Book Review: Making Patton: A Classic War Film's Epic Journey to the Silver Screen


by Nicholas Evan Sarantakes

Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2012. Pp. xvi, 258. Illus., tables, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 0700618627

On one level Making Patton is a very detailed account of the making of the great 1970 bio-pic., but it is also about how the film itself, and the making of it, has a great deal to say about the general himself, about the political and social environment of the times, and, of course, about the film industry. 

Patton took a remarkable eighteen years from its conception to the motion picture screen.  Prof. Sarantakes (Naval War College) explores this process by looking at people.  Most of his ten chapters are about people.  There’s one on the general himself, of course, and his family, who were initially opposed to the idea.  Then there is a chapter on finding a producer, one on the screenwriters and by extension the script, and then one on choosing a director.  Selecting the right actor merits a chapter, which includes some amusing surprises (John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster and others were early suggestions).  This is followed by a chapter on how the portrayal of Field Marshal Montgomery, which proved somewhat contentious, and one on selecting actors for the other major roles.  The book ends with three interesting chapters, one on trying to tailor the film to the audience and the times, one on the film’s reception, which was amazingly favorable considering the anti-war sentiments of the Vietnam Era, including numerous honors (seven Academy Awards), and a final one its influence on American perceptions of war and leadership and global perceptions of America.  In each chapter, Sarantakes roams rather widely, so we have little discussions of particular historical incidents as portrayed in the film, and how that portrayal came to be, biographical details of various actors and characters, references to other films and even television programs, ranging from The Best Years of Our Lives to Planet of the Apes to both versions of Battlestar Galactica, the question of race and racism in the era, and more.

Making Patton is not military history, but will prove a worthwhile read for anyone interested in military history and defense policy, and, of course, for those interest in film or popular culture.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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