20th Century Fox presents
"I won't have cowards in my army." - Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. (George C. Scott)
Stars: George C. Scott, Karl Malden
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
MPAA Rating: PGRun Time: 02h:51m:15s
Release Date: 2003-05-20
DVD ReviewThe story goes that, as President, Richard Nixon loved this movie so much he screened it over and over while in the White House—it's not difficult to see why Nixon was so transfixed, but it's also a little disturbing to wonder how much of it he got, and to how much of it he remained willfully ignorant. This is truly one of the great screen portraits of a warrior, and what's so artful about the film is that it's not hagiography—this Patton is a leader of men, a general of the first caliber, while simultaneously being a nasty, impetuous, hot-headed old bastard. And George C. Scott's performance in the title role is mesmerizing and charismatic, the finest hour for one of the very best actors.
The unbelievable opening image would alone secure a place for this movie in the pantheon; as great as it is to have Patton on DVD, it's also one of those scenes that suffer by not being seen on the big screen. In front of the biggest American flag you've ever seen strides General George S. Patton, Jr., chest full of medals, ivory-handled revolver in his holster, standing ramrod straight and addressing cadets: "Americans love a winner, and will not tolerate a loser." This had to be stirring and incendiary stuff in its time, for the film was released at the height of the Vietnam War; sharing screenplay credit here is Francis Ford Coppola, and in some respects it's worth considering Patton as his dry run for themes he would explore more fully in Apocalypse Now, investigating notions of patriotism and jingoism, of American expansion and its limits, of the inevitable contrast between Patton's war, the war of the greatest generation, and the American presence in Vietnam. Scott so fully inhabits the character, too, that it's just about impossible to think of the historical Patton without conjuring up an image of the actor; and it's a testament to Scott's artistry that this is just one in his gallery of indelible characterizations. The contrast is particularly strong with his General Buck Turgidson, the fatuous cold warrior he played with such comic brio in Dr. Strangelove.
The movie covers a relatively small portion of Patton's life; we meet him here in 1943, leading Allied forces against the Nazis in North Africa. Director Franklin J. Schaffner's movie is no jingoistic pageant, but is as conflicted about war as it is about its hero; it's full of pageantry, of trumpets and crisp uniforms, but it understands that these are just the trappings, that so much more of war is about the bloodshed, about the soldiers who are never coming home.
"God, how I hate the twentieth century."—Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.
Patton has not only an elevated sense of his own importance, but a firm belief that he has lived many past lives, a notion that he's nourished with his extensive study of military history. He's the general brought in to shape up a unit after it's been administered a good old-fashioned whooping; he is certainly a commanding officer more feared than loved.
"Rommel, you magnificent bastard! I read your book!"—Patton
Erwin Rommel, Hitler's favorite general, is the villain of the piece; the movie smartly uses scenes of German officers plotting strategy against Patton as an expository device, to fill us in on our hero's biography. Rommel is at once the great enemy and a sort of kindred spirit to Patton, who has almost as much enmity for Bernard Montgomery, the highest-ranking British general, at least Patton's equal as a glory hound. Their race to liberate Sicily and grab the headlines is a brutal and funny sequence, climaxed by Patton's marching band drowning out Monty's, Stars and Stripes Forever prevailing over God Save the Queen.
"There's one big difference between you and me, George. I do it because I've been trained to do it. You do it because you love it."—Gen. Omar N. Bradley
The principal relationship that humanizes Patton, that gives him dimensionality, is his friendship with General Omar N. Bradley, first Patton's second in command, later his superior. Bradley himself served as the senior military advisor on the movie, and he's played with great warmth by Karl Malden; he and Scott together bring a Method stolidness to what could be little more than shoptalk among Army brass. The great offscreen presence in the film is the Allied commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower; it's clear that Bradley was an Ike favorite, and that Patton was not. The latter's temper, and a series of ugly public incidents—slapping around a soldier in the hospital with battle fatigue, for one; off-handedly offending the Russians, for another—kept Patton in Ike's doghouse, and the premise here is that Patton is the Allied general most feared by the enemy. That may have been true, but there's no denying Patton's elevated sense of his own destiny—how could history possible conspire, he wonders, to insult him by shutting him out of the D-Day invasion?
If we are not victorious, let no one come back alive!"—Patton
We leave Patton much as we found him; this is more of a portrait, less a story of circumstances changing his character. And so for all the intricacies of the battle sequences, which are very well done, what is sure to stay with you most is Scott and his characterization, at once an inspiration and a cautionary tale for those who would inherit his mantle of leading young men into battle, and loving it so.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Colors are most uneven; the reds and blues have endured and transferred far better than the greens and browns, meaning that Old Glory looks magnificent, but the soldiers' uniforms do not. Nothing seems to have been done to help the cause with the transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: Jerry Goldsmith's rousing score still sounds terrific, though I will admit that it made me chuckle a little bit now and again, because WFAN, the sports talk radio station in New York, has turned Patton's theme into George Steinbrenner's. A reasonably well-balanced audio track.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 37 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Longest Day
- audio essay by Charles M. Province
- accompanying booklet with timeline of Patton's life
- list of principal cast members
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsA grand performance by George C. Scott is the best thing about this bruising character study, which doesn't flinch in the face of its hero's many shortcomings and failures. This single-disc edition is light on extras, but the movie remains stirring and disturbing.
Jon Danziger 2005-09-02