Patton gives equal treatment to George S. Patton’s strengths and weaknesses, his victories and his failings. Patton is a warrior through and through. A student of war he believes he was literally part of decisive battles throughout history. As a strong disciplinarian he gets results from the start, taking command of a previously defeated and dejected group and leading them to an impressive victory over German forces in Africa. He loves the battle. He wants the battle. It’s not for his country that he wants to fight though. Patton wants glory and a place in history.
This introduces us to the flip side of the coin. While Patton honors those that bleed and die for him, he’s all too willing to send them into unnecessarily risky battles for his own aggrandizement. He is obsessed with his place in history. The battle strategies he pitches to fellow generals seem to be excuses to put himself in the position to fulfill his destiny.
Patton is portrayed as a master of discipline, but ironically his major failing is his lack of discipline. The general blusters through a hospital tent, pinning a medal on an injured soldier and ejecting soldiers he believes intentionally wounded themselves to get out of combat. When he encounters a soldier with “shell shock” he berates and assaults him for what Patton perceives as cowardice. As a general there’s no need to resort to violence. As he did with the soldiers with self-inflicted wounds he could have just ordered the shell shocked soldier out of the tent and back to the front lines. A lack of discipline lead him to strike out.
As the war winds down he insults America’s Russian allies by suggesting the United States and Great Britain will rule the post-war world. He then directly insults a Russian general. Later he carelessly compares participation in American political parties to the same in the Nazi party.
As was probably the case with many of his peers, Patton disagrees with certain strategic decisions. In his dealings with the press he is unable to bite his tongue with regards to these disagreements. Reporters easily goad him into criticizing Eisenhower and Montgomery. Unsatisfied with the Allied plan of attack in Italy he races ahead to gain the glory of taking the town of Messina. His punishment is to serve as a decoy to the D-Day invasion.
After the war he loses his command after suggesting the United States should continue fighting westward against its Russian allies, even going on to suggest that he could incite such a conflict. Time and time again his inability to follow orders the way he expects his subordinates to costs him the chance to obtain the glory he so desires. Pride just gets in the way.
I thought George C. Scott was very good as Patton, though I liked Karl Malden as Omar Bradley even better. General Montgomery (Michael Bates) is Patton’s antagonist most of the film, but I thought the film tried too hard to make him unlikable. I liked the scenes showing the focus German central command put on understanding Patton as a way to defeat him. The final description of Patton by the researcher was poignant: “the pure warrior a magnificent anachronism”. I loved the war trumpets that subtly played in certain scenes, always when Patton was in a reflective state, never during the fighting. The famous opening scene with Patton giving a speech in front of a huge American flag covering the entire shot was obviously very good. The battle scenes were nothing great by today’s standards, but I’m not sure how they would have rated at the time of the movie’s release.