Patton, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. Specifically, it will contain a critical review of the film, which will briefly summarize the film and provide some analysis, which will look at the historical accuracy of the film and George C. Scott’s portrayal of General George S. Patton, Jr. Patton is as accurate as any Hollywood film can be, while still entertaining an audience. Scott’s portrayal of Patton is deadly accurate – he captures the nuances of a man alternately known for his cruelty and his pathos. The film is historic because it does attempt to portray the real man, the real war, and the real emotion men faced in battle.
PATTON was obsessed with the belief that the war would end before I got into it.” (General George S. Patton Jr.)
General George S. Patton, Jr. was probably one of the most controversial and yet admired generals in the history of the United States. “Few military figures in American history have laid siege to the public imagination more relentlessly than George S. Patton, Jr. Half a century after his exploits in North Africa, on Sicily, and across occupied Europe, his name still evokes the dash and brio of a cavalry charge” (Patton xi). In the film “Patton,” George C. Scott portrays the general as a man obsessed with war, and with the impact he can have on winning. He is sometimes cruel, sometimes humorous, and always looking out for his men, except when they show cowardice or unwillingness to stand up and fight, and the famous scene with the nervous soldier shows. “It’s my nerves, sir. I just can’t stand the shelling anymore. Your ‘nerves?’ Why hell, you’re just a goddamn coward. [slaps him] Shut up! I won’t have a yellow bastard sitting here crying in front of these brave men who’ve been wounded in battle! SHUT UP! [slaps him again]” (Patton). These intimate portrayals of a man who could in turn be cruel and then introspective earned George C. Scott an Oscar for his portrayal, and brought the general into focus for an entire generation who had never known the man or the legend. Scott handled both with ease.
This portrayal comes straight out of the pages of his diary, “War as I Knew It,” and it seems if Patton were alive today, he probably would have enjoyed Scott’s portrayal immensely. Scott seems to have found the soul of Patton and brought it to the viewer, so they would have a better understanding of this complex man who studied military history, read poetry, and lived to fight. Scott is at his best as Patton when he is roaring at his men, urging them into battle. “We’re gonna keep fighting!! Is that CLEAR?!! We’re gonna attack all night we’re gonna attack the next morning!! If we’re not VICTORIOUS!! Let no man come back alive!!!” (Patton). It is clear the film screenwriter and Scott studied Patton and his writings, or the film would never have depicted him so accurately.
This film only portrays Patton’s career during World War II, and then not all of it, but only selected battles and occupations. In his diary, he gives much more detail into his time in Africa and Italy before he made it to the European front, and he clearly spells out his disgust at Eisenhower and Montgomery when they do not agree with his battle plans. By the time Patton gets to France, his diary begins to offer differing opinions of the Allied battle decisions and defensive strategies. While this does come out in the movie, many of the details are not as clear, but his disgust at his inability to get into the war is. During this time, he concocted several battle plans that were rejected by the High Command. He writes,
It was my opinion then that this was the momentous error of the war. So far as the Third Army was concerned, we not only failed to get the back gas due us, but got practically no more, because, in consonance with the decision to move north, in which two corps of the First Army also participated, all supplies – both gasoline and ammunition – had to be thrown in that direction (Patton 120).
Some of his most famous fighting sayings are included here, such as, “Hold them by the nose and kick them in the pants” (Patton 5), “A pint of sweat saves a gallon of blood” (Patton 49), and “No army is better than its soldiers” (Patton 120). This is Patton at his best, when he is lecturing his reader while showing his wit and this is the Patton George C. Scott renders so well on film. Scott’s Patton is part ruthless leader, part irrepressible little boy, and part blood thirsty battle dog, eager and willing for anything as long as he is in the thick of things, and this portrayal is so accurate, it brings the pages of Patton’s own diary alive. A good example is the scene where Patton visits an ancient graveyard, and believes he lived during ancient times.
The Carthaginians defending the city were attacked by three Roman legions. The Carthaginians were proud and brave but they couldn’t hold. They were massacred. Arab women stripped them of their tunics and their swords and lances. The soldiers lay naked in the sun. Two thousand years ago. I was here (Patton).
In conclusion, the film Patton is as accurate historically as just about any film could be. Of course, each and every scene is not totally accurate, but the overall portrayal of the man and his involvement in World War II is extremely accurate. As Hollywood critics and authors Frank J. Wetta and Stephen J. Curley note about the film:
In Hollywood films, the more things change the more they remain the same. And if the movie messages about war are always mixed, it is because our attitudes toward war are always ambivalent. Perhaps Patton (1970) illustrates this best with its character study of soldier as hero-madman. The words and actions of Patton (George C. Scott) simultaneously appall and uplift (Wetta and Curley 159).
Hollywood often has the reputation of glamorizing their heroes and their surroundings. Clearly, there is nothing glamorous about Patton or his surroundings. The battles in this film seem real, the man seems real, and critics say the film is so realistic that President Nixon viewed it before he ordered the bombing of Cambodia, and even identified with the general (Wetta and Curley 10-11). Patton is a rare film in its historical accuracy, and the depth of Scott’s portrayal. It is no wonder it is still studied and viewed today, 33 years after audiences first viewed it.
Patton. Dir. Franklin J. Schaffner. Perf. George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Stephen Young, and Michael Strong. 20th Century Fox, 1970.
Patton, George S. Jr. War as I Knew It. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.
Wetta, Frank J., and Stephen J. Curley. Celluloid Wars: A Guide to Film and the American Experience of War. New York: Greenwood Press, 1992.
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