Patton (1970)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Michael Bates, Karl Michael Vogler
Extras: Commentary Track, Introduction, Documentaries, Still Galleries, Audio Essay, Trailer

After more than 30 years, Franklin J. Schaffner's rousing biopic of one of America's most controversial military leaders remains a landmark film. "Patton" brings to full, colorful life the eccentric career of General George S. Patton, the World War II commander whose brilliant strategies led his men to several victories, but whose eccentric behavior brought about his own downfall. George C. Scott is electrifying in the title role, achieving the flamboyance that made Patton a prima donna, while bringing out the deeper, more spiritual side that made him a legend. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment now presents this masterpiece in a deluxe, 2-disc edition.

The film opens with one of the most striking moments in cinema history, as Patton steps out in front of a colossal American flag and speaks directly to the audience as his troops. This scene effectively lays out Patton's fanatical views of war and passionate dedication to combat. It was a daring move on the part of the filmmakers, as it could have potentially confused the audience with its avant-garde quality. The scene is so well-constructed and designed, however, that the point comes through brilliantly.

The actual story begins as General Patton is brought into North Africa to take command of the defeated Third Army. As he threateningly struts through the base for the first time, he observes the rather lax condition of the men, quickly establishing his strict protocol. When questioned by his friend and then-subordinate General Omar Bradley (Karl Malden), Patton replies, "They'll lose their fear of the Germans. I only hope to God they never lose their fear of me." This line is key in understanding the mentality behind his often radical decisions.

Patton's reputation rises as he leads the Third Army from one victory to another, catching the attention not only of his allied rival Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery (Michael Bates), but of German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel (Karl Michael Vogler). Throughout the film, Schaffner cuts back and forth between Rommel's reactions to Patton's advancements and the main storyline. It is here that we get a lot of exposition about Patton's life and background, as the Germans discuss what kind of man they are dealing with. In a strange way, Rommel begins to develop a certain respect for him—a respect that can only be shared between military leaders.

Patton's fate changes, however, during a routine visit with his wounded troops. After awarding a Purple Heart medal to a man who has just died, Patton stumbles across a soldier suffering from shell shock. In a fit of emotion, he knocks the solder across the head with his glove, accusing him of cowardice, then threatening to shoot him. This incident (based on two historical episodes) forever changed the way Patton was treated and partially contributed to the demise of his military career.

In 1970, a film biography of a divisive general with an unabashed love for war seemed an odd venture for a major Hollywood studio to embark on. At a time when anti-war sentiments were at their peak and war films were long out of style, "Patton" managed to sweep the U.S. box office, not to mention the Academy Awards, winning seven, including Best Picture and Best Actor. Part of this success must be attributed to Francis Ford Coppola, who penned the first draft of the screenplay. Initially rejected for its decidedly odd structure, it was later resurrected and revised by Edmund North. The extensive research by both writers contributed to the remarkable authenticity of the final product.

It is almost impossible to overstate how important George C. Scott's performance is to the movie. He perfectly captures the complex nature of Patton, from his boisterous conduct on the battlefield to his Southern eloquence at the dinner table. Scott appears not to act, but to fully inhabit his role, from his profanity spewing down to the swagger of his walk. As the film ponders over Patton's devout belief in reincarnation, one begins to wonder if Scott didn't channel the spirit of the general while making this movie.

All of the film's spectacle has been blessedly preserved in 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's new 2-disc release. The film looks absolutely splendid in a 2.20:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are bold, especially in the opening scene, where the red and white stripes of the flag pop out brilliantly. There is some fine grain visible, a sign of the film's age, though I think it actually enhances the experience, providing a more filmic look that is missing from many digital restorations. A few flecks pop up every now and then, but they are not excessive. Skin tones are perhaps a tad reddish, but overall this is a solid picture.

The 5.0 Dolby Digital track is a dynamic mix that clearly presents the explosions and gunfire of the battle scenes while providing a fine balance with the dialogue and Jerry Goldsmith's score. Like the picture quality, the sound shows signs of its age, but it is nonetheless a thrilling audio presentation. The soundtrack is also offered in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, which sounds equally impressive, as well as French and Spanish monaural tracks.

In addition to the film, disc 1 also contains a 5-minute introduction by Francis Ford Coppola who gives some good background information on the film. For an expanded version, Coppola provides a feature-length audio commentary. For someone who wasn't on the set during production, or anywhere near the studio for that matter (he was fired), Coppola offers a wealth of information concerning both the actual movie and the real Patton's history. It is clear that he has retained the facts that he learned during his research over 40 years ago in preparation for his script.

On disc 2, viewers are treated to three exhaustive documentaries. The first, "History Through the Lens: Patton – A Rebel Revisited," is a feature-length documentary narrated by Burt Reynolds that covers the life history of Patton and how it translated to the screen. Featuring interviews with, among others, Captain Chester Hansen (who is portrayed in the film by Stephen Young) and Robert Patton, the grandson of General Patton, this is a most enlightening feature with newsreel and behind-the-scenes footage.

For a more harrowing account of Patton's tactics, head on to "Patton's Ghost Corps." This tells the story of the Third Army soldiers who were left behind without proper equipment while Patton went off to fight in the legendary Battle of the Bulge. The survivors of this corps, now known as the "Ghost Corps," tell their horrifying stories for the first time. This documentary is in direct contrast to the robust glorification of the movie, giving a much grimmer look at the general and how his conceit resulted in the senseless deaths of several of his own men. After watching this, it is quite clear how Patton earned the nickname "Blood and Guts," something that he was both respected and vilified for. Indeed, the emotional reflections of the veterans run the gamut from adoration to outright condemnation.

The third documentary, "The Making of Patton: A Tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner," boasts interviews with Richard Zanuck, son of former Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck; composer Jerry Goldsmith; Oliver Stone; and audio interviews with George C. Scott and director Schaffner. Again, we have an incredible retrospective that examines the rocky history and production of the film, as well as its controversial legacy. Some see "Patton" as an anti-war film while others see it as a shameless glorification. Oliver Stone's views on the film seem almost as fanatical as Patton's views on war.

Next up we have a pair of still galleries. The Production Still Gallery, a collection of black and white photos, is accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith's complete score. A Behind-the-Scenes Still Gallery starts out with a series of color photos and then curiously goes back to the same black and white stills from the first gallery. This one is accompanied by a 53-minute audio essay by Charles M. Province, the founder and president of the General George S. Patton, Jr. Historical Society and author of "The Unknown Patton." This feature was originally included as an audio commentary on Fox's previous release of "Patton," and the soundtrack from the film can still be heard in the background. Obviously a great admirer of Patton, Province offers further educational, if slightly pointed, observations on the general's career.

The DVD comes to a close with a theatrical trailer. Viewers will come away from this set with more information than they probably expected to learn from a DVD, and they will be richer for it. Indeed, I was impressed by the intelligence and thoughtfulness of the features in this set and could not be more pleased.

"Patton" is a masterpiece of filmmaking, a benchmark for both biopics and war films, and an exhilarating piece of entertainment. It provides a provocative look at a figure who was hated and loved in equal measures, and 20th Century Fox has given it the DVD release that it deserves. With an abundance of informative supplements and a great transfer, this 2-disc set is worth every penny, and then some. This definitely earns a spot in any film buff's collection, and is of vast interest to anyone interested in World War II. Do not hesitate to seek this one out.