The bare ambient sound, static camera shot and screen-filling American flag that appear without preamble as George C. Scott’s General Patton takes the stage were so striking, even confrontational, that it was easy to miss just how square the rest of this big-budget WWII bio-pic was. Franklin J. Schaffner, working off Francis Coppola’s smart script, was the sort of craftsman director who needed to put one foot in front of the other, cross his t’s and dot his i’s before moving to the next story-point. (The same trait that gave unlikely ballast to a Sci-Fi/Fantasy like PLANET OF THE APES/’68.) Here, with Scott more or less the whole show even among a cast of thousands, the approach can turn stiff & overly monumental. (Like the waxwork German officers following the General’s every move from a Nazi war-room who might have been drawn with crayons.) But on its simplified terms, this orderly film with its rudely brilliant protagonist is very satisfying, loaded with awesome pre-CGI battles often seen from a commander’s distance (crystal clear in a 65mm negative process), and filling as a turkey dinner.
DOUBLE-BILL: Scott reunited with Schaffner for ISLANDS IN THE STREAM/’77, a Hemingway project that almost works. But this time, Schaffner’s solid-citizen helming held the film back.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: How weird was 1971? Weird enough for 20th/Fox to put out a post-Oscar® double-bill of PATTON and M*A*S*H*. Odd bedfellows politically, and a running time of nearly 5 hours. Yikes!