In honor of Veterans Day, New York Times film critic A. O. Scott devotes this week’s “Critic’s Choice” to Franklin N. Schaffner’s 1970 masterpiece Patton.
The film won seven Academy Awards — including the Best Actor Oscar for George C. Scott.
The canard widespread at the time —and which still exists in benighted quarters today— was that RN saw the film a few, dozens, or scores of times (depending on the credulity, superficiality, and/or bias of the author) and then, puffed up with macho vainglory, invaded Cambodia.
Of course, that reflected, and reflects, the easy and comfortable and totally inaccurate notion that RN was an unsophisticated man of a kind whose simplistic jingoism could be triggered by a movie.
It is true that RN saw the film shortly after it was released at the beginning of April; that he was deeply impressed and moved by it; and that he watched it several times at the White House and Camp David during and after the Cambodian campaign, which began on the 29th (and planning for which had begun long before the film arrived).
And it’s true that Patton, the film and the man, glorified and gloried in some of the aspects and elements of war.
But the overall tone of the film was one of frustration and melancholy. Indeed, its conclusion is far more likely to lead a viewer to book a spiritual retreat than to order an invasion.
Patton does, in fact, have some things (not that many, but some) to reveal about RN. But they are, typically, complex and contrary to the conventional wisdom.
I have long suggested to people who say that they want to understand Richard Nixon, that they might start with three things: read Charles DeGaulle’s The Edge of the Sword; listen to the music from the multi-episode award-winning 1952 about the Second World War, Victory at Sea; and watch Patton.
The good news is that The Edge of the Sword is available from Amazon; the bad news is that the prices currently start at $599.94. So, at least until a new edition is published or you get very lucky in a used book store, you’ll just have to take my word on that one.
A. O. Scott’s video review of Patton in today’s Times online is a good introduction to a really great movie.
RN listened —often late at night in the Lincoln Sitting Room— to the first suite Robert Russell Bennet arranged (from his own arrangements) Richard Rodgers’ score.
There are fourteen themes that roughly outline the history of the war — from “The Pacific Boils Over” to “Victory at Sea”. The music is alternately sad, stirring, and inspiring.
Here’s the opening of the series. The theme under the credits is “The Song of the High Seas.”