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Monday, February 9, 2015

George C. Scott! You magnificent bastard! I saw your movie!

I always wanted to write that and have it published. I also mean it with all of my heart. George C. Scott and Johnny Depp occupy a special place in my movie watching heart because, in my opinion, neither of them could or can do no wrong. Yes I saw that disaster Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I also sat through Scott’s The Changeling. To me, Scott and Depp were not the problems with those movies, although I actually enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory more than I probably should have.

Patton is a biopic made about the life of General George S. Patton who, according to Patton, singlehandedly won World War II despite being slowed down by British General Bernard Montgomery. The movie is based on real incidents and real quotes that historians attribute to Patton. It is the single most historically accurate biopic I have ever seen, with one tiny exception.

While George Patton did slap a soldier and did compare Democrats and Republicans to Nazis, he did not have the booming voice that Scott gave him. When you watch old news reels of Patton, you have to do a double take because we are all so used to the big, booming voice that Scott gave the General. Patton had the booming personality, but he did not have the voice to go with it.

Maybe that is what makes this movie so appealing to historians and movie fans alike. Maybe portraying Patton as we all believed him to be, while using all of the historical facts about his life, is how Americans want to remember this heroic general. George C. Scott’s interpretation of Patton was much more domineering than Patton was in real life, but it is the Patton that everyone wanted.

The scary thing about this movie is that everything, from Patton’s obsession with reincarnation to his absolute love of war, is accurate. George S. Patton lived a life that most warriors only dreamed of and he enjoyed every single moment of it. His untimely death at the hands of a car accident punctuated the unpredictable nature of his life and his career. The movie even references the anticlimactic nature of Patton’s real death by having Scott’s character nearly killed by an ox cart at the end of the movie.

As a movie, Patton is a visual tour de force. Director Franklin J. Schaffner’s use of real locations and accurate props and machinery permanently seal this movie in the 1940’s. There is nothing in this movie to indicate that it was made in the 1970’s, which is something I always liked in my classics. None of the music was created with a 1970’s feel to it and there was no overly zealous attempts at stunning but horrible special effects, which was one of the hallmarks of the 1970’s. It was just a movie about General George S. Patton. It feels like we are part of the media pool following the general and all we are doing is watching our own newsreels. That, to me, is effective movie-making.

While the look and feel of the movie help to enhance its overall effectiveness, it is Scott’s performance that makes this a classic. Scott gives us a Patton that is so obsessed with war that he actually misses it when he is taken out of battle. Karl Malden also puts in an excellent performance as the demure but likeable General Omar Bradley. It was Bradley who, on more than one occasion, saved Patton’s career and we get a sense of that in this movie.

Overall, Patton is more than just another war movie. This is the odyssey of one man to make a difference in a world that he knows all too well. It is a statement made for General Patton years after he was no longer able to make statements of his own. It is a visual and audio experience that captures what it was like to be at war for the men who were there against their will, and for the men like Patton who lived to be there.

Yeah, this is a guy movie. I will admit it. But if you appreciate history and like a good story as told through the eyes of a historian, then Patton is for you. It is a great movie and will remain a classic as long as movies are shown on any kind of screen in any kind of setting.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5

George N Root III is a drive-in fanatic who does get tired of shoveling snow after a while. Help melt a little of that snow away by reading his classic movie reviews in anticipation of spring and the opening of the drive-in.

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