Patton

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Patton

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Patton

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In marketing 1970's Patton, Fox faced a formidable challenge: How do you sell the Love Generation on an epic biopic of a man who embodied hard-line militarism? The studio's answer was to posit the legendary general as an unlikely outlaw; it even planned on releasing the film as Patton: A Salute To A Rebel, until cooler heads prevailed. Yet it ultimately succeeded in simultaneously selling Patton to hawks as a square pro-war movie, and to doves as a brash anti-war movie. A giant Rorschach blot of a film, Patton can be read any number of ways, from a sly satire of gung-ho militarism to an epic glorification of Patton's old-school mentality. Alas, the studio couldn't please everyone. In a documentary included on the two-disc Patton DVD set, Oliver Stone holds the film responsible for Richard Nixon's decision to invade Cambodia, and by extension, the mass murder committed by the Khmer Rouge. Gosh, not even the fiercest Crash detractor has ever accused it of leading to genocide.

Franklin J. Schaffner's follow-up to Planet Of The Apes casts the never-better George C. Scott as the controversial general, a Bible-thumper who cursed a blue streak, believed in reincarnation, wrote poetry, and put contemporary metrosexuals to shame with his love of fashion. The film concentrates on the final years of World War II, a time that brought Patton to the heights of glory and the nadir of infamy.

Scott plays the title figure as a distant relation to his gung-ho military man from Dr. Strangelove; there's a distinct satirical undercurrent to the film's depiction of the American warrior as an insane, overgrown Boy Scout undone by his hubris and ego. Schaffner and screenwriters Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund North deliver the war-movie goods in epic 70 millimeter while also serving up an oddball character study of a man out of time. In his commentary, Coppola claims to have been fired for writing the iconic scene where Scott delivers a fiery speech to the camera in front of a giant American flag, but it's those slyly subversive, weirdly comic flourishes that make the film an enduring two-fisted American classic. Patton probably should have fallen apart under the weight of its own contradictions. Instead, like its subject, it's enriched and emboldened by them.

Key features: A Coppola introduction to accompany his commentary, and some lengthy making-of documentaries.

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