Sunday, November 19, 2017

Don't Make a Scene: Patton

The Set-Up: The story is basically true with a couple of small details: It wasn't snow that was preventing air-cover for his Third Army, it was incessant rain; it wasn't only Patton using the prayer, but the entire Third Army reading from 250,000 cards Patton ordered printed of the prayer (with a signed Christmas greeting on the reverse—see below); and Patton ordered the prayer over the phone, not in person. Other than those details, its a true story.

And the rains did cease. They'd've goddamned better.

He did yell the "Let no man come back alive" threat—it was the sort of thing the real Patton did to get attention, and delivered in his high, reedy voice (instead of George Scott's gravel-bass) it must have sounded blood-curdling.

The other notable things are the mention of Patton as "actor," which, no doubt, informed George C. Scott's hailed performance. Patton was an actor, theatrical and florid, dressing impressively, giving off the air of authority and privilege, and absolute command. That was in the strategic palaces. With the troops, he was basic and personal and emotional. He was a disciplinarian, yes, but weaker than the accepted portrait that the Scott personification has embedded in the nation's consciousness—Scott wasn't one to show Patton weep, as he was known to do with the troops—indeed, Patton was a fairly anonymous presence to all but the soldiers and war historians up until the film's release. Those who hero-worship the movie-Patton are like prison widows who fall in love and marry inmates, as long as they're behind bars. They would probably run from the room coming in contact with the real general. Patton was hardly a complacent man. And he did not suffer fools.

The other aspect of this sequence is how it walks the tight-rope of presenting Patton as warrior and war as brutality during the height of the anti-Vietnam sentiment. That "Patton" was popular and a box office smash during those fevered days is fairly amazing and a testament to the filmmakers and promotion people who walked the edge of the razor blade to position the movie for both hawks and doves. And backed by Jerry Goldsmith's eerie score, the ambiguous nature of the fighting sequences can leave both birds with their feathers unruffled, thinking their side has been represented. The brutality of the action, the desperateness of the situation and the waste of a single human life are all represented.

The Story: The Third Army is making its way through The Battle of the Bulge, led by disgraced Lt. General George Patton (George C. Scott in his Oscar-winning role). But the fighting is not going according to plan. For Patton to continue advancing his troops, he needs support from the air and the winter weather has the planes grounded. If Patton can't get help from above, he's going to have to go up the chain of command over everyone's heads.

Action. Now, dammit!

Colonel GASTON BELL: Sir, Von Runstedt’s thrown another Panzer division against Bastogne. The first Airborne is hanging on by its finger-nails.
Lieutenant Gen. GEORGE PATTON: Damn air-cover is what we need. If we had 24 hours of decent weather we might make it.

Brigadier General HOBART CARVER: General Mason, sir!

PATTON: Hello, Mace? Listen, we’re short on foot-soldiers. I want you to cannibalize your anti-aircraft units and turn them into rifle-men. Yes, every damn last one of them you can find.

Lt. Col. HENRY DAVENPORT: Evening, General. I just got the weather report for tomorrow. More snow.
CARVER: There goes our air-cover. Sir, we may have to pull up and wait for better weather.

PATTON: There are brave men dying up there. I’m not going to wait. Not an hour. Not a minute. We’re going to keep moving!

PATTON: Is that CLEAR?! We’re going to attack all night.

PATTON: We’re going to attack tomorrow morning! If we are not VICTORIOUS…LET NO ONE COME BACK ALIVE!!

Lt. Col. CHARLES R. CODMAN: You know something, General? Sometimes the men can’t tell when you’re acting, and when you’re not.

PATTON: It isn’t important for them to know. It’s only important for ME to know.

CHAPLAIN: You wanted to see me, general?
PATTON: Oh, yeah, Chaplain. I’m sick and tired of Third Army having to fight the Germans, the Supreme Command, no gasoline and now this ungodly weather. I want a prayer. A weather prayer.
CHAPLAIN: Weather prayer, sir?
PATTON: Yes, let’s see if we can’t get God working for us on this thing.

CHAPLAIN: It’ll take a pretty thick rug for that kind of praying.
PATTON: I don’t care if it takes a flying carpet.
CHAPLAIN: Well, I don’t know how this is going to be received, general…praying for good weather so we can kill our fellow man…

PATTON: Well, I can assure you, sir, because of my intimate relations with the Almighty, if you write a good prayer—we’ll have good weather.

PATTON: I expect that prayer within an hour.

CHAPLAIN: Yes, sir.
(Leaves. Chaplain shakes head)

PATTON(VO): Almighty and most merciful father. We humbly beseech thee of Thy great goodness...

PATTON(VO): restrain this immoderate weather with which we’ve had to contend.

PATTON(VO): Grant us fair weather for battle.

PATTON(VO): Graciously hearken to us...

PATTON(VO) soldiers who call upon thee...

PATTON(VO):...that, armed with thy power...

PATTON(VO): ...we may advance...

PATTON(VO): ...from victory to victory...

PATTON(VO): ...and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies...

PATTON(VO): ...and establish thy justice...

PATTON(VO): ...among men and nations.



Words by Edmund H. North, Francis Ford Coppola and Chaplain James H. O' Neill

Pictures by Fred J. Koenekamp and Franklin J. Schaffner

Patton is available on DVD from Fox Home Video.

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