Patton (1970)

Patton won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1970, and picked up another six – Best Actor was famously declined by George C. Scott as the title character, but its makers took home awards for Best Director (Franklin J. Schaffner), Best Original Screenplay (Francis Ford Coppola), Best Film Editing, Best Sound and Best Art Direction. It lost Best Original Score to Love Story, Best Cinematography to Ryan’s Daughter and Best Special Effects to Tora! Tora! Tora!

The other Best Picture nominees were Airport, Five Easy Pieces, Love Story and M*A*S*H, none of which I have seen. IMDB users actually rate this the top film of 1970 on one system, but only 8th on the other, behind Ryan’s Daughter, The Honeymoon Killers, M*A*S*H, The Aristocats, Love Story, Catch-22 and Rio Lobo. The other 1970 films I had previously seen were The Aristocats, Catch-22, The Railway Children, A Man Called Horse, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and that eternal if puzzling classic Dougal and the Blue Cat. The Hugo that year went to No Award (it was a weird final ballot).

Here’s a trailer.

In case you had not guessed, this is the story of General George S. Patton and his campaign during the Second World War; we move from North Africa to Germany via Italy, France and Belgium with an excursion to England. This is the fifth or sixth Second World War film to win Best Picture (after Mrs Miniver and Casablanca, for which the war was a contemporary setting, and From Here to Eternity and The Bridge on the River Kwai, plus I think you’d have to count The Best Years of Our Lives as well). It’s the fourth or fifth biopic (after The Great Ziegfeld, The Life of Emile Zola, Lawrence of Arabia and maybe you could stretch a point for A Man for All Seasons although it was adapted from a stage play).

I did not like it much. The central character is not very nice and not very interesting, and goes around fighting people, mostly but not always the enemy. It clearly appeals to a wide audience, just not me. I’m putting it pretty far down my list, just below Mutiny on the Bounty but above All the King’s Men. I think I liked all the other films I had seen from 1970 more than this. (Yes, including Dougal and the Blue Cat.)

The star of the film appeared five years ago in Dr Strangelove, where George C. Scott was the militaristic general Buck Turgidson; the two characters are somewhat related.

We have two returnees from previous Oscar-winning films. Karl Malden is the secondary lead here as General Omar Bradley; he was the uncertainly heroic Father Barry in On the Waterfront, sixteen years ago.

Less prominently, Jack Gwillim is General Alexander here and eight years ago was the club secretary who tells Lawrence to smarten up in Lawrence of Arabia.

But my big casting surprise was to discover that this, as far as I know, is the only Oscar-winning film featuring a Doctor Who companion. (There are two with actual Doctors – Hamlet has Patrick Troughton and Peter Cushing, and A Man for all Seasons has John Hurt.) It’s about as obscure a companion as you can get. Gerald Flood, who plays Air Chief Marshal Tedder here, went on to provide the voice for the shape-shifting android Kamelion, who appeared in two Fifth Doctor stories in 1983 and 1984. He appears onscreen in the first of them as the android double of King John of England.

This is a film mainly about white men. The good women of Knutsford get two speaking parts, neither credited. The occasional woman extra can be spotted in other scenes.

There is one credited black character, George Meeks, Patton’s valet, played by James Edwards. He is one of the many secondary figures who Patton expounds to at great and tedious length. Sadly, Edwards died in January 1970, aged only 51, a month before the film was released.

As I guess I have made clear, my biggest problem with the film is the protagonist, who comes across as selfish and self-destructive. I also really don’t like the make-up on his eyebrows.

I found Coppola’s script rather stilted. It rather felt like there were boxes that had to be ticked – this is the scene where he has an argument about Sicily, this is where he slaps a convalescing soldier, this is where he insults the Russians – and writer and cast were just ticking them.

There were some points I liked as well. In general we are convinced that we are seeing North Africa and France rather than Spain and England. There is a good sense of geography, and the culture clash between Americans and Brits is not too overdone. The battle scenes are convincingly done and there is a sense of real danger and risk.

The point that appealed to me most is the film’s treatment of French and German. I don’t know how linguistically gifted the historical Patton was; Scott breakes into fluent French at several points, sometimes translated by context or bystanders, sometimes not. The scenes in German High Command are played by German actors speaking German to each other. I can’t remember another Oscar-winning film that was this open to languages other than English (plenty of course are based on translated works). Admittedly there is no such latitude given for Arabic in the North African scenes.

Next up is The French Connection. I can only hope for better luck.

Normally I buy and read the books that each Oscar-winning film is based on. Patton is based on two books each of which is over 600 pages in length, so I am not going to bother this time; we are under lockdown here and I’d rather do things I know I will enjoy. For completeness, the second paragraph of the third chapter of Patton: Ordeal and Triumph, by Ladislas Fargo, is:

Though Georgie’s ancestry was as splendorous as any in America, he was somewhat apprehensive that it was not quite a match for the Ayers’ New England background. The Pattons’ aristocracy was the informal, relaxed, unsophisticated kind of nobility that seemed parvenu in proper Bostonian eyes. And Ayer was a Brahmin to the core.

And the second paragraph of the third chapter of A Soldier’s Story, by General Omar N. Bradley, is:

After a 25-cent breakfast of canned bacon and powdered eggs in a tar-paper shack on the field at Dakar, we boarded our plane for the 1,400-mile flight north to Marrakech in French Morocco. We flew for hours over the bleak Sahara. But as we passed into Morocco, the snow-topped peaks of the Atlas Mountains rose steeply out of the desolate plains and we threaded a course through their passes. Beyond this mountain barrier, on its fertile northern slopes, Mar-rakech lay like a crystal city in the center of a green oasis. From the air its huge white mosques ballooned like giant mushrooms. We landed there, spent the night at the Arabesque Mamounia Hotel, and left early the next morning for Algiers in a cargo-loaded C-47.

If you want, you can get the film here, Fargo’s Patton here, and Bradley’s Story here.

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)

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