Ed Driscoll

EBERT, YOU MAGNIFICENT SONOFABITCH, I

EBERT, YOU MAGNIFICENT SONOFABITCH, I READ YOUR REVIEW! Roger Ebert has an insightful review of Patton as part of his “Great Movies” series. Ebert notes:

The most famous scene is the first one, Patton mounting a stage to address his troops from in front of an American flag that fills the huge 70-mm screen. His speech is unapologetically bloodthirsty (“we will cut out their living guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks”). His uniform and decorations, ribbons and medals, jodhpurs and riding boots and swagger stick fall just a hair short of what Groucho Marx might have worn. Scott’s great nose could be the beak of an American Eagle. The closing shot is the other side of the coin, a graying and lonely old man, walking his dog. Even then, we suspect, Patton is acting. But does he know it?

I watched “Patton” last week on laser disc (which reminded me that I’ve got to pick it up on DVD. The speech at the beginning of the film is surprisingly faithful to the actual speech given by Patton to the Third Army on June 5th, the night before D-Day, minus all of Patton’s profanity, but with a subtle, 1960s-updating of “individual heroics” to “individuality”.

As far as the film’s great, if far more subtle, last scene, I’m surprised Ebert didn’t mention its obvious Don Quixote homage. There’s a huge windmill, silently revolving in the foreground of the shot, as Patton walks his dog.

And the film made great use of the German generals and their staff to deliver much of the expository information about Patton, using the distancing of the foreign language and subtitles to make their role in the movie less obvious.

It’s funny, all of the flak that Nixon took from the left for watching, and being inspired by Patton, because Patton is the consummate war leader, who understood, far better than Nixon or Johnson seemed to during Vietnam, that “no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” and that “war is a bloody, killing business. You’ve got to spill their blood, or they will spill yours.” Yes, and it’s a bloody, killing business no matter how much you sanitize it for TV, or try to be “merciful” to the enemy. Win the war–then you can show mercy.

Was Patton crazy? Delusional, maybe. A romantic, certainly. But as a war commander, he knew how to motivate his troops, and how to win a war: use overwhelming force, advance as quickly as possible, and fight like hell. I suspect he’d have a wonderful time if he were alive today, going through the Afghanis “like crap through a goose”.

Anyhow, read Ebert’s review–it’s a very good article about an excellent film made by a most underrated director, Franklin J. Schaffner and co-written by Francis Ford Coppola, before he would go on to direct another film about an equally charismatic, if far more corrupt, leader.

By the way, for another review of Patton, and what a well-crafted film it is (especially for the time in which it came out), read Doug Pratt’s essay from The DVD-LaserDisc Newsletter.