

Now, an army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap. The bilious bastards who wrote that stuff about individuality for the Saturday Evening Post don’t know anything more about real battle than they do about fornicating.

Now, we have the finest food and equipment, the best spirit, and the best men in the world. You know, by God, I actually pity those poor bastards we’re going up against. By God, I do. We’re not just going to shoot the bastards. We’re going to cut out their living guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We’re going to murder those lousy Hun bastards by the bushel.

Now, some of you boys, I know, are wondering whether or not you’ll chicken-out under fire. Don’t worry about it. I can assure you that you will all do your duty. The Nazis are the enemy. Wade into them. Spill their blood. Shoot them in the belly. When you put your hand into a bunch of goo that a moment before was your best friend’s face, you’ll know what to do.

Now there’s another thing I want you to remember. I don’t want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We’re not holding anything. Let the Hun do that. We are advancing constantly and we’re not interested in holding onto anything — except the enemy. We’re going to hold onto him by the nose, and we’re gonna kick him in the ass. We’re gonna kick the hell out of him all the time, and we’re gonna go through him like crap through a goose!

Now, there’s one thing that you men will be able to say when you get back home, and you may thank God for it. Thirty years from now when you’re sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee, and he asks you, ‘What did you do in the great World War II?’ you won’t have to say, ‘Well, I shoveled shit in Louisiana.’

Alright now you sons-of-bitches, you know how I feel.

Oh, I will be proud to lead you wonderful guys into battle anytime, anywhere.

That’s all.”

George Smith Patton, Jr. is a legendary figure in American military history.

Born to a military family, and obtaining a military education (he attended both The Virginia Military Academy and West Point), Patton was practically in training to lead troops his entire life. As a young man, he was an Olympic athlete (he competed in the pentathlon in the 1912 games in Stockholm, Sweden), and achieved the distinction of being the youngest ever “Master of the Sword” in the Army’s history. In fact, he rewrote the Army’s manual on fencing, and helped redesign the official sword of the US Calvary (the “Patton Sabre”)… changing the weapon’s design to shift the emphasis from swinging and slashing to thrusting and stabbing, due to the fact that there’s a higher probably of scoring a fatal strike if the weapon is used in that manner.

Patton gained notoriety just prior to World War I, as the leader of the first US military action to involve motorized vehicles (a Calvary action in the wake of Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico, in 1916). He and ten members of his regiment successfully used automobiles to chase Rancheros, and the event became national news.

Patton entered World War I as a Captain, and was given charge of training US troops in the operation of light tanks. Within two years, he was given command of the 304th Tank Brigade, and successfully led them into battle prior on multiple occasions. He was wounded just before the end of the war. For his service during WWI, Patton received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the Purple Heart. By the end of the war, he had been promoted to full Colonel.

Decades later, as Germany waged its blitzkrieg across Europe just prior to the US’ entrance to the war, the Army realized Patton was an expert in mechanized warfare, and promoted him to brigadier general. Less than a year later, he was a major-general.

It was during WWII that Patton made his mark on history. Employing tactics heavily emphasizing relentless offense and constant assault, Patton achieved many notable victories, and was one of the most feared commanders in the allied army. He commanded in North Africa, Italy, and Northern Europe. Under his leadership, the Third Army in WWII advanced farther, faster than any military force in history.

Yet he was a polarizing and controversial figure. Offsetting his undeniable military successes was the fact that he had a reputation for being outspoken, brazen, impatient, vain, and egotistical. His lack of sympathy for men with shell shock is well documented, and an incident where he slapped a soldier for “malingering” resulted in his being relieved of command for ten months during the war.

The movie had been in development since 1951. Producer Frank McCarthy and 20th Century Fox studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck had both known Patton during the war, so the movie was a labor of love for them. However, Zanuck left the studio in the mid 50s, and the project was tabled. When he returned in 1962, he began to resurrect the production. Eventually he would bring his son, Richard, in on the project, as well.

By the time it really got rolling however, the climate of the country was causing a concern for 20th Century Fox. Anti-war sentiment over the Vietnam War was at its zenith… it wasn’t the optimal time to be producing a film about one of the most notorious war-hawks in history. They felt the key to creating a movie with broad appeal would be to emphasize his rebellious characteristics, his renegade qualities. His eccentricities.

“I was let go because of the opening sequence. They told me they found the script very odd and this opening sequence which just begins with Patton in front of a big flag talking to the audience was totally strange… NOW, all you young people, bear note: that the
things that you are fired for are often the things in later life that you are celebrated and given lifetime achievements for. Don’t worry when you find your ideas are put down, it’s just because they’re new or they’re against the grain. And indeed, I was fired from “Patton” for the opening scene of the picture, which you all know and which has become a famous scene. So… a word to the wise.”

