Patton: A Standard For Cinematic Biopics

Abhishek Srivastava - 32 weeks ago

2020 will also mark the completion of 50 years of Franklin Schaffner’s riveting biographical war drama Patton. The idea of the film was mooted two decades before the film actually went on floors. Patton is a compelling portrait of a controversial US General.

(Karl Malden and George C. Scott in a still from Patton)

Though Patton released in 1970 but the film as a project began in 1951 when Darryl Zanuck at 20th Century Fox greenlighted the concept that was suggested by producer Frank McCarthy. The intention to make a film out of the idea took another decade. The debacle of Cleopatra in 1963 almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox, but the film’s failure ensured that Patton soon went on the floors. John Huston was among the frontrunners to direct this war drama while John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Lee Marvin, Gregory Peck were all considered for the title role of General George S Patton Jr. It might come as a surprise to many that even Ronald Reagan was once considered for the role made famous by George C Scott. 

(A still from Patton)

Francis Ford Coppola, a fresh graduate from UCLA was given the task to write the script for the film. He was later on fired from the project as officials at 20th Century Fox were unimpressed with his idea of opening the film with Patton’s speech. When the film finally, rolled most of what Coppola had written was incorporated in the film. The most important contribution to the film that came from Coppola’s pen was the famous dialogue that General Patton delivers in the beginning of the film. Most of the cast were opposed to the idea of incorporating the speech in the beginning of the film. They were of the view that the scene was so impactful that it might just dilute the essence of the rest of the film but director Franklin Schaffner took a call and ensured that the film began with the speech. 

(George C Scott. in a still from Patton)

The shooting of the film commenced in 1969 – 18 years after the idea was first mooted in 1951. Mandarins at 20th Century Fox were skeptical about its reception as America as a country had changed in 18 years and one of the major forces to bring about the metamorphosis in the culture was Vietnam war. But the film defied every expectation and rocked at the box office. The shooting of the film was not exactly a cakewalk for Schaffner as George C Scott’s drinking habit made the entire schedule of the film go haywire. Nicholas Evan Sarantakes in his book Making Patton has mentioned that he was not exactly proud of the project and was actually ashamed of being a part of it. He suggested rewrites of the script which was rejected everytime. 

Such was the impact of the film that it was screened thrice at the White House and Camp David. The film also gave ammunition to Richard Nixon to invade Vietnam in 1970. The biographical war film about US General George S Patton Jr. was the toast of the Academy Awards in 1971. During the 43rd Academy Awards, the film almost clean sweeped the ceremony. The film took home seven Academy Awards. Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Screenplay – all were given to Patton that year. 

George C Scott refused to accept the Academy Award as he believed that competition between actors was unfair. Frank McCarthy accepted the award on his behalf but returned it to the Academy the next day in tune with Scott’s wishes. 


George C Scott / Franklin J Schaffner / Francis Ford Coppola / Karl Malden / World War II / 20th Century Fox

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