There are those years where a single movie sweeps the table for Academy Awards and 1970 was such a year. The movie that accomplished this incredible feat of securing seven Academy Awards including Best Picture was “Patton”. It goes without saying that I would expect this to be an absolutely magnificent movie given this sort of recommendation.
It is not a bad movie, not at all, but it is not a perfect movie either, but that probably says more of my personal tastes than anything else.
“Patton” is a biopic about the famous American general George S. Patton, a fellow who was a leading general in the American contribution to the war in Europe during WWII, but equally famous for his controversial statements.
We follow him from his takeover of the American forces fighting alongside the British against the Germans in Tunisia, then in Sicily and finally in France. Patton (George C. Scott) develops a rivalry with the British General Montgomery (Michael Bates), both being prima-donnas for the glory of war and a, at times strained, friendship with General Omar Bradley (Karl Malden), who is subordinate to him in Tunisia and Sicily, but after falling in disgrace Patton have to beg for a job in France subordinate to Bradley.
The focus of the movie is the portrait of the man George S. Patton and it makes a lot out of him being a nutcase. Patton apparently believed in reincarnation and thought he had taken part in numerous battles in the past. He is also completely in love with the idea of fighting a war and gets positively hyped at the thought of fighting. While his controversial comments keep getting him in trouble, they are largely misinterpreted by the press who seems to be fishing for something that can present him in a controversial light, while his real screw ups are his complete failure to see beyond the battlefield.
The flipside of the coin, him being a brilliant commander is strangely underrepresented. We are told he is good, we are shown that he is engaged and that he accomplishes a great push in France including a relieve of the besieged units in Bastogne, but we never see how he does this. We never catch a glimpse of why he is supposed to be brilliant and not just an overconfident cowboy who is willing to sacrifice soldiers for his personal glory. I know it may be difficult to present in a movie how he works out or execute some amazing maneuvers, but this is a three hour movie and without it the negatives becomes dominant. I am left with the question how this nutcase was allowed to command in the first place and being told that he was a great general without telling us how is just unconvincing.
Of course, this may be intentional. In 1970 Hollywood thought with some right that the armed forces were generally made up of trigger happy and warmongering officers and this sentiment was allowed to prevail in a movie that on the outside was supposed to celebrate one of the biggest heroes of the country.
Technically there is absolutely nothing wrong with “Patton”. The production quality is extremely high and an amazing amount of details in the sets and circumstances have been replicated to perfection. The opulence of the castles used as headquarters, the misery of battle, the terrain they are going through. Some are real locations, some are locations in Spain with a striking resemblance to the actual locations.
It is a long movie and approaching the end I felt it was starting to overstay its welcome but until then it did keep a decent pace and was enjoyable enough to watch, if you can say that about a war movie where people gets shot to pieces.
The question remaining is if it deserved seven Academy Awards? I suppose it depends on the competition. 1970 has not impressed my that much and I am not certain it would have swept the table in a better year, but there is a lot of class to this movie and it is a movie that holds up today. Recommended.