Sunday, December 25, 2005

PATTON (1970) - Franklin J. Schaffner

"Thirty years from now, when you're sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks you, "What did you do in the great World War II," you won't have to say, ‘Well... I shoveled shit in Louisiana.’" – George C. Scott as Patton

Though this is "War Epics Weekend," Patton is really more of an intimate character study done on epic scale. The war is not the focus of either the movie or man. For Patton, it’s about winning a place in history more than winning a war -- after all, there will always be more wars, or at least Patton hopes. For what is a career soldier to do when there is no war?

Without a war, Patton would be just another empty careerist driven by the ever-revolving wheels of American competition. At times, it seems he’s more concerned with outperforming his fellow generals (that "damned Montgomery") than how he or his troops perform on the battlefield. Or whether they die on the battlefield. This is definitely not a "soldier’s eye view" war movie. It’s strictly about the brass.

Sure, there is some lip service given to the plight of the wounded soldier with scenes of Patton surveying the dead solemnly on the battlefield or visiting wounded in the medic tent, but they ring a little false. A large part of the movie hinges on an incident wherein Patton slaps an enlisted man who’s suffering from "shot nerves," but not technically "wounded." Patton gets his comeuppance in the form of bad PR, a temporary suspension and reassignment, but you get the feeling he would do the same thing all over again. Just a little more quietly the next time.

Where Patton really shines is not on the battlefields or in the medic tents, but in the war rooms, on the planning boards, on stage during speeches. This is where Patton really comes to life and we see his usefulness, what he was born to do. This is also where we get those wonderful speeches, the monologues, and brilliant bits of dialogue all delivered with perfect razor-sharp acumen by a perfectly cast George C. Scott. These are the scenes that make Patton worth watching and, unfortunately, probably play a part in new soldiers marching off to get killed for unjust causes to this day.

Make no mistake, this is a very pro-military movie. I’m sure it’s shown to new cadets all the time, practically upon enlistment. But when it comes down to it, it’s not really meant for them. It’s really about the "glory" of planning and executing a perfect offensive, not necessarily doing the frontlines fighting in one.

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