Franklin J Schaffner’s complex study of the “red-blooded” American General was co-written by Francis Coppola and managed at once to be intimate (the opening speech with Scott posed against a gigantic American flag) and epic (in the battle sequences).
A critically acclaimed film that won a total of eight 1970 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Patton is a riveting portrait of one of the 20th century’s greatest military geniuses, General George Smith Patton – commander of the US Seventh and Third armies and the only Allied General truly feared by the Nazis.
Charismatic and flamboyant, Patton designed his own uniforms, sported ivory-handled six-shooters, and believed he had been a warrior in past lives.
He outmanoeuvred Rommel in Africa, and after D-Day led his troops in an unstoppable campaign across Europe, lifting the siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, then pushing into Czechoslovakia and – sniffing glorious victory – being forced by Eisenhower to make way for Montgomery’s Northern Front.
But Patton was rebellious as well as brilliant, and as this film shows with insight and poignancy, his own volatile personality – he was a strutting, profanity-spouting, war-loving egomaniac – was one enemy he could never defeat.
While on a visit to a field hospital crowded with battle casualties, Patton sees a shaken soldier weeping (Tim Considine). Angrily labelling the soldier a coward, Patton assaults him and threatens to kill him, then concludes the interaction by insisting that the soldier return to the frontline.
When Eisenhower learns of the incident, he relieves Patton of his command and orders him to offer apologies to the wronged soldier, to all occupants of the field hospital, and to his command, one unit at a time.
After the war, Patton’s forces occupied Bavaria, but his unconcealed resentment of the Russians and his refusal to dismiss Nazis from civil office led to his downfall and bitter departure.
One of the most intelligent war films of its period, Patton hinges on George C Scott’s gargantuan performance – conceived like a tragic Shakespearean hero.
Scott, his head shaved, his craggy features cast in expressions of contempt or rage, took the role because “Patton was a professional and I admire professionalism”.
Yet Scott made sour Oscar history when he declined his Best Actor award for the title role in Patton, considering the award ceremony to be a “meat market”. The film’s producer Frank McCarthy accepted Scott’s Oscar on the night and it was returned to the Academy the very next day.
Patton was filmed at 71 locations in six countries, but most of it was shot in Spain because Francisco Franco’s Spanish Army could provide the needed WWII equipment – though the rental of troops and equipment consumed half the film’s $12 million production budget. Patton’s speech to the troops that opens the movie was shot at Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
A sequel, The Last Days of Patton (1986), once again starred Scott in the title role.
George C Scott
Field Marshal Montgomery
Major General Walter Bedell Smith
Lt Col Davenport
Brig Gen Carver
Field Marshal Rommel
Karl Michael Vogler
Lt Gen Buford
Colonel John Welkin
Air Vice-Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham
Soldier who gets slapped
Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder
General Sir Harold Alexander
Major General Francis de Guingand
First Lt Stiller
Patrick J Zurica
Franklin J Schaffner