Fiction into Fact
But people prefer the fictional Patton - his image somehow matches the achievements and misdemeanours of the real man better than the man himself does. But the film's influence goes beyond what is now the accepted image of Patton, to include even contemporary popular perceptions of the actual campaigns he participated in. I've lost count of the number of websites I've come across which cite as true incidents what are actually scenes from the movie. Scenes which were created entirely for dramatic purposes, in fact, and which never actually occurred. Once again, the fictional version seems to be more satisfying than the reality. This seems particularly true with regard to Patton's supposed relationship with Montgomery - the film characterises this as being an intense rivalry, with little love lost between the two. In actuality, whilst the rivalry existed, it was nowhere near as intense as shown in the film and there was a high degree of mutual respect between them.
The problem, of course, is that many people take the film at face value, assuming that it is a straightforward biopic. Except that it isn't that straightforward. The film uses the World War Two career of the real Patton to provide the bare bones of an examination of the kind of men who successfully fight wars. It is a portrayal of a man who lives for war - not that he is a warmonger, but rather a man who can only truly have a purpose whilst fighting a war. For men like Patton, the film suggests, war is a state of mind. He isn't just at war with the enemy. As the film shows, he spends almost as much time in conflict with his allies, (represented by the exaggerated rivalry with Monty), his men (the soldier-slapping incident), his colleagues, (the arguments with Bradley and Truscott during the Sicily campaign) and even his own commanders, (his constant clashes with an unseen Eisenhower). Men like Patton and Montgomery, the film suggests, also understand that war is only possible if it can be glorified, if you can create heroes and villains, myths of honour and sacrifice. Otherwise it would never be possible to motivate men to fight. The ultimate irony is that by being successful - winning wars - such men ultimately make themselves redundant, creating a peacetime world in which they have no place.
So there you have it: Patton - a great and insightful film, but don't mistake it for history. The 'real' events and personalities were far less flamboyant and clear cut.