- Francis Ford Coppola

In order to bring this paradoxical figure to the screen, the producers hired Francis Ford Coppola. At that point in time, Coppola had scripts to his credit, but fame still awaited him. He was up and coming. What he didn’t have was a military background, which was part of the reason he was chosen. It was felt he would paint an unbiased portrait of the man. Coppola was charged with adapting a screenplay from existing biographies the studio had obtained the rights to (“Patton: Ordeal and Triumph” by Ladislas Farago and “A Soldier’s Story” by Omar Bradley.) He did extensive research on his own, outside of the biographies, as well.

When his script was finished, the studio thanked him, and let him go from the project. They would later bring in Edmund H. North to take the script through a rewrite process and work with the director. Of course, the final product turned out to be a highly regarded work. It would win an Oscar – an Oscar that Coppola to this day credits for saving him from being fired as director of “The Godfather”.

The infamous scene (quoted in its entirety to lead this post) was based on actual speeches Patton gave (sans flag) over the years, a line here, a line there, but mainly it’s derived from the speech he gave to the Third Army on June 5, 1944. The day before D-day. The real speech that Patton gave had to be toned down for the film – some of the expletives and phrases actually needed to be excised in order to be suitable for a major motion picture.

The scene opens the movie in a bold way. Nothing but Patton and flag. The studio brass weren’t the only people to have issue with it. George C. Scott didn’t want to do it. He felt that it would overshadow his performance in the rest of the film. Allegedly director Franklin J. Schaffner (“Planet of the Apes”) had to lie to him and tell him the scene was going to be moved to the end of the film in order to get him to shoot it.

Scott needn’t have worried.

This role was the role of a lifetime for him. The proverbial role “he was born to play”.

After being nominated twice previously for an Oscar (“Anatomy of a Murder”, 1959 and “The Hustler”, 1960), Scott would win one for his performance here, even though he – famously – would be the first to refuse the honor.

His gravelly, growling voice fit perfectly in with people’s image of Patton (apparently Patton’s voice was actually high pitched and nasal). He thundered and bellowed with ferocity at times, and then reflected thoughtfully, solemnly at others. He embibed his Patton with a zestful glee during battle, and when speaking about reincarnation.

Scott embodied this character. It’s one of the most indellible performances of all time. I can’t picture another actor in the part, nor would I want to. This was the perfect meeting of actor and role. No one could have been better… it’s not conceivable to me.

The movie depicts Patton’s most notable exploits during WWII, using extraordinary production values and a lengthy runtime to create an epic war movie. It covers all of the major highlights of his career in the second world war. El Guettar, Sicily, being used as a decoy leading up to D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge. In fairness, it relegates many of the other military heroes of the war to the sidelines – as supporting characters. It also portrays the German military command as concerned with him exclusively, almost paranoid of him.

The movie gives him the perfect foil to play off of in Omar Bradley (Karl Malden). Bradley’s common sense, humble personality stands in stark contrast to Patton’s flamboyant ego-driven persona. Bradley both challenges him, and gives him the opportunity to defend his actions.

Because more than anything, “Patton” paints a picture of the man. He’s a legendary figure, but a complex individual. A warrior with boiling blood, who considered it his destiny to lead troops in conquest. A madman. A unparalleled military strategist. He was in love with the honor of combat. Drunk on it. He had the utmost respect for the fallen and the wounded, but no tolerance for men whose spirits were broken by war. He was prim and proper. Vain. Disciplined. Blood thirsty. Funny. Tyrannical. Religious. Swaggering. Zealous. Commanding.

He was a tremendous strategist, a brilliant tactician, and incredible leader of men.

The movie was a spectacular success.

It won an astonishing seven Academy Awards in 1971. Best Picture, Best Director (Franklin J. Schaffner), Best Actor (Geroge C Scott), Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Sound and Best Art Direction.

The movie initially placed on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies at #89, although it did not make the 10th Anniversary Edition. Patton ranks in at #29 on their 100 Years… 100 Heroes and Villains. In 2006, the screenplay was selected as one of the 100 best (94th) screenplays of all time by the Writers Guild of America . “Patton” was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2003.

It’s a great film, highlighted by a signature performance by a screen legend, imparting the story of an enigmatic and controversial war hero and his role in the largest war the world has ever known.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See

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33 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Patton”

  1. Perfect selection for the Memorial Day weekend, Fogs. They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Worthy review and recommendation, my friend.

  2. I didn’t know of Coppola’s involvement in this film. Can you imagine if he did get fired from Godfather? Yeesh…

    It makes you wonder how many “could be” great films that DID get ruined by studio decisions.

  3. OK, true story: Little known Gelf fact. I served in the Army National Guard from ’87 to ’91. I didn’t go anywhere, or do anything, and I hated the whole experience from beginning to end and once I was out I never looked back. I’ve never applied for nor received any vet benefits or other recompense. I tend to shun all pro-military movies and anything else that glorifies war… with the exception of WWII. That of course saved some of my ancestors who survived in the Nazi death camps until the Russians saved them. So… um… not sure where I was going with this, except I’ve never seen Patton… and, um… Happy Memorial Day.

