Patton (1970) and myths
Patton (1970) is a movie more successful than any other character study I’ve seen. It is better than Taxi Driver (1976), better than There Will Be Blood (2007), better than The Conversation (1974), only because George C. Scott becomes this character more fully and whole-heartedly than any man I’ve seen on-screen. Although Patton is a war movie, this movie is a movie about personality, featuring a complicated and human man. The movie changes a myth into a man.
Patton’s opening speech in front of an American flag is iconic. Almost every sentence is quotable and remarkable dialogue. In this speech, he is decorated as a four-star general, although the movie begins much earlier, which means the director and producers placed this later speech purposefully at the beginning of the movie to set the tone. It defines who Patton is and what the movie is about.
The three-star general Patton arrives to take command of the America II Corp, who are in sad shape. Most of the men lack the discipline mentioned in the opening speech; they look untidy, disorganized and disheveled. As for Patton himself, he is not a stereotype, and he contemplates past lives, philosophies, and military tactics all at the same time.
The middle of the movie is example after example of Patton’s strong personality in battle. None of the actual battles are more than 15 minutes long, but they are entertaining and excellently choreographed. The “slapping” scene interrupts a long slog of scenes where Patton is kicking butt. You can actually see the emotion and conviction pouring out of George C. Scott as he bellows out his threats and comments. He follows this up with pure frustration in front of Bradley and Patton’s pride is on display in front of a group of troops. George C. Scott is amazing as Patton and deserves his Oscar.
The music of Jerry Goldsmith is great and very memorable. It echos with personality, and reminds us of Patton’s beliefs in history and reincarnation. The rest of the film is filled with marches, war themes, and more marches. The marches kick in high-gear as Patton drives across Europe. Did I mention there are marches?
There is no scene in this movie I really have any major complaints over. However, the movie only gives time and consideration to Patton, which makes all other characters secondary, except Gen Bradley, played by Karl Malden. Malden is exceptional in this film, though easily overshadowed by George C. Scott.
Overall, this is a great movie. Myself, probably the best philosophical Patton scene is when he is at the aftermath of a battle in Europe, where he surveys the battlefield and hears a report from a single, remaining soldier, who is traumatized from the action. All of the staged battles look great, but it is really George C. Scott who makes this film successful. This dry review does not do justice to this movie, which tried and succeeded at humanizing a mythical man.