Patton Interpretation: Crash Course


"Morocco in Hollywood," the American Consulate General and Dar America's mini-series of World War II-themed films shot in or depicting Morocco, got a start Saturday evening – with a showing of Franklin Schaffner's award-winning "Patton" – at Casablanca's beautiful Villa des Arts.  To reach a wider audience, we sought out a French-subtitled version of the film, with commentary before and after in French.  This also required a crash course in Patton-ology, thanks to a selective reading of Carlo D'Este's Patton: A Genius for War and other works.

Anyone familiar with the film – and George C. Scott's Oscar-winning performance – will know that his portrayal of Patton was true to life, and that Patton the man and the general was a bundle of contradictions.  Both profane and pious, volcanic and poetic, adjectives to describe Patton include some, like enfant terrible and turbulent, which work nicely in both languages.

Another one is perfectionnist: Patton, who honed his French as America's first tank commander amidst the trenches of World War I France, had a look at the phrase booklet prepared for US troops while crossing the Atlantic en route to the November 1942 Operation Torch landings in North Africa.  He was so infuriated by French spelling and grammar mistakes that he personally oversaw the corrections to the pamphlet.  All while leading the first large-scale amphibious landing that the US attempted in the European theatre of the war.

The complex character of Patton was a natural focus of a group of students in psychology.  Unfortunately, while the students remained respectfully mum in front of their teacher, their prof let loose a diatribe of anti-American shrink-speak, something having to do with torture by US medical doctors in 2005 Iraq.  We firmly led a flanking manouver, getting the audience back to 1945 and Patton.

Patton & Morocco: the scene in the film is quite positive, even the line where Patton tells the Sultan that he sees Morocco as a cross between "Hollywood and the Bible."  Patton is decorated with the Order of Ouissam Alaouite, and the citation reads:

"Les Lions dans leurs tanières tremblent en le voyant approcher" (The lions in their dens tremble at his approach).  From a contemporary Time Magazine article.

Patton wrote – prophetically, and very much in character – to his wife of his encounter with the Sultan: "It was the most colorful thing I have ever seen and would be worth a million in Hollywood."

Offscreen, Patton was not so upbeat on the Maghreb, with disparaging views of "the Arabs" expressed as he traversed Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.  And, despite his knowledge of France from his WW I days, he was not above entertaining ideas of "buying off" senior French officials.  J. Rives Childs, who as Chargé d'Affaires at the Legation in Tangier was the senior US diplomat dealing with Morocco, was appalled: "I don't think I have ever met anyone more repellent… His one obsession was war."

Well, Patton would have to agree with the latter; he was, as Eisenhower said of him, "a born soldier."  And destined to be buried as one: despite his postwar, accidental death, Patton is buried among his soldiers, at the ABMC military cemetery in Luxembourg, scene of much Battle of the Bulge fighting.

Next up: "Morocco in Hollywood," Part Deux.  A showing of Casablanca in Casablanca.  What can I say that they haven't already heard about this legendary film?  Maybe I'll tell them about Dean's Bar in Tangier.

Gerald Loftus

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