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VHS Files: Patton

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While cleaning out my father-in-laws apartment, we came upon over 2000 VHS store bought videotapes. I grabbed a few tapes, and I’ll be watching them (on VHS) from time to time, letting you know what I thought.


Patton begins without the typical studio logo or fanfare- no, one minute you are watching the black hiss and auto-tracker (remember, this is VHS), and then next minute the screen is awash with Old Glory’s red, white and blue.  I can only imagine what this would be like on the big screen- every square inch of screen real estate covered with the American flag.

At this point I thought I had a pretty good idea as to the movie I was going to see- a “Rah Rah” Pro-American bit of saber rattling. But you see, the movie is ACTUALLY about a general who is “Rah Rah” pro-American… and the movie (which is pretty awesome, by the way) has no problem in showing that this guy is actually pretty insane.

Because when George Patton delivers that opening monologue in front of that flag, he pretty much throws down the gauntlet of everything he stands for. “Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country,” says Patton to his unseen troops. A pretty cut and dried attitude, yes?  Well, that was Patton- at least as portrayed by George C. Scott.

“Old Blood and Guts” (for that was indeed his nickname) was focused, I’ll give him that.  So much so that World War II seemed like nothing but a means to an end for the guy.  Here was a general who believed that he was reincarnated from soldiers of yore, that soldiers who lag deserve to be skinned, and would believe that the best defense was a good offense, if only he believed in the concept of defense at all.

On the fields of Carthage, he waxes philosophic about how he had fought there before, hundreds of years previous.  When asked how he knew this, he said that he had read a poem by an ancient poet. “Want to know the poet?” he asks another general.  “It was me.”

So he had an ego- one big enough to get him in trouble throughout the run of the movie. After the opening monologue, the movie proper opens after the American defeat at Kasserine in Tunisia. The Americans are getting stomped by the German forces their, particularly by Erwin Rommel, who turns out to be Patton’s white whale. 

One general, wondering how they are going to stop the Germans, says,” Against Rommel, we need the best tank man we’ve got.”  

“Patton?” asks another.

“God help us,” General #1 sighs.

If you feel like you have heard this dialogue before, it means that you have seen a Dirty Harry movie.  Or any “Rogue Cop Who Doesn’t Play By The Rules Yet Gets Results” movie.  And true to that cliche, Patton DOES get results, and his unorthodox methods of getting those results DOES get him in trouble with the brass.

He slaps a shell-shocked soldier for being a pussy, and then sends him to the front line to “knock the woman” out of him.  This doesn’t sit well with Eisenhower, who is never seen but is constantly admonishing Patton via telegraph throughout the film.  The idea of taking his lumps doesn’t bother Patton; what pisses him off is that he is missing out on World War II.

That’s right; he is bummed that he doesn’t get to play in the big game.  At this point in the movie, it wouldn’t have been inappropriate to play John Fogerty’s song “Centerfield”- Put me in, coach/I’m ready to play…

I thought this movie was great. A biopic about a madman who believed he was born in the wrong century.  Believed in honor.  Believed in “coming back victorious, or not coming back alive!”  Yes, it also sounds similar to the code of a Predator, but you know, aside from Schwarzenegger (and I guess Danny Glover), I think Patton is the only guy who could have taken a Predator.

One side note- George C. Scott won the Best Actor Oscar for this movie, but refused to accept it, calling the Academy Awards a “Meat Parade.”  That makes this movie even better.


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