In 1970, the Vietnam war was still raging, people were debating and protesting the Asian struggle and the Greatest generation was wondering what happened to duty, service, and love of country. After a period when World War II movies appeared to have exhausted their welcome at the movie theater, along came Patton with a riveting performance of a true American hero from George C. Scott. Few images that year surpassed the one of Patton on the stage, flanked by the largest American flag ever seen. It seared patriotism into our hearts and minds, reminding us all what it took to win a war.
It did not ignite a fresh wave of war films, but it did stand the test of time, often appearing on Best War Films of All Times lists and Scott will be forever connected with Patton. After all, the film earned seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (George C. Scott), Best Director (Franklin Schaffner), and Best Original Screenplay (Francis Ford Coppola). This 2:52 movie is an unsparing look at a controversial war hero given his rebellious nature, something military command usually frowns on.
The new Blu-ray release from 20th Century Home Entertainment is most welcome and a vast upgrade from the 2008 Blu-ray edition. That was an early conversion of an older film and it didn’t work terribly well, but this new release is fully restored and brings the grime and grit of the European Theater of War into sharp focus. The 65mm production has finally been brought to modern discs in a way that embraces the subject matter and makes for good viewing at home.
General George S. Patton Jr. was a military genius and he was the first to admit it. He was a harsh, brutal megalomaniac who was also a brilliant strategist. He had the highest casualty count among generals in the field, but he was also the one the Nazi regime feared the most. There is a definite connection between the two facts and exploring that propels the film. Coppola’s script does a fine job exploring the contradictory nature of the man. Additionally, this is one of the first films to portray a less than idealized version of the Allied effort, showing rivalries between American generals and a less than stellar relationship between the British and American commands. Patton himself was driven and therefore drove his men beyond endurance. Nothing would stand in his way, be it shell-shocked soldiers (who deserved a slap in the face, not sympathy) or mules that blocked the road. He gets him comeuppance, though, sent by Dwight D. Eisenhower as a decoy to keep the Germans from stumbling over the Normandy invasion.
The original assortment of special features from the 2008 release are all here in standard definition and it’s fun to hear Coppola in the intro and commentary talk about these early days in his career. The highlight though is History Through the Lens: Patton: A Rebel Revisited (1:30), a feature-length documentary by Ken Burns on the real Patton. Additionally, there are Patton’s Ghost Corps (46:38), giving dozens of surviving veterans a chance to share their memories of serving under Patton; Michael Arick’s 1997 The Making of Patton (49:46), with Scott, Oliver Stone, Richard Zanuck, Jerry Goldsmith, and others talking about the production; Production Still Gallery (36:24); and a Behind the Scenes Gallery (53:19).