Patton started the 70’s with a bang. A film based on the life of World War II Army General George S. Patton had been in the works since his death in 1945. Despite resistance from his widow, descendants, and even the Pentagon, a movie was finally made 2 decades later. Patton turned out to be a great war film with one of the best biographical performances of all time. With a nearly 3 hour runtime, it’s no surprise Patton won Best Picture. After something as different as Planet of the Apes, Franklin J. Schaffner ended up winning Best Director for Patton. The screenwriting team was especially good with Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North winning Best Original Screenplay. Though he didn’t win Best Original Score, Jerry Goldsmith’s theme is an all-American classic. Patton also won Best Art Direction, Film Editing, and Sound.
Of course the movie would be nothing without a career best performance by George C. Scott who won Best Actor. Although he declined the award, it doesn’t change how well deserved it was. Scott was practically born to play the general. Right down to having a similar name. General George S. Patton is a truly complex character. He’s a tough bastard who earned the nickname “Old Blood and Guts.” One second he’s honoring his injured troops, next second he’s slapping a soldier for losing his nerve. He’s a praying man who swears like a sailor. Though not too much since they wanted to maintain a PG rating. Patton’s methods may be harsh, but he’s also a poet who loves his job and fondly remembers the glory days. All of that is captured in the iconic opening scene where Patton addresses his troops in front of a giant American flag. Giving one of the most famous speeches of all time. The scene has been imitated and/or parodied a countless number of times.
It’s a tough act to follow, but the rest of the movie is just as good. Patton follows most of the general’s career through the entirety of WWII. I don’t fully understand war strategy, but most of the action is spent on the battlefield with Patton leading the Seventh and Third United States Armies. Meanwhile, the Nazis make plans to take out the general. Patton’s most outspoken critic is his fellow U.S. General Omar Bradley played by Karl Malden. Even the British don’t always support him, but he still has their respect. Most of his respect is lost after the “slapping incident” and after denouncing the Russians. Neither of which ruins his reputation enough to keep him from finishing what he started. Ending with another impactful speech that sums up the movie’s theme that all glory is fleeting. Patton has winner written all over it.