Amidst the ongoing turmoil of the social revolution of the late sixties in America and the mess of the Vietnam War, Twentieth Century-Fox turned to the second World War, and in particular, concentrated on one of the most fascinating military figures of that century – General George Patton.
Patton is a biopic, but does not cover any of the incidents surrounding his war exploits. Insteadm it concentrates solely on the key events of his life that occurred during World War II, such as his prima-donna tactical games with supposed British ally Montgomery; his slapping of a mentally fatigued soldier which landed him in hot water; his mission as a decoy in London; All of the famous events are included. After the war had finished, Patton died in a freak car accident that same year (in the same suspicious circumstances that Lawrence Of Arabia was killed), yet the film is not concerned with this and makes no mention of it.
The film is more concerned with depicting Patton as the true warrior who took tremendous pride in winning battles. Although he never lost a foot of ground in battle, he was always in trouble in-between his war conflicts due to his vicious verbal temperament and his headstrong opinionated stance. He was a man of many strange talents and hidden facets. He loved to write poetry, he competed in the 1912 Olympic games, he claimed to have lived previous lives where he was also a successful military leader. The Nazis described him as an anachronism, due to his desire to be a warrior poet. They also deeply feared Patton, and the Allies used this fear element to their advantage.
Patton is a riveting film. It’s expertly written by a pre-famous Francis Ford Coppolla and Edmund North, and the script manages to condense many events in just under three hours. At times the film is hysterically funny, and yet it also brilliantly complements this humour by including some heavy drama and a fabulous narrative that never leaves the viewer unaware as to what is going on. It was based on Ladislas Farigo’s book Patton: Ordeal And Triumph, which is a gripping read from start to finish. Omar Bradley, a retired General who features prominently in the film (portrayed by Karl Malden) also serves as a technical advisor, which gives the film much more of an authentic aura. Most film scholars will note Patton as a classic primarily based on the superb performance by George C. Scott as the man himself. Scott literally takes over the myth of Patton and consumes his identity, so much so that we cannot imagine anyone else as the General. As a member of the audience, you actually start to fear Scott as Patton when he gets angry, and you fear for the cowardly soldiers who continually aggravate him. Scott fully deserved the Oscar he won for Patton, although he famously refused it claiming that the Oscars should not cause competition between his fellow actors, and should stop being a ‘Meat Market’.
As equally impressive as Scott is Karl Malden as General Bradley. As director Franklin Schaffner points it in the documentary, it is easy to be the aggressive, flamboyant character, but to play the counterweight role of calmness and sensitivity is much harder, and Karl Malden pulls this off effortlessly. Although Malden impressed with his Oscar winning performance in On The Waterfront, his understated General Bradley is arguably the best performance of his career.
Franklin J. Schaffner had gained some fabulous attention after directing the perfect Planet Of The Apes two years earlier, and although Patton is an exceptional film it doesn’t pip his previous effort. Out of the directors who have won an Oscar in the last forty years, Schaffner’s is probably the least famous name, although he was one of the greatest directors of the two decades of the sixties and seventies. Fans of Schaffner through Patton or Planet Of The Apes should seek out his two other classic pieces of work - Papillon and The Boys From Brazil. With regards to Shcaffner's techniques on Patton, the director approaches the film in a passionate yet cautious way. It’s evident early on that the film is not judging Patton at all, and the film maintains this approach throughout. Schaffner presents just as many arguments for-and-against the man’s infamous methods, and this is probably the best approach, as spectators, soldiers and historians were divided on the matter. Schaffner fully deserved the Oscar for Patton, as he tells what could have been an overtly factual study in a swift and amusing film that never at any time feels lengthy.
Academy Awards 1970
Best Director - Franklin J. Schaffner
Best Actor - George C. Scott
Best Adapted Screenplay - Francis Ford Coppola, Edmund H. North
Best Art Direction / Set Decoration - Antonio Mateos, Urie McCleary, Gil Parrondo, Pierre-Louis Thévenet
Best Film Editing - Hugh S. Fowler
Best Sound - Don J. Bassman, Douglas O. Williams
Academy Award Nominations 1970
Best Cinematography - Fred J. Koenekamp
Best Original Score - Jerry Goldsmith
Best Visual Effects - Alex Weldon
Transfer wise, the film is stunning, and the natural reds and whites are some of the most vivid ever seen. The film is thirty-two years old, and that shows in parts with certain dated locales, but never before has Patton looked so good. The opening sequence of Patton standing in front of a huge American flag looks as though it could have been shot yesterday, as it’s quite breathtaking. Fred Koenekamp, the film's cinematographer, deserved more than the Oscar nomination he received. Patton was originally filmed in 70mm using the Dimension 150 process, and it’s a shame films no longer have the look that glamourised so many films of the sixties-seventies. Patton is also complete in the sense that it retains the original intermission, which is always nice and nostalgic for films such as these.
The sound quality is a mixed bag. Most of the dialogue feels like a mono mix, which is a shame considering the alleged 5.1 surround mix. However, the sound comes alive in war scenes, with tanks blasting all over the place and bullets firing from every corner, which certainly helps the atmosphere tremendously. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is crystal clear, and it’s interesting to note how the composer can reiterate some of the same methods of scoring from Planet Of The Apes and then use them completely differently in Patton.
Menu: A static menu incorporating a few shots from the film.
Packaging: A stylish single-amaray packaging complete with extra disc slot for the film's second disc. The booklet included with the disc is more than the usual usefulness, being that it contains a timeline of events that occurred to Patton during his life, which is great as a reference when watching the film.
Patton doesn’t really do justice to the concept of 2-disc DVDs (although it isn’t as bad as The Longest Day DVD) although the extras are quite commendable.
Audio Commentary With Patton Historian: The commentary is a refreshing change in that it features chief leader of the George Patton society discussing the actual authenticity of events presented in the film. This is precisely the approach needed for historical films and recommended to anyone more-than-slightly interested. The commentary only lasts for about half of the film but you really gain an insight into the real Patton after listening to it.
The Making Of Patton: The 'making of' is a mixture of behind-the-scenes info and a tribute to the director Franklin J. Schaffner. It lasts for over forty-five minutes and features many contemporaries such as Oliver Stone mixed with radio snippets from the director and George C. Scott. Many other members of the cast and crew are also included, which makes it enjoyable to watch.
Isolated Score: Also contained as a strange extra is an additional audio track, which contains the entire Jerry Goldsmith score from the film, which given the brilliance of the musical compositions in the film is a worthy bonus extra, even if the score is quite small and contains many repeated cues compared to today’s films.
Trailers: Patton also contains a trailer for itself and for The Longest Day and Tora! Tora! Tora!.
Patton is one of the great screen biopics and contains two truly captivating performances from Scott and Malden, as well as having the departments of directing, screenplay, cinematography, sound and musical score superbly complemented. The film is an all round excellent package with some quality extras, and strongly recommended to war film fans or classic film buffs.