For the next few weeks, our "Don't Make a Scene" feature will be doing a series we call "The Gospel According to...", in which a main character reveals their philosophy, and a little about themselves in the process. Hope you enjoy it.
The Gospel According to General George S. Patton, Jr
The Set-Up: "I wrote the script of Patton," remarked Francis Ford Coppola in an interview. "I had this very bizarre opening where he stands up in front of an American flag and gives this speech. Ultimately, I was fired. When the script was done, they hired another writer and that script was forgotten. The stuff that I got in trouble for, the casting for The Godfather or the flag scene in Patton, was the stuff that was remembered, and was considered the good work. Usually, the stuff that's your best idea or work is going to be attacked the most. You have to really be courageous about your instincts and your ideas. Otherwise you'll just knuckle under, and things that might have been memorable will be lost."*
It's memorable, alright. It's the one thing people remember from Patton, so iconic is this opening speech. It has been quoted (incorrectly), parodied (mostly poorly...check YouTube), championed by pundits on the right (who only know Patton from the movie) and the left (who know jack). This opening five minutes defines the movie Patton.
But it was controversial (of course). It was such a weird idea that it got scrapped out of many versions of the script, which had been in development for decades. Director Schaffner wanted it to start the movie, but Patton actor George C. Scott (who took the role for this scene, as it harkens to his theater-roots) was dead-set against it. He wanted it placed after the Intermission because he thought the rest of the movie wouldn't stand up to this scene. Scott was very nervous about it, right up to the filming of it, which was the last thing shot with the actor. Only a few takes were done.
Scott did his job too well (as he was wont to do). More people associate his cadence and his voice with General Patton than the real General's (despite there being archive records of it). And as scrupulous as he was about making himself appear like Patton (down to tooth-caps, shaved head, and fake moles), he immediately ix-nayed recreating Patton's high, reedy voice "because it went against the visuals."
Below, is a video of Patton giving one of his "blood-and-guts" speeches (this one in Los Angeles), and Patton's voice is not only high, but his Virginia accent gives him soft consonants—he doesn't sound like George C. Scott; he sounds like Elmer Fudd. And no doubt his salty rhetoric was a means to counter-act the weak impression his milquetoast voice gave.
It is ironic.
For all of Patton's accomplishments during the war—and he posted staggering numbers—what most Americans cling to and get sloppy-sentimental about when talking about "The General," is Scott's iron-clad presentation, which, no doubt, is equal parts the general and the actor's own personality.
Such is the power of the movies...for good or ill.
The Story: It's the start of the movie. The story is still to come.
(Boots shuffle and folding chairs scrape into SILENCE)
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.
Now, men, all this stuff you've heard about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war is a lot of horse dung. Americans...
...traditionally love to fight. All real Americans love the sting of battle.
When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, big-league ball players, the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn't give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That's why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war because the very thought of losing...is hateful to Americans.
Now, an army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This "individuality" stuff is a bunch of crap. The bilious bastards who wrote that stuff about "individuality" for the Saturday Evening Post don't know anything more about real battle than they do about fornicating. Now we have the finest food and equipment, the best spirit, and the best men in the world.
...by God, I actually pity those poor bastards we're going up against. By God, I do.
We're not just going to shoot the bastards, we're going to cut out their living guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We're going to murder those lousy Hun bastards by the bushel.
Now, some of you boys I know are wondering whether or not you'll chicken out under fire. Don't worry about it. I can assure you that you will all do your duty.
The Nazis are the enemy. Wade into them! Spill their blood! Shoot them in the belly!
When you put your hand into a bunch of goo that a moment before was your best friend's face you'll know what to do.
There's another thing I want you to remember. I don't want to get any messages saying we are "holding our position." We're not "holding" anything. Let the Hun do that. We are advancing constantly and we're not interested in holding on to anything...
...except the enemy.
We're going to hold on to him by the nose and we're gonna kick him in the ass. We're going to kick the hell out of him all the time and we're going to go through him like crap through a goose!
Now, there's one thing that you men will be able to say when you get back home. And you may thank God for it. Thirty years from now when you're sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks you: "What did you do in the great World War II?"
You won't have to say:
"Well, I shovelled shit in Louisiana. "
All right, now, you sons of bitches, you know how I feel.
Words by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North (taken from the writings of Gen. George S. Patton, jr.)
Pictures by Fred J. Koenekamp and Franklin J. Schaffner
Patton is available on DVD from Fox Home Video.
* Basically, it was a job for Coppola—the studio was trying to get the thing made, and they needed a "young person's" take on the soldier—in order to sell what could be seen as a gung-ho war movie during the time of the turbulent domestic reaction to the VietNam war. Coppola was doing pre-production on The Godfather when he was called by 20th Century Fox to fix some German-made editing machines Coppola's American Zoetrope had rented to them (presumably because they could handle the film's ultra-wide format). Coppola himself played repairman, and noticed the war-footage. "What is this?" he asked. "Patton," was the reply. Coppola wasn't even aware the thing had been shot. And, he also speculates that the only reason he wasn't fired from his turbulent directing gig on The Godfather was that he ultimately won an Oscar for that distinctive Patton script, that he might not have been recognized for if not for that "bizarre" opening scene. Strange, incestuous, political world, that Hollywood.