Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Blind Spot 2017: Patton


Patton came to my Blind Spot list by way of my desire to finish the Best Picture Oscar winners of the 1970s and 80s. I knew nearly nothing about this film going in, other than George C. Scott was going to stand in front of a giant American flag at the beginning and be generally badass. 

I wonder if I would have liked Patton better about 15 years ago, when I was a teenager rifling through Best Picture winners, more willing to sit down for an epic war film. Then, I wonder if a few years from now might be the right time, as if this sort of movie is more for the image I have of the American father, faithful to Westerns and war movies on lazy afternoons.

For now, let's say this: I liked this movie. It's fine. George C. Scott is stellar, and there are moments of oratory greatness in the Oscar-winning screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North to match the lore of the man himself. 

Knowing so little going in, I was in fact delighted by the dual introductions of the character Patton. Everyone who's ever discussed movies knows about the opening, the condensed, cleaned up version of one of the real-life General's actual speeches, staged in front of that giant American flag. What I'd never heard about was the humor with which he is actually introduced as an interesting man played by an equally interesting screen presence. 

Director Franklin J. Schaffner's film had me mostly hooked in its first half, as General Patton gains his third star and takes over ranks in North Africa. The hilarity of the scene where Patton's meeting with a British Air Force chief is interrupted by a German airstrike is unmatched. I almost thought it could've been in a more darkly humorous film, even Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, also starring George C. Scott as a grizzled military higher-up. Alas, that is not this film, which takes a straightforward approach as a classical historical biopic, which is just as well, as I didn't expect the former anyhow. 

As the halfway point came about, fueled by Patton's victorious gamble in Sicily in which he bests both the Germans and his proper British counterpart Montgomery (Micheal Bates), I began to fall of as he does, losing rank a touch after an incident with "cowardly" soldiers in a field hospital (which I read is absolutely true). Patton, then, became a character I felt I couldn't root for, or, worse, no longer understood. His tragic flaw to that point had seemed Pride, vanity, especially in his dealings with fellow General Omar Bradley (an excellent-as-always Karl Malden). Their meeting providing plenty of food for thought in terms what what Patton was like as a man and leader. I just lost interest in the second half. 

It could all boil down to my attention span though. On another day, in another year even, I could see myself really loving the epic nature of this film. Fred Koenekamp's cinematography is big and bold at its best and even better when the bullets fly. The score is Jerry Goldsmith is incredibly unique in tone. And as most have said, and I agree, George C. Scott's Oscar-winning performance is brilliant. And I like the odd juxtaposition of character in that Scott, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, was meant to play Patton and Patton was meant for Scott, yet I feel like Patton would've picked up his award. Scott stayed at home on Oscar night, citing a disbelief in acting as a competition. 

Either way, it's a match made in heaven. character and actor, both larger than life, come together in a huge cinematic epic. That's what it's all about. "Today just wasn't my day, sir," I'd say to the General, and he'd probably return with a backhand.

★★ 1/2 out of ★★★

A Monthly Challenge to Watch the Greatest Films You've Never Seen
originated by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee 

10 comments:

  1. This is embarrassing, I've never heard of this film and it won an Oscar? Whoops. Great review!

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    1. Haha! It's not one they talk about much really. Just a standard prestige picture.

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  2. I love this film even though it has been years and I know that scene well with Patton slapping the "coward"( as if!). I wanted to slap Patton at this point and I asked my dad about this scene since he read so much about WW2 and he fought in WW2 and was wounded near the end of the war. My dad was an old timer and he said he would not have called him a coward but he would not have wanted this man beside him when he was fighting because you need the man to cover you as much you need to cover the other man. If the man freezes out of fear, you could die. It's horrible thinking that way but my dad is right about that...you need to know you can trust that soldier to help you. Now that being said, my dad said that these men deserved to be taken out and taken care of but never put back because they can't handle it. I hope I never have to know. Patton was ...how shall I say, nuts! He was an excellent General but he really believed he was the reincarnation of some guy Way, way back( Roman?? Can't remember). Scott disliked Patton and the whole Oscar thing and never did pick up his Oscar ( unlike Brando). I always love Karl Maldon and he was great in this as well.

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    1. I understand the trust a soldier must have for another. I just don't think that came through in this scene in this movie.

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  3. Haven't seen this film before. I plan on seeing it eventually, but probably not for a while.

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    1. It's pretty good. Worth a watch someday.

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  4. This film was okay, vast, sprawling and at times intense and Scott was great, what you said about he and Patton being made for each other is completely accurate. I was glad to see it but I never rewatch it.

    I love George C. Scott, even when he goes overboard on occasion there's still a grounding in reality that he has. He was a complex, temperamental man and from what I gleaned from Colleen Dewhurst's biography (they were married to each other twice!-one of their sons is the actor Campbell Scott) both a total joy and a total nightmare to live with but a man of deep convictions. One of those convictions was a complete disdain for awards as a competition. He said that unless all five actors played the same role there was no way to judge which one was best since all roles require different skills to be realized. I can't argue with that although I love to balance one performance against another, so I should probably feel a deep sense of shame but I don't!

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    1. You're right. It's fine. Not anything I'd watch again probably.

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  5. I've seen a few snippets of Patton over the years, but have never actually sat down and watched it all the way through. Good review.

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    1. Thanks. It's not anything great. But it has some greatness.

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