Welcome to the Weekly Movie Thread, your place here on the Avocado to discuss film week in and week out. To coin a phrase from a historic figure, “Compared to film, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance. God help me, I do love it so.”
This year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Patton.
In one of the most iconic openings in movies, General Patton (played by George C. Scott) addresses his troops in front of a gigantic American flag. I figure this scene can be read one of two ways. The first is pure text: Patton will be proven to be a great general who’s admired by his counterparts on the opposite side. This is the image of a leader: a man who believes in his country, who is fearless, and who commands authority.
The other way you can read it is when you consider the year the movie came out. In 1970, the American public was becoming weary of the Vietnam War. Woodstock had just happened, a rejection of the military bluster of Patton. While Patton is a no-nonsense leader, we also discover to our dismay that he bullies soldiers who are suffering from PTSD (only being understood in the 1970’s when Vietnam veterans were diagnosed with the condition). This little man, who looks tiny with the flag behind him, looks like a cartoonish megalomaniac with a Napoleon complex.
The movie was released some time between the Easy Rider (embraced by liberals) and the Joe (embraced by conservatives). Patton, I think, is intentionally made to be two things. It wasn’t the only war movie dominating the box office that year, either. MASH would thumb its nose at authority, while Tora! Tora! Tora! — though recounting a tragedy — ends on a reminder of America’s resolve. Suffice to say attitudes toward the military that year were very conflicted.
What’s undeniable is George C. Scott’s great performance, portraying a man who has no purpose in life beyond waging war and finding himself on a stage where he can fulfill his destiny. Put Patton on the battlefield, and he becomes a quip machine.
The movie won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (Franklin J. Schaffner). George C. Scott also won the award for Best Actor (“an acting tour de force”, said Gene Siskel), but refused to accept it citing his dislike for the Academy’s voting process. (He was the first actor to do so.)
World War II is a unique event in that, for the span of a decade, the conflict was so all encompassing that no one could ignore it. There are multiple films about the conflict in Europe. There are movies about the war touching Australia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, China, and Japan. There are movies about the Danish Resistance, Russian tank crews, industrialists trying to prevent Jewish workers from suffering the Holocaust, geniuses trying to decode German ciphers, Canadian spies, and seductive assassins in Shanghai. The list is so long that Wikipedia’s entry on WWII films has its own linked subcategories broken out by decade.
Today’s bonus prompt: What is the best movie to use World War II as a backdrop?