Patton - 1970

Patton - Released April 2, 1970. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North.

Schaffner's movie starts with an enormous United States flag looming like the sky, white stars and blood red stripes. A babble of voices talk incoherently. An unseen soldier shouts “ten-hut!” that brings silence and Patton walks towards us, relaxed and loose like a boxer headed for the ring. He mounts a platform at the bottom of the screen, a trumpet sounds reveille and Patton’s body simultaneously snaps erect and a salute made. While the trumpet stridently blasts, the camera begins ogling Patton as if he were an erotic pin-up, noting the abundant medals, the colorful sashes and ribbons, ivory-handled revolvers, and importantly, a helmet with four general stars under which eyes determinedly search. The trumpet finishes, Patton says “be seated,” and relaxed again, says “I want you to remember, 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.” Coppola's screenplay lets us know immediately this isn't a standard war film, but takes Patton's own unusual personality and blows it up larger and makes it seem even more outrageous. A bit later in the film, Patton will tell a visiting group of army chaplains that he reads the Bible ‘every goddamn day,’ but Schaffner and Coppola's film shows the man as a dedicated believer in warfare, and the oration at the beginning of the movie was that of a priest.

Instead of just a heroic portrayal of a war hero, Patton does some disassembling of the man's psyche, and the portrayal also includes the political mechanics that go on behind the scenes as gigantic armies move across continents. Juxtaposed against this is the character of Patton and his own self-definition of himself as a poet-knight, frequently frustrated in pursuing military goals while surrounded by political expediencies, staff bureaucracies, superior officers, various politicians, and the inability of the whole enterprise to meet his romantic expectations. Patton intones, “God, how I hate the twentieth Century."

This hatred, or disappointment, is a mystical background to Schaffner and Coppola's movie, as Patton does not see World War II as the simple subjugation of the Nazis, but rather as an event that goes backward over centuries, with the profession of war as a permanent repetition, spinning endlessly like the windmill dominating the final scene while Patton walks onward, alone.

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