History in Film Patton

History in Film Patton

Jonathan Bell 11/8/08

Introduction

The film Patton acts as a biography of General George S. Patton during his service in World War II. Due to its biographical aspect the focus of the movie is almost entirely on Patton. The film does achieve an amazing portrayal of the general, but due to this strong focus many key issues of World War II were not presented. The film was unique for its time with a large amount of resources and effort being spent on the films development. The films producers Frank McCarthy and Franklin J. Schaffner had set out to portray George Patton and issues of World War II in an unbiased way, but the actual result is a glorification of Patton and his ideals especially in regards to war.

Image from The Free Information Society, “Patton, George S.” by Frank Stroupe URL http://www.freeinfosociety.com/article.php?id=211

General George S. Patton

What the Film Gets Right

Patton portrays many aspects of World War II and George Patton correctly. A great deal of effort was spent by the films producers and staff in making the film accurate. The film does a great job in portraying the uniforms and equipment of soldiers correctly. The producers were able to gain access to actual World War II war equipment by renting out the Spanish army to work on the film.[1] This was made possible because the Spanish army had been given the World War II equipment by the US in prior deal.[2] The great emphasis on detail was also shown by the movies job on uniforms. The opening scene of the movie shows Patton with all of his military symbols and personal touches such as his unique hand gun. What is particularly unique about this scene is that it takes shots and pauses on different parts of his uniform so the audience can clearly see all the details in the uniform.[3]

The biggest emphasis of the film is trying to accurately portray General George Patton. George Patton in real life was a very complex character that was seen differently by many people.[4] The movie portrays many aspects of his personality correctly such as his tendency to antagonize people and at the same time be at good terms with many people, the aspect of him as a general, his ideologies, and the fact that he read a lot and had a great knowledge of history. George C. Scott the actor who played Patton put a great deal of effort into studying Patton and trying to portray him accurately reading all the available biographies available on Patton at the time.[5] The strategies and lines associated with Patton in this movie were based on real lines and strategies of Patton during the war. The line “hold them by the nose and kick them in the ass” showed the actual strategy and language Patton gave to his soldiers urging a strategy of pushing through the enemy and getting behind them with tanks allowing the infantry to mop up.[6] The fact that Patton would lead his division and yell out orders was also correct.[7] The movie also brought up the issue of the ineffectiveness of American guns compared to the armor on German tanks.[8] This portrayal was accurate and one general stated “The only way to hurt a Kraut with a 37 mm. is to catch him and give him an enema with it.”[9] His disciplining of the US army in Africa after he took command was also accurate like the movie presented he required the men to wear their helmets and leggings at all times and changed the mess hours to close at 6:00 AM.[10] The actual combat aspects of the army are what stand out the most in this movie.

The movie also shows more introspective aspects of Patton. It was true that Patton studied and was well versed in history. Patton in 1932 when he was at the Army War College had written a 56 page study that incorporated aspects of military history incorporating various historical militaries from 2500 BC to the Boer War.[11] Patton like he was portrayed in the movie also related history to concepts of ideology. Patton in talking about dead soldiers in battle referred to Norse mythology and the principle that the real heroes can be found on those who appear defeated.[12]

Image from: The Military Channel, “Top Ten Tanks No. 10 M4 Sherman” URL: http://military.discovery.com/technology/vehicles/tanks/tanks-10.html

US Sherman Tank

US Sherman Tank

What the Film Gets Wrong

The historical accuracy problems with Patton come mostly from what is left out of the movie rather than wrong facts. Patton fails to personify soldiers and address many of the broader issues of World War II. These issues include ethnic diversity and racial issues. Women were completely excluded in the movie although women served in the military in many types of non combat roles. Its value as a biography also suffers from the fact that it leaves out critical details about Patton’s life in particular that he had a family he was concerned about during the war. The film also goes over the top sometimes in some scenes representing Patton and his views and is guilty of oversimplifying the difficulties Patton faced.

The fact that Patton’s family was not mentioned in the movie comes from the issue of the Producers excluding them in respect for Patton’s living family members.[13] It was clear that Patton kept correspondence with his family through letters.[14] Patton’s son in law Johnny Waters was also captured in the war, but this situation was not mentioned in the film either.[15] This means the issue of respecting the family member by the directors led to a decrease in historical accuracy and from fully giving a complete portrayal of Patton. Another striking absence in the movie was the lack of Dwight D. Eisenhower when he was the commander of the American forces and held meetings with Patton during the war.

