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They don't make bio-pics about Dwight David Eisenhower. He was the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in World War II, and he was twice elected President of the United States, but he was also really boring. No, they make bio-pics about guys who were a bit more interesting, like George S. Patton.
Patton, the 1970 Oscar winner for best picture was a different sort of bio-pic, since it was not an overly fawning examination of Patton's career. Patton was certainly a flawed man, and though the movie does focus on his brilliant military strategy that pushed the Germans out of north Africa, it also puts on full display his ego-inspired Italy campaign and the slapping of a soldier suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress, which nearly cost Patton his career.
This is Patton at his lowest, and seeing this from the perspective of modern society with modern ideas about psychotherapy, we see PTSD as a very real concern. In fact, by the end of WWII, studies were showing that a soldier could only survive a little under 300 days in combat before suffering serious psychological consequences. Patton certainly seemed to disagree, calling those who suffered from this condition unfit to share a hospital with soldiers wounded in battle. This is Patton at his lowest, and it's hard to like him afterwards, but he does a lot to redeem himself by racing across Europe and retrieving the 101st Airborne during the Battle of the Bulge.
Well, maybe he retrieved them. Band of Brothers sees things from the 101st Airborne's perspective and makes the claim that they didn't need to be rescued, that they were holding their own while surrounded by enemy forces. If he did, or didn't, it is still a good scene, showing a montage of tanks and men trekking through the snow as Patton encourages them to move foreword.
But then, there are many good scenes, starting with the first one. Patton stands up on a stage in front of a large American flag delivering a motivational speech to his soldiers. This is one of the more famous monologues in movie history, and it kicks the movie off on a great note, telling us right away what kind of character we're dealing with.
And George C. Scott plays it brilliantly. He turns in one of the best performances in movie history as Patton, and he's not alone. Karl Malden is absolutely wonderful as Patton's friend, and ultimately superior officer, Omar Bradley. The unsung great performance of this movie is Karl Michael Vogler as Patton's German rival Erwin Rommel. He doesn't get much screen time, but makes the most of it.
Now, think for a moment when this movie was made. 1970. When Patton was released, the attitude of many Americans toward war in general was far different than the attitude held at the time it is set. By 1970 things in Vietnam were starting to turn for the worse. When Patton makes statements about how glorious war is, and how all true Americans love a fight, many in the audience must have scoffed. Given our current climate, that pro-war attitude must seem just as shocking today. But think about it for a minute. The movie a several points refers to Patton as a 16th century soldier trapped in the 20th century, and nothing would have been more out of its era in 1970 than a pro-war sentiment. Here amid the lines of dialogue telling us how out of touch with modernity Patton was, we have this concrete evidence of just that.
Compare specifically the attitude towards war in Patton with the attitude in one of its rivals for the statue on Oscar night, M*A*S*H. In Patton the anti-war sentiment is hidden, and you're never quite sure where the producers stand. M*A*S*H is not a bio-pic about a gung-ho WWII general, it's a satire, so it is free to be more obvious with its politics.
Now, not every movie released in 1970 dealt with war. You also had Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicholson, Hercules in New York staring the Governor of California, Great White Hope with Darth Vader as the heavyweight champion of the world, and Airport, which sucks, but at least it inspired Airplane! a few years later. Yeah, so there were two great movies and a hole bunch of OK, but nothing special movies. M*A*S*H is good, but Patton gets just about everything right and does so beautifully. I know, you're shocked aren't you, but in this case, I think the historical epic may actually be more deserving of the award than a great comedy.