Patton (1970) – Film #0369

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2003

Patton chronicles events from the life of General George S. Patton during World War II. The opening scene is considered iconic today, but lead actor George C. Scott had reservations about it. He was reluctant to film the scene, as he thought it would upstage his performance in the rest of the film. He only agreed to film it when he was told it would be shown at the end of the film, not the beginning. (Obviously, this ended up being a lie.) Despite his reservations, Scott’s performance was met with acclaim, and he won the Best Actor Oscar for his role. However, Scott became the first actor to ever refuse the award, since he thought that the whole idea of handing out awards for filmmaking was pointless pageantry. 

Scott wasn’t the only person associated with the film to stir up trouble. Years before production ever started, Francis Ford Coppola (who would later go on to direct other iconic films that are also included in the National Film Registry, such as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now) was hired and then later fired as the screenwriter of the film. In the extras included on the 2011 Blu-ray release, Coppola indicated that the unusual nature of the opening scene may be the reason that he was fired. However, Coppola eventually won an Oscar for his screenplay (along with Edmund H. North, who was hired to do additional writing after Coppola was fired). Coppola also stated in the Blu-ray extras that he believed his Oscar win was the only thing that kept him from also getting fired from directing The Godfather. 

Patton’s effects on future Coppola films didn’t stop with The Godfather. In Patton, the titular character delivers the following line while speaking fondly of war: “I love it, God help me, I do love it. I love it more than my life.” Coppola stated that this line later inspired him to write the now iconic line in Apocalypse now: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

One reason that the film continues to receive praise is for its realistic depiction of General Patton. He had many supporters and many detractors in his time, and the filmmakers wanted individuals from both sides to walk away from the film satisfied. As such, the film depicts many of his personal aspects that his fans saw as his strengths (such as his vast knowledge of historical battles, both ancient and modern), and likewise, the film doesn’t shy away from his faults (including the infamous incident where he slapped a soldier that he felt was acting cowardly). In the end, the film depicts the complex man that he was, and leaves it up to the viewer to form their own opinion of him. 

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