This was one of President Richard Nixon's favorite films. He had his own print, and would often watch it in the White House, particularly before having to make an important military decisions in Vietnam and Cambodia.
The movie begins without showing the 20th Century-Fox logo, or any other indication that the film is starting. At military bases across the US theater owners reported that soldiers in the audience would often stand up and snap to attention when they heard the movie's opening line ("Ten-hut!"), assuming it to be a real call to attention.
Initially, George C. Scott refused to film the famous speech in front of the American flag when he learned that the speech was going to come at the opening of the film. He felt that if they put that scene at the beginning, then the rest of his performance would not live up to that scene. So director Franklin J. Schaffner lied to Scott and told him that the scene would be put at the end of the film.
The scene where Gen. Lucien K. Truscott tells Patton "You're an old athlete yourself General, you know matches are sometimes postponed" refers to the fact that George S. Patton actually had represented the US at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm by competing in the Modern Pentathlon. Patton finished a creditable fifth in the competition. Remarkably, it was the shooting element that let him down. In true Patton style he used his military .38-cal. revolver instead of the lighter .22-cal. favored by most of the athletes. Patton was also an expert fencer. He re-wrote the U.S. Army's manuals on swordsmanship, removing the "parry". His idea was for all attack--defense just wasted energy. Such was his mastery of swordsmanship that he designed the last saber ever to be worn into battle as a weapon, the M1913 Cavalry Saber, commonly known as the "Patton Saber".
Soldiers who served under the real George S. Patton said that the general's voice was surprisingly high-pitched. This can be heard in actual films and recordings of him. Patton himself said that he used profanity so liberally in order to compensate for this.
According to his co-star Karl Malden, George C. Scott caused a shooting delay by immersing himself in a ping-pong tournament against a world-champion table-tennis player. Scott (who was in full costume and makeup) kept losing to the champ; yet he was determined to win at least one set, even if they had to stand there playing the entire night.
In reality, George S. Patton slapped and berated two soldiers in Sicily: Pvt. Charles Kuhl on August 3, 1943, and Pvt. Paul Bennett on August 10. Although it has been suggested Patton was sleep-deprived, he wrote an entry in his diary after slapping Kuhl, unrepentant in his actions or opinion that Kuhl was a coward. Patton was ordered by Supreme Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to apologize privately to the soldiers and hospital staff present. Also, the slapping incidents were kept secret from the public for months before the story was broken by reporter Drew Pearson, causing scandal not only for Patton's conduct, but accusations of cover-up on the part of the army.
Producer Frank McCarthy was a retired brigadier general who served on the staff of Gen. George C. Marshall during World War II; he worked for 20 years to make a film about George S. Patton. After winning the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1971, McCarthy donated his Oscar to the George C. Marshall Museum at Virginia Military Institute, where it is still on display. (Marshall and McCarthy were both VMI graduates, and George S. Patton had been a student there for one year, in 1903-04, before transferring to West Point.)
The scene where Patton tells Gen. Sir Harold Alexander that he did serve with Napoléon Bonaparte is in reference to a poem that George S. Patton wrote titled, "Through a Glass Darkly". In the poem, Patton talks about vague memories of six separate past lives, from caveman to Ancient Roman to Napoleonic Frenchman, and being a soldier in each and every life.
Francis Ford Coppola says in the DVD commentary that he wrote a draft screenplay in 1966 and was fired from the film, in large part because Fox objected to opening the movie with Patton's speech. When the film finally went into production, Coppola's draft was dusted off and most of it used in the final film.
The German planes are a Spanish version of the Heinkel He 111, built under license by CASA. These are the same planes featured in the film Battle of Britain (1969). Ironically, these Heinkels are powered by British-made Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, the same engines that powered Spitfires and Hurricanes against the German Luftwaffe during World War II.
Some of the stock actual war footage--such as the Free French troops marching through a newly liberated Paris--was shot by future director Russ Meyer, who was a combat cameraman in the U.S. Army's Signal Corps during World War II, from July 19, 1944, and was attached to Patton's Third Army.
Part of the film was filmed at Over Peover in Cheshire, England. This was the actual location that Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gen. George S. Patton would meet (specifically at the pub, the Bells of Peover). The pub is still there, and flies both the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes outside to commemorate its part in history.
Believing that a "soldier should be buried where he falls" and wanting to be buried "with his men" (those in the Third Army who had been killed in action), Patton is buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial located in Hamm, Luxembourg.
In the scene where Codman tells Patton that General Alexander says not to take Palermo. This was an actual incident, but it happened when Patton was invading Germany. He received orders to bypass the town of Trier. Patton replied, "Have taken Trier with two divisions. Do you want me to give it back?"
At the end of the film the monologue Patton gives about an ancient Roman triumph was lifted from a 1962 book by Robert Payne called "The Roman Triumph." This is from the very first paragraph: "For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph. In the procession came trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, and the dazed prisoners walked in front of him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown over his head, and whispering in his ear a warning that all glory is fleeting."
