Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Performers: George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Abraxas Aaran (Willy [sic])
Breeds featured: Bull terrier, Pekingese (briefly), Sloughi (briefly)
Production information: Twentieth Century Fox, 1970 (USA)
So much has been written about Patton, both the person and the film, I’ll just skip the summary and go right to the dogs. If you look at this biopic from the vantage of the the canine, you come up with an odd narrative frame.
A few scenes into the second half of this film (or sometime around the fourth of March, 1944 according to historical record), Patton is joined by a Bull Terrier. He officially names him William the Conquerer, but when the Bull Terrier is cowed by a yapping Pekingese, Patton opts to just call him “Willie” instead.
Much to my amusement, rather than kicking his hound out of the army for his cowardice, Willy gets to accompany the general on many a battle. He is present throughout the second half of the film as a white shadow and metonymical reminder of how badly Patton wants to be let out of the “doghouse,” as he fumes a couple times, to wage real war on the commanding lines.
Because I had my attention fixed on the dogs, I couldn’t help but notice how Patton’s final scene echoes one small detail in the beginning. General Patton, now relieved of his command over the Third Army, closes the film by taking Willy out for a walk. A high angle extreme long shot shows us the stiff-shouldered old man ambling across the open German landscape. Then we cut to a straight-on long shot as Patton walks directly towards the camera, which slowly pulls back and tilts up to isolate him from the waist up against a blue sky in a medium shot, cutting the short dog out of the frame. Yet we know the dog is down there on the other end of the leash, which echoes a lingering image from the opening scene:
In the beginning, as the American jeeps roll away from the corpse-strewn landscape, a lone Sloughi left tied to a tank barks frantically and lunges at the end of his rope. He is the figure of desolation that composes this sceneery. Those that left him behind will surely come right back for him, once the coast is clear — but the dog doesn’t know that. So he cries for acknowledgement, to no avail.
And Patton, too, feels forsaken, though he’ll never express himself as desperately as the Sloughi. His ego would never allow it.