Top 100 Movie Review: No. 051 – Patton: A Salute to a Rebel (1970)

Ranked 051 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as May 2017). Watched April 2020.

Cast: George C. Scott (General George S. Patton Jr.), Karl Malden (General Omar N. Bradley), Stephen Young (Captain Chester B. Hansen), Michael Bates (General Bernard Montgomery), Edward Binns (Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith), Michael Strong (Brigadier General Hobart Carver), Frank Latimore (Lieutenant Colonel Henry Davenport), Morgan Paull (Captain Richard N. Jenson), Karl Michael Vogler (Field Marshal Erwin Rommel)
Director:  Franklin J. Schaffner
My rating: 8.0 / 10

The film starts with General George S. Patton (George C. Scott ) addressing an unseen audience of American troops to raise their morale, focusing in particular on the value placed on winning by American society, putting down cowards and putting forward his attack and not defend principle.

The first scene set during the War has Patton taking charge of the American forces in North Africa. Upon his arrival, he immediately starts enforcing discipline among his troops and kicks out shell shocked soldiers out of the local hospital.

At a meeting with Air Marshal Coningham of the Royal Air Force, he claims that the American defeat was caused by lack of air cover. Coningham promises Patton that he will see no more German aircraft – but seconds later the compound is bombed making Patton’s point of the inadequate air cover. Patton later comments that he wished he could face German commander Erwin Rommel (Karl Michael Vogler) one on one.

Patton then defeats a German attack during which his aide Captain Jenson is killed in the battle, and is replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Codman. Patton is bitterly disappointed to learn that Erwin Rommel, was back in Germany but as Codman states: “If you’ve defeated Rommel’s plan, you’ve defeated Rommel.” which pleases Patton.

Starting with the North Africa campaign Patton and the British commander Bernard Montgomery (Michael Bates) start competing with each other for victories and press coverage. This is seen with there separate plans for the Allied invasion of Sicily. Patton’s proposal to land his Seventh Army in the north-west of the island with Montgomery in the south-east (therefore potentially trapping the German and Italian forces in a pincer movement) but General Eisenhower rejects it in favour of Montgomery’s more cautious plan, which places Patton’s army in the south-east, covering Montgomery’s flank.

While the landing is successful, the Allied forces become bogged down, causing Patton to defy orders and advance north-west to Palermo, and then to the port of Messina in the north-east, narrowly beating Montgomery to the prize. Patton insists that his feud with Montgomery is due to the latter’s determination to monopolise the war glory. However, Patton’s actions do not sit well with his subordinate General Bradley (Karl Malden).

While on a visit to a field hospital, Patton notices a shell-shocked soldier crying calling him a coward, slapping him, threatening to shoot him, before getting him dragged to the front line. This capatures media attention back home with a cartoon of him kicking a soldier with a swastika on his boot. Eisenhower relieves Patton of command and requires to apologize to the soldier and his command which Patton very reluctantly does.

Patton is then sidelined during the D-Day landings in 1944, being placed in command of the decoy phantom First United States Army Group in south-east England – which also makes the decoy army more convincing, as German General Alfred Jodl is convinced that Patton will lead the invasion of Europe. Patton is warned while in England to temper his words but later fails to include the Russians in a local speech about how the victors, USA and England, will rule the world after World War 2.

After Patton begs his former subordinate and now promoted Genera; Bradley for a command before the war ends, Eisenhower places Patton under Bradley in command of the Third Army. He performs brilliantly by rapidly advancing through France, but his tanks are brought to a standstill when they run out of fuel as, much to his fury, the supplies were allocated to Montgomery’s unit. Later, during the Battle of the Bulge, Patton brilliantly relieves the town of Bastogne and then smashes through the Siegfried Line and into Germany.

After Germany capitulates, Patton directly insults a Russian general at a dinner; the Russian insults Patton right back, much to Patton’s amusement which allows him to share a celebratory drink with the Russian.

Patton then makes an offhand remark comparing the Nazi Party to American political parties. Ultimately, Patton’s outspokenness loses him his command once again, though he is kept on to see to the rebuilding of Germany, where a runaway oxcart narrowly misses him.

Finally, Patton is seen walking Willie, his bull terrier, across the German countryside. Patton’s voice is heard relating that a returning hero of ancient Rome was honoured with a triumph, a victory parade in which “a slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory… is fleeting.”

 What’s to Like
Watching some of the historic events of World War 2, the egomaniac Patton and Montgomery clashes for glory which costs a lot of lives but also helps win many battles, the European locations, the realistic battles and aftermath.

What’s not to Like
The film skips over or rushes though some big historical events of the war which I would have loved to see more off but that would have made this a 6 to 8 hour movie.

The movie tells both the good and bad about Patton and how he was his own worse enemy and promoter by winning fights with daring and aggressive attacks but losing support by his public comments putting down those he has no respect or time for which includes the US President and other Allied Generals.

The movie tells us that Patton is “a magnificent anachronism,” and “a 16th-century man lost in the 20th century,” and that is an assessment provided by the Germans and Patton keeps quoting historic wars and stating he has been reincarnated and has been in some of this historic battles. His subordinate and later superior General Bradley claims then difference between then is that Patton loves war while Bradley is trained for combat.

In many ways the movie examines the different approaches leaders take in war in particular Patton, Bradley, and British General Montgomery and shows all three being right and wrong at different points as they move from Africa to Europe and multiple battles. Patton shows a lot of insight about the Russians and the need to still use some Germans to rebuild and provide services to Germany buts his messages are lost due to his inability to stop offending his superiors.

Patton is obviously a complicated man, he is very moved by seeing his men killed or injured but still throws them into very aggressive and dangerous missions going above requirements of his superiors. He is local to his men but hates cowards, showing no concern for shell shocked men only contempt.

The acting is great and the movie won 7 well deserved academy awards.  Would I like to know an individual like Patton, know is ego is way to big, but would you like such a man fighting a war on your side, mostly likely yes.  A very good movie.

Academy Awards

  • Best Picture – winner
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (George C. Scott) – winner
  • Best Director (Franklin J. Schaffner) – winner
  • Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Factual Material (Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North) – winner
  • Best Art Direction-Set Decoration – winner
  • Best Sound – winner
  • Best Film Editing – winner
  • Best Cinematography – nominee
  • Best Effects, Special Visual Effects – nominee
  • Best Music, Original Score – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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