’s Historical Realism Leads to Best Picture and Actor Awards

Patton, one of Hollywood’s best war-themed films, examines U.S. general George S. Patton’s role as a military leader in World War II. Many historians and film critics praised the film’s historical and political accuracy, attention to detail, and battle scenes. Actor George C. Scott won an Academy Award for his title role.

Summary of Event

The forty-third annual Academy Awards ceremony, held on April 15, 1971, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, showcased the best films of the previous year, including the winner for Best Picture, Patton, which also won seven other Oscars. The Best Lead Actor award went to George C. Scott for portraying Patton’s brilliance, rebellious nature, self-confidence, and volatile personality. The film also won Oscars for direction, original screenplay, art/set decoration, film editing, sound, and cinematography. Patton (Schaffner)
Academy Awards;Best Picture
Hollywood studio system;war films
[kw]Patton’s Historical Realism Leads to Best Picture and Actor Awards (Feb. 4, 1970)[Pattons Historical Realism Leads to Best Picture and Actor Awards]
[kw]Realism Leads to Best Picture and Actor Awards, Patton’s Historical (Feb. 4, 1970)
[kw]Best Picture and Actor Awards, Patton’s Historical Realism Leads to (Feb. 4, 1970)
[kw]Actor Awards, Patton’s Historical Realism Leads to Best Picture and (Feb. 4, 1970)[Actor Awards, Pattons Historical Realism Leads to Best Picture and]
Patton (Schaffner)
Academy Awards;Best Picture
Hollywood studio system;war films
[g]North America;Feb. 4, 1970: Patton’s Historical Realism Leads to Best Picture and Actor Awards[10710]
[g]United States;Feb. 4, 1970: Patton’s Historical Realism Leads to Best Picture and Actor Awards[10710]
[c]Motion pictures and video;Feb. 4, 1970: Patton’s Historical Realism Leads to Best Picture and Actor Awards[10710]
Scott, George C.
Patton, George S.
Bradley, Omar N.
Malden, Karl

Patton (1970), primarily focused on the World War II experiences of General George S. Patton, Jr., was based on the 1951 autobiography of General Omar N. Bradley (A Soldier’s Story), Soldier’s Story, A (Bradley)[Soldiers Story, A] who was both a subordinate of Patton and a superior officer in his own right during the war. Bradley, who was still alive during the film’s production, was able to provide valuable in-person advice with the planning, writing, and scene shooting for the movie; American actor Karl Malden played his role. The writers of the screenplay were aided also by the biography Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago as a primary source.

Much of the film was shot in Spain, and the Spanish army and air force provided soldiers and military equipment, including American-built 1950’s- and 1960’s-era tanks. Even with the liberal use of newer military equipment, the detailed accuracy of the soldiers’ uniforms, equipment, and battle scenes was considered excellent. Other film locations included England, Morocco, and Greece.

Many film experts believe Scott’s role as Patton was the highlight of his acting career. Scott brilliantly researched Patton’s life and career, embodied traits similar to the real Patton, including facial and other physical appearances, mannerisms, and speech patterns, and deeply immersed himself in the role. The film’s “making of” documentary defines the film’s production as a historic, objective drama, a thinking person’s war film, one of only a few films that has affected American society, affected to the point of having redefined war films during the Vietnam War at a time when war films were unmarketable.

Although the film is biographical and historical in nature, the film covers only the last three years of World War II—from 1943 to 1945. The North African campaign of 1943 opens the movie and depicts American casualties from the Battle of Kasserine Pass being assessed. The newly appointed commander Patton is shown as being given responsibility for training American forces as a viable opponent to the German army. There is a large-scale battle scene showing Patton leading his retrained American forces to victory over German general Erwin Rommel’s forces at a battle in Tunisia.

The film follows Patton from North Africa to Sicily, where he advances north to Palermo and then beats the British forces to capture the city of Messina. One famous incident of Patton’s career, during the Sicily campaign, is covered in great detail, in which he slapped and then swore at an unwounded soldier at a hospital who was suffering from psychological battle depression, or battle fatigue; Patton then accused the soldier of being a coward. Patton later offered a humiliating public apology to his troops. The film also shows him worrying about being temporarily left out of action while stationed in England as a decoy for the Normandy D-day invasion by the Allies. After D-day, the film focuses on the relationship between Bradley and Patton. Patton’s leadership success is highlighted in the summer of 1944 as the Allies push the Germans across France and rapidly advance to rescue trapped Allied soldiers at Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge.

In addition to depicting Patton’s self-pride in leading victorious troops to the end of the war, the film also presents his internal battles concerning the actions of politicians and their handling of communists. Also, at the end of the war, Patton finds himself facing the question of how a battle-hardened military officer will cope with world peace and do so with no venue to use his extraordinary war skills. These action scenes, internal battles, and acts of self-questioning make Patton a superior film. The film marks Patton as a great commander in the rank of William the Conqueror, Napoleon, and Caesar.

In later years, Patton received more honors. The Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2003. In 2006, the Writers Guild of America selected the screenplay as the ninety-fourth best of all time.


Patton’s winning of the Academy Award for Best Picture proved to the motion picture industry that war films could be historically accurate yet entertaining and financially successful at the box office. The film’s success led many people to become more educated about World War II history, and it opened eyes to the personal sacrifices made by soldiers during all wars. One unique aspect setting the film apart from other quality films was its ability to withstand the scrutiny of all types of critics: war, film, and political. Patton provided drama, large-scale re-created battle scenes, historical accuracy, detailed production locations, and inspirational acting. Many earlier World War II films could not withstand fair criticism from historians and war veterans. Some political historians believe that U.S. president Richard M. Nixon viewed the movie several times, and it may have affected some of his decision making and policies concerning the Vietnam War.

Many believe that General Patton’s brilliance, rebellious nature, self-confidence, and personality were so well represented that American actor George C. Scott came through with his best acting performance of his long career. Scott won the Academy Award for his role, but, in protest, he did not attend the ceremony because he believed that throughout the years many deserving actors had not been duly recognized by the academy for their skills and performances. Patton (Schaffner)
Academy Awards;Best Picture
Hollywood studio system;war films

Further Reading

  • Bradley, Omar N. A Soldier’s Story. 1951. New York: Modern Library, 1999. Autobiography of General Omar N. Bradley that is the basis for the 1970 feature film Patton.
  • Farago, Ladislas. Patton: Ordeal and Triumph. Yardley, Pa.: Westholme, 2005. A biography of General Patton, used by writers of the screenplay for Patton.
  • Hirshon, Stanley P. General Patton, A Soldier’s Life. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. Another biography of General Patton.
  • Patton, George S., Jr. War As I Knew It. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1975. Patton’s autobiography which recounts his life in his own words.
  • Rickard, John Nelson. Patton At Bay. Dulles, Va.: Potomac Books, 2004. A historical analysis of General Patton’s World War II leadership in France, 1944.
  • Rollins, Peter C., ed. The Columbia Companion to American History on Film: How the Movies Have Portrayed the American Past. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. Scholarly essays reveal how diverse films, from training reels and documentaries, to combat dramas and lavish features, defined history.
  • Williamson, Porter B. General Patton’s Principles for Life and Leadership. Tucson, Ariz.: Management & Systems Consultants, 1988. Leadership principles and philosophies of General Patton, written by a soldier of his, based on conversations and speeches. Recommended for those in leadership and management careers.

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