  4. Terrific, well written review as always. However….. To those of us living at the time under the sword of the Vietnam War draft lottery, this was Nixon/Kissinger/Macnamara Gung-Ho glory at it’s worst. Many felt this was sponsored by the military/pentagon itself. George Scott refused the Oscar, could it have been an anti-war protest? I had done some anti-war protesting a couple of years earlier in southern California, although organizers had wisely chosen to call it “the free speech movement”. Of course this made us Communists to the Pro-war-go American people. Still have strong feeling(can you tell) about it. I’ve always felt the best film about veterans and their families is “The Best Years of Our Lives”. Possibly more relevant than ever. Check out this weeks Newsweek article “We pretend the Vets don’t even exist”!

    • Scott reportedly refused the Oscar because he wasn’t a believer in acting competitions. Although I did hear him say in the special features this week that he’s not pro-war, and didnt intend for the movie to be that way.

      I’m sure you hippie commies would probably have trouble with this flick, yeah. :D And reportedly, it was Nixon’s favorite. But of course, it was made about a different man, and a different war. 20th Century Fox certainly didnt make it as a pro-war movie, Just a war movie. It wasn’t sposored by the military, but the producers were both ex WWII vets, so it was definitely militarily inspired.

      Although I saw Oliver Stone, conspiracy nut that he is, blaming this movie for the bombing of Cambodia. I shit you not. He claims Nixon used to get fired up watching this flick, and that it influenced his decision to escalate into Cambodia, then eventually the Khmer Rouge, etc etc. LOL. So basically Stone was blaming Patton for Genocide. Came right out and said it.

      Maybe you should have protested 20th Century Fox!

      • There you go again. Exhibiting superior subject knowledge. I would never protest Fox, I love the movies!

  5. Great pick and write-up for Memorial Day!
    Rock solid: the movie, the actor, & the man. :-)

    -from the Land of the free and the home the BRAVE

    • Thanks S. Absolutely is rock solid. I couldnt believe the production values they put into this thing. They were flying planes and rolling tanks, blowing stuff up left and right. EPIC.

      And of course, leading the charge so to speak, was George C with his most memorable performance ever.

      Incredible.

  6. Good choice for Memorial Day, Fogs. I saw Patton years ago, and I still vividly remember that opening scene. There aren’t many performances better than what George C. Scott delivered here.

    • LOL. Thats a hard scene to forget, because its so simple and straightforward. Patton. Flag. Nothing else.

      Scott was thunderous here. He really was legendary in this role.

  7. I haven’t seen this one but have heard great things about it. The movie MacArthur which is about another famous general was inspired by the success of this one but didn’t really live up to it, even though it starred the great Gregory Peck. I’ve only seen George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove and he’s certainly fantastic in that!

    • You know what’s funny? I’ll trade ya. I’ve never seen MacArthur. So there you go.

      This one’s a classic classic… just saying. Check it out if it ever crosses your path… definitely! :D

  8. Patton is a legendary film, and I’ve heard the Blu transfer is top shelf. George C. Scott is tremendous in it, even better than when he got hit in the balls in that one Simpsons episode. But just barely.

    • LOL. The Simpsons make him take one in the nuts? Ouch. LOL. Good sense of humor though, fun that he allowed that.

      Yeah, I can vouch for the tranfer. It looks spectacular. It’s a great, great flick, and it looks spectacular on Blu. Plus it’s got some really really loaded bonus features. Very nice.

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  10. When I was twelve years old, I saw the movie “Patton” and I was convinced it was the best movie ever. In 1970, there was no waiting for the video release of the movie to relive that passion. In those days, unless you had a thirty-five millimeter projector and a friend in the business, you were only going to see the movie again on television. It would be played on one of the three networks (most likely ABC) and it could not be paused, rewound, or scheduled for another time. Things in those days happened in real time. So, how could I get my Patton fix if I had to rely on some future network programmer to run the movie when I wanted. The answer came in the form of an LP. For you younger readers, that is the format before the format that was replaced by the digital format that you listen to music on. The record version of the soundtrack started off with the George C. Scott monologue from the beginning of the movie. I had that speech committed to memory within a short time. It is followed by nearly ninety minutes of the most fantastic music I had ever heard. I knew movie music before this, but mostly just songs from movies, not the scores. The Jerry Goldsmith score for Patton was the first time I paid attention to the background music of a film. I could see the images in my head and feel the emotions swelling in my chest and it was as if I was seeing the movie again. When I watched the Academy Awards that next year, the biggest surprise to me was not that George C. Scott turned down the Oscar, it was that of the eight awards the movie won, the score was not included. What an injustice!

    • Yeah, I guess I’ve never really thought about it that much, but the music there IS awesome. Hang on while I check out what DID win…

      Oh. “Love Story”. Yeahhhh gonna be hard winning against that. :( Just a cruel fate sometimes to be released against certain things. Cause I do love that Patton score, myself.

      And I too, recall those days of “What’s on TV” meaning you better watch it now or else. LOL. Savage times… :D

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