Don't smirk Patton. I shan't kiss you.
Patton is directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and stars George C. Scott as the titular General George S. Patton. The film also stars Karl Malden, Michael Bates, and Karl Michael Vogler. Patton won seven Oscars, including Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay alongside Best Picture.
I fondly remember my first ever viewing of the 1970 Best Picture winner Patton, mostly because it was one of the worst experiences that I had of watching a movie in a very very long time. It was the middle of the week. I had an open evening, and this movie was the next one on my "To Watch" list. Now bonehead me did not do enough research beforehand, so when I first learned that the movie was a shade under three hours, I winced a little, because absurdly long running times was a bad habit for older movies, and being stuck watching an incredibly long movie and ending up hating it is nothing short of a nightmare. So as I sat watching Patton for the first time ever, I'd say for about 40 or so minutes I was on board. But then something happened. I don't remember exactly when it happened, but it did.
This agonizing boredom, one I couldn't recall feeling, swelled in me. But this was not your typical, feeling-sleepy boredom. This was boredom where I felt active, intense hatred for what I was watching, because not only did I lose complete interest in what I was watching, but the movie was doing nothing to make me think, "Maybe it will get better. Maybe something will happen that I can remember." And of course, I had to remind myself that the movie was nearly three hours long, so I was stuck, stuck watching a movie I didn't care at all to be invested in, making it feel as if the movie would go on forever.
So when I began doing reviews of all the Best Picture winning movies, I knew that I would come across Patton again, and here I am. You can imagine how much it pained me thinking about having to sit through this movie again, the only happy thought I had was how much I would get to eviscerate this movie in this review.
Except, something happened. A miracle, perhaps? I watched the film for a second time and that agonizing boredom did not return. Dare I say it? I actually came to like Patton? I didn't find it a masterpiece, but it was certainly a much more pleasant experience than the first time around. I don't remember exactly what kind of mood I was in when I watched Patton the first time, but it must have not been a very caring one. I believe a large part of what made me feel such intense boredom the first time was simply a matter of not fully understanding the plot and what the movie was trying to say.
The plot of Patton is simply a depiction of General George S. Patton during World War II. The movie explores the tactics and strategies that Patton undertakes to secure various victories during the war, as well as explore Patton's highly aggressive attitude and how it landed him in some hot water.
My inability to care the first time around prevented me from truly realizing some of the great things that the film provides. And what are those great things?
- The movie's most iconic scene is its opening, in which Patton delivers a speech to a crowd of unseen troops. Patton emerges in a long shot in front of a large American flag, then we cut to a series of close-up shots of all of Patton's major articles of clothing: his boots, his helmet, his uniform, the whole nine yards. What follows is then a speech that lays the groundwork for the rest of the film. Patton opens the speech with what I think is the best quote from the entire film: "Now, 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." From there, the rest of Patton's speech encompasses not only his passion for the Army and his country, but how he intends to display his ruthless attitude on the enemy. The entire speech is the film's thesis statement, summarizing what we are going to see from not only Patton the General, but also from Patton the man.
- Here yet again is a case of a sprawling Best Picture winner that centers on a historical male figure. And as history is destined to repeat itself, the actor portraying that central male figure is nothing short of excellent. George C. Scott's magnificence in the role cannot be stated enough. He is so successfully able to capture Patton's ambitious, tough-as-nails attitude and approach to war that every scene he is in feels like it's the first time we ever meet the General. It's impossible for us to get used to Patton, because Scott so brilliantly refuses to let us accept Patton for who he is, allowing us to watch him with never-ending admiration and a small hint of disdain for his sometimes unforgiving tactics. George C. Scott didn't feel that he fully captured Patton's character, apologizing to director Franklin J. Schaffner on set. Scott also refused to accept his Best Actor Oscar, calling acting competitions unfair. Who'd a thunk Scott would be so humble about his performance?
- No matter how much better my second viewing was compared to the first, it still stands that Patton is, at times, quite boring. That is most to blame on the script, for the movie likes to be highly repetitive of what it allows Patton to actually do, from his discussions of battle strategies with his fellow soldiers to his angry outbursts over the phone. More often than not, scenes of Patton coming up with brilliant ideas is followed by scenes of German soldiers exclaiming how dangerous that Patton is. These German soldiers don't contribute much of anything to the film, other than a brief perspective from the German point of view; their bewilderment not being something you'd need a history book to figure out.
But anyway, back to the repetitiveness. The last half of the movie suffers the most from this, despite Scott's brilliant efforts that manage to keep the movie afloat at all times. There's really nothing new that goes on, which puts a bit of a burden on Scott to find new ways to keep himself so captivating. But Scott shows the tenacity to do so, and had he not delivered such a strong performance, oh man, I can't think of what kind of cinematic crime this film would have turned out to be.
I write this review of Patton kind of stunned. I never would have guessed that I would have two entirely different viewings of the same movie. The first viewing was pure torture, a Saw game for film lovers everywhere. The second viewing was like finding twenty bucks on the ground, you didn't expect it at all, but, hey, you'll take it. Easily Patton's best feature is George C. Scott's truly unforgettable performance, even if his performance is the victim of a limited screenplay that makes the film highly susceptible to boredom. It is a film that requires a great deal of your attention, and if you are willing to give that attention to the film, it may end up being a rewarding experience. Trust me, I've learned that mistake once before.
Recommend? If you are passionate about history or have served in the military, I think the film is worth a look. If not, I'd think real hard before deciding to see it, because there's nothing worse than sitting through a three hour movie that you find boring.
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