1970 / Best Actor / Best Director / Best Picture

Film #305: Patton (1970)

In our previous post we looked at Nicholas and Alexandra, a film that director Franklin J Schaffner was only considered for after screenwriter James Goldman had seen his previous film. That movie was Patton, which saw Schaffner win Best Director and the film pick up that year’s Best Picture award.

Just like with Nicholas and Alexandra, Patton is an incredibly well-shot story about a flawed leader who didn’t really ever have his priorities in check. That leader was General George S Patton and the film follows his exploits over World War II from his work in North Africa to his final arrival into Germany. Patton opens with arguably its most memorable moment, the General’s address to his troops in front of a massive American flag. From there we see him ruffle the feathers of a number of American officers in Africa who he believes aren’t taking the campaign seriously. Though he’s portrayed as a brilliant man, his inability to follow orders often makes him appear pig-headed and that’s certainly true of the scenes involving the invasion of Sicily. Patton’s views also get him in trouble when he accuses a shell-shocked soldier of cowardice and tells him to get back to the front line. Though Patton eventually weasels his way back into being part of the Battle of the Bulge, his words continue to get him in trouble. He insults the Russians on several occasions and finally loses command of his troops completely after comparing the major US political parties to the Nazis. In the end Patton isn’t the stereotypical flag-waving war film that the opening suggested it would be, which made me enjoy it even more.

One thing I would say about both of the films in this post was that they were extra-long and could’ve probably done with trimming down at least twenty minutes from the overall running time. I did get the impression here that Schaffner and the screenwriters felt that every part of Patton’s history was important and took almost three hours to tell a story that could’ve probably be done in two. That being said Patton the character is a lot more compelling that Patton the film thanks to the brilliant performance given by George C Scott. In fact it’s Scott’s performance that carries Patton from beginning to end and definitely why it won the Oscar for Best Picture. Patton is a flawed character and somebody who always speaks his mind even he should probably keep his mouth shut. Though we’ve seen Scott in supporting roles in the past, his role as Patton was his defining moment and resulted in a well-earned Best Actor Oscar that he ultimately declined. The problem with having such a memorable screen performance like Scott’s is that every other cast member suffers as a result and not even the brilliant Karl Malden made an impression in one of the many supporting roles. Just like with Nicholas and Alexandra, Schaffner excels at presenting the historical set pieces and makes all the major battles feel important. Jerry Goldsmith’s brilliant score adds almost an unsettling tone to the film with the brass instruments making me uneasy whenever I heard them. Though I did find Patton compelling at times, I struggled to maintain my interest in the film over the three hour running time. Thankfully Scott kept me going throughout and I do feel that without his performance Patton wouldn’t be as well-regarded as it is today.


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