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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Patton (review)

Blood, Guts and Glory

General George S. Patton (George C. Scott) is “a 16th-century man,” a German military analyst tells his higher-ups in Patton, “a romantic warrior lost in contemporary times.”

Patton is a man who sees war as personal duels between opposing generals. He even wishes that the outcome of his war — World War II — could be determined by a one-on-one with that “genius son of a bitch,” German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (Karl Michael Vogler), whose North African campaigns are kicking American and British butts. (After Patton routs Rommel’s 10th Panzer tanks, thanks to his studies of Rommel’s published strategies, he utters one of the greatest lines in movie history: “Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book.”) But his own allies are fair game, too — Patton depicts his legendary conflicts with “GI General” Omar Bradley (Karl Malden) and British general Bernard Montgomery (Michael Bates).

This biopic of the American general is a straightforward film without subtext or irony, just as its subject is. Not that he isn’t a mass of eccentricities. Patton keeps a Bible nearby and prays on his knees, but he also believes in reincarnation — he tells his fellow officers straightfaced that he was with Napoleon in Russia. He writes poetry and can “smell a battlefield.” He likes to court danger: He promotes himself to three-star general before it’s officially approved by the US Senate; he stands in front of a strafing German plane, shooting at it with only a pistol. He wants his troops to fear him and has zero tolerance for what he sees as cowardice.

But like many men who do great things using personality traits that would be drawbacks in lesser men, Patton’s idiosyncrasies eventually turn around and bite him. He’s tolerated only as long as he gets results — and good publicity. Patton is a spectacular and unvarnished look at a man who thrives in war while also sowing the seeds of his own downfall.

Oscars Best Picture 1970
AFI 100 (1998 list): #89

unforgettable movie moment:
The opening scene, in which General Patton, standing before a huge American flag, addresses offscreen troops: “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

previous Best Picture:
1969: Midnight Cowboy
next Best Picture:
1971: The French Connection

previous AFI 100 film:
88: Easy Rider
next AFI 100 film:
90: The Jazz Singer

go> the complete list of Oscar-winning Best Pictures

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Patton (1970) | directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
US/Can release: Apr 02 1970
UK/Ire release: May 07 1970

MPAA: rated PG
BBFC: rated 12 (contains gory war injuries)

viewed at home on a small screen

IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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