On a more dramatic scale the absences of diversity, race and women in the military in this movie create inaccurate perceptions of the environment of World War II. The fact of lack of diversity is explained by the fact that most of the soldiers in the movie were rented soldiers of the Spanish army and had no speaking parts in the movie. The movie does not seek to rectify this in the choices of the actors for the roles of the soldiers that speak in the movie. This is particularly detrimental to actual World War II history because it does not show the issues of differences between regular soldier and officers such as officers being Anglo Saxon and soldiers being more composed of Italian, Polish and German Americans.[16]The only real African American role in the movie was that of the aide for Patton who was portrayed more like a servant than a soldier, which on a historical basis represents issues of racial inequality within the ranks of the military.[17] The lack of women in roles in the army was by far the most problematic aspect within the movie. Even in the hospital scenes were female nurses would be common only male doctors were shown. An estimated 350,000 women served in the military during World War II in a variety of roles such as nurses.[18] Women working for the US military should not have been excluded from the film.

The issue of oversimplification comes up in relation to reasons why Patton had so much criticism. The issues of the soldier slapping, his attitude and language were not the only aspects that caused him problems. His aggressive approach led him to be blamed for instances of American soldiers killing surrendering soldiers and civilians. Particularly two soldiers tried for shooting prisoners cited following the orders of Patton for murdering Germans and Italian’s who had surrendered.[19] Patton did in fact make statements such as “I cannot see any reason for taking any prisoner alive.’[20] These incidents did not end up causing Patton face during the war because they were not known about by high command , but were worse incidents then the slapping incident portrayed in the movie.[21] In some instances that instead of simplification some aspects of Patton’s traits were exaggerated. A particular instance of this was the scene where Patton talks about how he loves war on a field of dead American soldiers.[22] Although it was true that Patton liked the role of the soldier, he did not like the negative aspects of death and destruction associated with it making that scene out of character for Patton.[23]

Image from: Judith A. Bellafaire, “The Women’s Army Corps: A Commemoration of World War II Service,” CMH Publication 72-15 URL http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/wac/wac.htm

A Women Soldier in WWII

A Women Soldier in WWII

Film Elements of Style and Primary History

Patton was a unique film that attempted a direction that had not been done before, but in the end was successful. To start out with the director Franklin Schaffner was already a well known director having directed several films including Planet of the Apes.[24] Frank McCarthy the producer of the film was a former general who had already been involved with several films and had been pushing for a film on Patton on years.[25] Schaffner also made a great effort to keep the integrity of the film choosing Francis Ford Coppola for the reason that he had not been involved in army and would be able to write from an unbiased perspective.[26] The film also took part on a massive scale that had not been done before using 72 different locations for the film process as well as renting out the Spanish army and providing supplies for the large amount of people involved with the film.[27] The marketing of the film focused on the war aspects of the film, while leaving out the more introspective scenes.[28] The movie earned 28 million dollars when it came out in the United States and won the Best Picture Award for 1970 as well as 8 Academy Awards.[29]

Patton’s release in 1970 occurred during the Vietnam War. It also came out during a time period where war movies had been selling terribly.[30] Patton stood out from past war movies due to its focus on characterization. The character of George Patton presented in the movie is that of a very complex and deep character. He can be brash and arrogant at one moment, while being sad and reflective at others. Along with the great acting by George C. Scott the music in the movie composed by Jerry Goldsmith was also very powerful in displaying emotional and action scenes. The movie also contains some greater symbolic messages within it even if the producers were not trying to send them.[31] At issue particularly is that General Patton throughout the movie glorifies war with scenes such as the won where he stands over the battlefield of dead American soldiers and proclaiming how he loves war.[32] There was speculation that this film even influenced Richard Nixon to decide to expand the Vietnam War into Cambodia due to the fact that he watched the film many times.[33]

Image from: The Museum of Broadcast Communications, “Schaffner, Franklin: US Director,” URL http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/S/htmlS/schaffnerfr/scaffnerfr.htm

Franklin Schaffner

Franklin Schaffner

Conclusion

Patton is a film that contains a great deal of historical accuracy and great representation of the character of Patton, but is also guilty of omitting many historical details as well. Patton succeeds as a biography of George Patton during the war, but fails to address greater issues involved with the war such as women and ethnic diversity in the military. The movie ideologically is flawed in that it glorifies war and minimizes the consequences of war by the statements of death in war being noble or glorious and omitting incidents such as the killing of surrendering soldiers. The movie does accomplish something many war movies don’t that is complex characterization instead of a stark war stereotype. The film’s historic issues end up being as complex as George Patton himself making this movie particularly interesting for historic study.