In the scene where Patton orders the Third Army Chaplain to compose a weather prayer, this actually happened. The Chaplain, Colonel James Hugh O'Neal, reluctantly composed a weather prayer, which Patton had printed on the back of post cards and handed out to the men of his army. When the weather cleared, Patton was so grateful, he awarded the chaplain a bronze star on the spot.
About 16 and a half minutes into the film, Patton's jeep rides through the desert with a placard displaying the letters "WTF". This stands for "Western Task Force", rather than the more modern acronym that uses those same letters.
George S. Patton's famous opening speech is subtly implied to take place after the main body of the film. At the time of his speech, he was a full general (four stars), as evidenced by his helmet. When he first arrives in North Africa at the beginning of the film, he is just receiving his promotion to lieutenant general (three stars), which he remains until the celebration of Germany's surrender. Both Patton's promotion to four-star general and opening speech must have taken place between his relief of Bastogne and the celebration (the speech is motivational, and wouldn't be given after the war was already over).
Somewhat perversely, this film was re-released in early 1971 following the announcement of Oscar nominations on a double bill with a very different war film, also from 20th Century-Fox and a Oscar nominee for best picture: MASH (1970).
Late in the movie, Patton makes the statement that "Fixed fortifications are monuments to the stupidity of man. If mountain ranges and oceans can be overcome, then anything built by man can be overcome." He is referring to the Siegfried Line, which he is about to smash through on his way into Germany,
Parts of the speech at the beginning were inspired by a real speech George S. Patton gave before the 3rd Army finally landed in Normandy in late June and early July 1944. The parts of the speech used are watered-down versions of what Patton actually said.
Perhaps taking revenge on George S. Patton in fantasy, there was a war-time rumor about Patton visiting a hospital and chewing out one patient for not coming to attention. The patient replied: "Run along, asshole. I'm in the Merchant Marine." It's reported in Paul Fussell's book "Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War."
One of the film's premieres was held at West Point, George S. Patton's alma mater. George C. Scott and Karl Malden were among the luminaries in attendance. They had dinner in the Cadet Mess Hall with the Corps of Cadets prior to the premier. The grand gala premiere was held in Washington D.C.
The scene where Patton is on horseback during an interview with reporters is an homage to Patton's integral part in the saving of the famed Spanish Riding School and its entire herd of Lipizzaner and Arabian horses. While the herd was in danger from fleeing, and soon-to-be defeated, German forces, it was actually considered more important to save them from the encroaching Soviet Red Army. The fear was that these horses would be slaughtered for their meat as field rations, which would completely wipe out the entire breeding herd of the Spanish Riding School's Lipizzaners.
All the medals and decorations shown on Patton's uniform in the opening monologue are replicas of those actually awarded to Patton. However, the general never wore all of them in public and was in any case not a four-star general at the time he made the famous speeches on which the opening is based. He wore them all on only one occasion, in his backyard in Virginia at the request of his wife, who wanted a picture of him with all his medals. The producers used a copy of this photo to help recreate this "look" for the opening scene.
Paul Frees dubbed the voice of the Morrocan Minister, and can also be heard at least three other times: As the voice of one of Patton's staff members, once during the press interview soon after the soldier slapping scene, and again near the end of the film, when a reporter interviewing General George S. Patton (who is riding his horse around an indoor track) leads him on by asking the General about similarities between the Nazi party in Germany and the Republican and Democrat parties in the United States.
While the filmmakers apparently went to great lengths to use actors who look a lot like their real-life counterparts, Karl Michael Vogler, who plays Erwin Rommel, bears only a passing resemblance to the actual man.
Most oddly, when the film opened in Great Britain, it was advertised under the title "Patton: Lust For Glory", and was referred to as such by most of the reviews. Some British magazines reported that the title had been changed from "Patton: Salute To A Rebel". However, British cinema-goers noticed, when they went to see it, that the film was actually called, simply, "Patton", as it always had been.
A sizeable amount of battle scene footage was left out of the final cut, but a use was soon found for it. Outtakes were used to provide battle scenes in Fireball Forward (1972). The film was also produced by Frank McCarthy and Edmund H. North wrote the screenplay. Morgan Paull also appeared in this production
As Patton and his troops are getting ready to march to Bastogne, he says "If we are not victorious, let no man come back alive". General Patton actually said this, but he said it just before attacking Gafsa in Africa.
Patton had zero sympathy for the Holocaust victims living in wretched, overcrowded collection camps under his command. He was unable to imagine that people living in such misery were not there because of their own flaws. The displaced Jews were "locusts", "lower than animals", "lost to all decency." They were "a subhuman species without any of the cultural or social refinements of our times", Patton wrote in his diary. A United Nations aid worker tried to explain that they were traumatized, but "personally I doubt it. I have never looked at a group of people who seem to be more lacking in intelligence and spirit." Patton was no friend to Arabs, either; in a 1943 letter, he called them "the mixture of all the bad races on earth.". Patton wrote in his diary, "Evidently the virus started by Morgenthau and Baruch of a Semitic revenge against all Germans is still working ... Harrison and his ilk believe that the Displaced Person is a human being, which he is not, and this applies particularly to the Jews, who are lower than animals."
