Patton is a bigger-than-life film about a bigger-than-life figure1 and it will be remembered for a bigger than life gesture by its star when George C. Scott refused to accept a Best Actor Oscar2 for his performance. Scott didn’t believe he deserved this award. The rest of the civilized world, with good reason, begged to differ.
You could make the point that Scott’s performance almost overshadows the real general, who was not nearly as charismatic a public speaker as the actor makes him appear to be. However, for the purpose of cinema, it would be hard to take a man with the same high-pitched, thready voice of the real Patton, and make us believe that he was the only Western Allied general that the German High Command truly feared.
The movie picks up Patton’s story right after the Americans’ first disastrous encounter with the Germans at Kasserine Pass3. After taking command, he whips the demoralized, disorganized and undisciplined troops into shape. A little more than a month later, Patton’s forces inflict a decisive defeat on the Germans at El Guettar4.
From there, it’s on to the invasion of Sicily5, where Patton defies orders and races his hated rival, Sir Bernard Law Montgomery6, to Messina. At this point it looks like the only thing that can stop Patton is Patton himself. After his triumph in Sicily comes the notorious incident when he slapped a soldier7 who was suffering from battle fatigue. Actually it was two soldiers in real life, but the outrage over this event still seems a little comical when you consider that, had he been in their armies, both the Germans and our Soviet allies probably would have done a lot worse to that soldier than slap him. Regardless, public outrage impels General Eisenhower8 to relieve Patton of his command.
Despite Patton’s mortification of being out of the action just as the invasion of Normandy9 is being planned, it could be argued that his role on the sidelines was as crucial as any he played on the battlefield. The Germans, disbelieving that the American’s would punish their greatest general for merely slapping a soldier, follow his movements closely as Patton is shuttled all over the European Theater on a series of seemingly pointless goodwill visits. Every appearance causes the Germans the redeploy their forces for an expected attack from wherever Patton was last seen.
In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.Winston Churchill10
Patton is then placed in command of a phony army poised to invade France at the Pas-de-Calais11 instead of Normandy. The fact that the Germans feared Patton enough to swallow the bait is one of the key reasons the D-Day invasion succeeded.
Finally, Eisenhower grants him his wish and gives Patton command of the U.S. Third Army12, and he turns the Germans’ blitzkrieg13 tactics against them and slashes across France at a dizzying speed. The only thing that stops him from going all the way to Berlin is the fact that his own army couldn’t supply him with enough gasoline.
Patton’s last big hurrah comes during his brilliant dash to relieve the defenders of Bastogne14 during the Battle of the Bulge15 at the end of 1944. His Third Army would then lead the charge into Germany in 1945 and be farther east than any other American unit by the end of the war.
Once the war is over, Patton’s mouth would get him in trouble again. With no love lost between him and the Soviet Union, he feels that as long as the American’s have an army already here, might as well fight the Russians too. This obviously doesn’t go over well back home and Patton found himself relieved of command again.
There isn’t a large number of battle scenes in this three hour movie. Rather, the filmmakers concentrate on his prickly friendship with General Omar Bradley (Karl Malden), his rivalry with Montgomery and the Germans’ obsession with him. Patton is portrayed as a romantic out of step with his time. He believes he is the reincarnation of historic military heroes and the film does not scoff openly at him. It presents a fascinating portrait of a creature born for war and ultimately destroyed by peace.
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_S._Patton [↩]
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/43rd_Academy_Awards [↩]
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Kasserine_Pass [↩]
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_El_Guettar [↩]
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Husky [↩]
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Law_Montgomery [↩]
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_S._Patton#Slapping_incident [↩]
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwight_D._Eisenhower [↩]
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Overlord [↩]
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Bodyguard [↩]
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Fortitude [↩]
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Third_Army [↩]
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blitzkrieg [↩]
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Bastogne [↩]
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Bulge [↩]