Bibliography

“Patton: A Tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner,” Patton, DVD, directed by Michael M. Arick 1997, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999.

“Patton: The Official Trailer,” Patton, DVD, directed by Franklin Schaffner 1970, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999.

“Patton,” Patton, DVD, directed by Franklin Schaffner 1970, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment,        1999.

Davies, Norman. No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945. New York: Penguin Group, 2006.

White, I. D. “Patton–The Man and the Film.” Military Affairs 34, no. 4 (December 1970): 138. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1986783 (accessed October 11, 2008).

Stewart, Jennifer Nichol. “Wacky Times: An Analysis of WAC in World War II.” International Social Science Review 75, no. 1-2 (2000): 26-37. http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdf?vid=3&hid=14&sid=9c02c7f9-f3ae-4a18 -8968-79e30d338a71%40sessionmgr108 (accessed November 9, 2008).

Hirshson, Stanley P. General Patton: A Soldier’s Life. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

Blumenson, Martin. The Patton Papers: 1885-1940. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972.


[1] “Patton: A Tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner,” Patton, DVD, directed by Michael M. Arick (1997, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

[2] “Patton: A Tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner,” Patton, DVD, directed by Michael M. Arick (1997, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

[3] “Stars and Stripes,” Patton, DVD, directed by Franklin Schaffner (1970, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

[4] Stanley P. Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier’s Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 4.

[5]“Patton: A Tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner,” Patton, DVD, directed by Michael M. Arick (1997, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

[6] Stanley P. Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier’s Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 256.

[7] Stanley P. Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier’s Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 258.

[8] “Kasserine Pass, Tunisia, 1943,” Patton, DVD, directed by Franklin Schaffner (1970, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

[9] Stanley P. Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier’s Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 308.

[10] Stanley P. Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier’s Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 315.

[11] Martin Blumenson, The Patton Papers: 1885-1940 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972), 889-890.

[12] Stanley P. Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier’s Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 301.

[13] Stanley P. Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier’s Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 681-700.

[14] Stanley P. Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier’s Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 267.

[15] Stanley P. Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier’s Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 322.

[16] Norman Davies, No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945 (New York: Penguin Group, 2006), 208.

[17] “Our War is Over,” Patton, DVD, directed by Franklin Schaffner (1970, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

[18] Jennifer Nichol Stewart, “Wacky Times: An Analysis of WAC in World War II,” International Social Science Review 75, no. 1-2 (2000): 29, http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdf?vid=3&hid=14&sid=9c02c7f9-f3ae-4a18-8968-79e30d338a71%40sessionmgr108 (accessed November 9, 2008).

[19] Stanley P. Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier’s Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 2.

[20] Stanley P. Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier’s Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 373.

[21] Stanley P. Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier’s Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 372.

[22] “Out of Gas,” Patton, DVD, directed by Franklin Schaffner (1970, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

[23] I. D. White, “Patton–The Man and the Film,” Military Affairs 34, no. 4 (December 1970): 138, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1986783 (accessed October 11, 2008).

[24] “Patton: A Tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner,” Patton, DVD, directed by Michael M. Arick (1997, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

[25] “Patton: A Tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner,” Patton, DVD, directed by Michael M. Arick (1997, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

[26] “Patton: A Tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner,” Patton, DVD, directed by Michael M. Arick (1997, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

[27] “Patton: A Tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner,” Patton, DVD, directed by Michael M. Arick (1997, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

[28] “Patton: The Official Trailer,” Patton, DVD, directed by Franklin Schaffner (1970, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

[29] “Patton: A Tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner,” Patton, DVD, directed by Michael M. Arick (1997, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

[30] “Patton: A Tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner,” Patton, DVD, directed by Michael M. Arick (1997, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

[31] “Patton: A Tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner,” Patton, DVD, directed by Michael M. Arick (1997, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

[32] “Out of Gas,” Patton, DVD, directed by Franklin Schaffner (1970, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

[33] “Patton: A Tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner,” Patton, DVD, directed by Michael M. Arick (1997, Universal City, CA: Fox Home Entertainment, 1999).

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