Two soldiers identify Patton as "Old Blood and Guts", "Yeah, our blood, his guts." Colliers war correspondent Quentin Reynolds overheard that very exchange. He mentioned it in is memoir "By Quentin Reynolds", New York, McGraw Hill, 1963.
Patton's biographer, Carlo D'Este suggested that his melancholy and increasingly extraordinary behavior may have been due to brain damage resulting from a series of head injuries caused by a lifetime of falls from horses and road accidents - the most serious being an accident in Hawaii in 1936 that had resulted in a two-day blackout. He concluded, however, that we will never know, for after his death Beatrice refused to allow an autopsy on the body despite a request from the Army.
The orders from above - Eisenhower wanted him to confiscate the houses of wealthy Germans so Jewish survivors could live in them - embittered Patton. His beloved Third Army was decaying as troops decamped for home, discipline vanished, and meanwhile, "the displaced sons-of-bitches in the various camps are blooming like green trees," he wrote a friend. He saw journalists' criticism of his handling of the Jews and the return of Nazis to high official positions as a result of Jewish and Communist plots. The New York Times and other publications were "trying to do two things," he wrote, "First, implement Communism, and second, see that all business men of German ancestry and non-Jewish antecedents are thrown out of their jobs."
One person who was with George Patton throughout Africa, Sicily, and Europe was Brigadier General Hobart "Hap" Gay. He was Patton's chief of staff throughout World War II. He does not appear in this movie with that name, possibly because he was still living at the time and did not consent to being depicted, although the character of "Hobart Carver", played by Michael Strong, appears to be based on him. He was played by Murray Hamilton in the TV movie "The Last Days of Patton", which was filmed after his death in 1983. George C. Scott reprised his role as General George S. Patton, Jr.
Rod Steiger said that turning down the "Patton" role was the biggest mistake of his career, as it could well have won him a second Oscar, and also earned him the role of Don Corleone as George C Scott was in contention for the lead in " The Godfather " following his Oscar victory in " Patton ".
In November 1942, Camp Laguna in Yuma, Arizona started as a major training site for George S. Patton's armored units. It was one of fourteen such camps built in the southwestern deserts to train United States troops during World War II. It was a major training facility for units engaged in combat during the 1942-1943 North African campaign. The desert was extremely suitable for the large-scale maneuvers necessary to prepare inexperienced American soldiers for combat against the highly trained and much feared German Afrika Korps in the North African desert.
At the time of the film's release there was widespread reassessment of Patton's allegedly great military leadership. He always had more troops, tanks, fuel, supplies and - crucially - more air support than his opponents.
After Gen. Patton's death, his bull terrier "Willie" was brought back to live at the Patton Homestead with Patton's wife and daughters. Willie died in 1955 and is buried in an unmarked grave, along with other family pets, by a stone wall on the property.
George C. Scott's alcoholism was a concern during filming, and his cast mates were asked to abstain from social drinking during the shoot. Karl Malden claimed that he was inspired by the experience to himself quit drinking.
On US Interstate-10, a few miles inside the California border, is a small town called Desert Center. This was a town developed near a training area for Patton's tank troops. The town, much shrunken, is still there, as is a diner original to the period. A museum with actual WW2 tanks and dedicated to George S Patton has been developed nearby. The TV series "Airwolf" was also filmed in the area.
Col Charles R. Codman (Paul Stevens) wears pilot wings on his uniform because he had been a US Army Air Service bomber pilot in World War I. He remained in France and married a French woman after the war, then alternated between his family business in Massachusetts and a vineyard/winery he and his wife owned in France (hence his fluency in translating Patton's speech in French in Corsica to the US War Correspondents). He was in France when the Germans invaded in 1940 and he and his wife narrowly escaped when Germany and the USA declared war on each other; he immediately rejoined the US Army upon his return home.
In his book about the Patton family's history, the general's grandson, Robert H. Patton, reported that his own father, then-Colonel George S. Patton IV, cried once when the family viewed the movie for the first time. It was during the scene on the march to Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge where Patton, standing by his jeep on the roadside, praises his troops for pulling out of a winter battle and moving a hundred miles with no rest or sleep, exclaiming "God, I'm proud of these men!" then stepping out onto the snowy road among the marching troops and walking among them. (George S. Patton IV spent almost all of World War II at West Point, not graduating until a year after the war in Europe had ended and six months after his father's death, but distinguished himself in the Korean and Vietnam Wars and eventually retiring as a major general.)
George C. Scott claimed that he strongly identified with Patton's line in the film "An entire world at war and I'm left out of it!?" since he had joined the Marine Corps at age 17 with the desire to fight in WWII, but the war ended just as he completed his training.
Karl Malden: [name] After Gen. Omar Bradley loses his helmet when his jeep is blown up by German artillery, he says to his driver, "Give me that helmet, Sekulovich!" This is part of Malden's insistence that there always be a character named Sekulovich in his films, in reference to his own birth name, Mladen Sekulovich.