Making Patton

A Classic War Film's Epic Journey to the Silver Screen

Nicholas Evan Sarantakes

Forever known for its blazing cinematic image of General George S. Patton (portrayed by George C. Scott) addressing his troops in front of a mammoth American flag, Patton won seven Oscars in 1971, including those for Best Picture and Best Actor. In doing so, it beat out a much-ballyhooed M*A*S*H, irreverent darling of the critics, and grossed $60 million despite an intense anti-war climate. But, as Nicholas Evan Sarantakes reveals, it was a film that almost didn't get made.

Sarantakes offers an engaging and richly detailed production history of what became a critically acclaimed box office hit. He takes readers behind the scenes, even long before any scenes were ever conceived, to recount the trials and tribulations that attended the epic efforts of producer Frank McCarthy—like Patton a U.S. Army general—and Twentieth Century Fox to finally bring Patton to the screen after eighteen years of planning.

“Thoughtful, engaging, and simply fun to read.

—Army History

Making Patton supplies the tortuous—and fascinating—back story of the hugely successful 1970 biopic. Like the movie, the book has a large cast of characters, including swashbuckling moguls and ornery actors. “Patton,” now considered one of the important films of the 20th century, has achieved the rarefied cinematic status that comes from being parodied by both “The Muppets” and “The Simpsons.” Mr. Sarantakes concludes his superb story by saying: “If you have not yet seen ‘Patton,’ do so. It is a good film.” If you have seen it, then read “Making ‘Patton’” and see the film again with fresh appreciation for its mastery and a new amazement that it ever got made.

—Wall Street Journal
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Sarantakes recounts how filmmakers had to overcome the reluctance of Patton's family, copyright issues with biographers, competing efforts for a biopic, and Department of Defense red tape. He chronicles the long search for a leading man—including discussions with Burt Lancaster, John Wayne, and even Ronald Reagan—before settling on Scott, a brilliant actor who brought to the part both enthusiasm for the project and identification with Patton's passionate persona. He also tracks the struggles to shoot the movie with a large multinational cast, huge outlays for military equipment, and filming in six countries over a mere six months. And he provides revealing insider stories concerning, for example, Scott's legendary drinking bouts and the origins of and debate over his famous opening monologue.

Drawing on extensive research in the papers of Frank McCarthy and director Franklin Schaffner, studio archives, records of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, contemporary journalism, and oral histories, Sarantakes ultimately shows us that Patton is more than just one of the best war films ever made. Culturally, it also spoke to national ideals while exposing complex truths about power in the mid-twentieth century.

About the Author

Nicholas Evan Sarantakes is an associate professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College and author of Allies against the Rising Sun: The United States, the British Nations, and the Defeat of Imperial Japan (also from Kansas); Seven Stars: The Okinawa Battle Diaries of Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., and Joseph Stilwell; and Keystone: The American Occupation of Okinawa and U.S.-Japanese Relations.