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Saluting a Restored `Patton'

The Oscar-winning epic gets a face lift; co-star Karl Malden is scheduled to attend a Friday screening.


There was no grand, patriotic plan by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in scheduling during wartime a screening of the newly restored World War II epic, "Patton." The Oscar-winning film is playing Friday at the academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

"This is a project our archive and 20th Century Fox have been working on for quite some time and something we intended to calendar as soon as it was going to be ready," notes Ellen Harrington, the academy's special events programmer: "For months, we had been planning it [as] a fall presentation. It's extremely ironic that we are a country at war."

The 1970 best picture winner stars George C. Scott in his expansive, Oscar-winning performance--he refused the accolade--as the controversial, colorful and brilliant Gen. George S. Patton. Karl Malden plays Gen. Omar Bradley (and will speak about the film at the screening). The lavish biography won seven Oscars, including one for director Franklin J. Schaffner and another for screenwriters Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North.

The events since Sept. 11 haven't factored into the academy's programming decisions, Harrington says. And there was no discussion about rescheduling the movie to a less volatile time.

"We have continued to do the programming we intended to do throughout the fall," she says. "What we are discovering is that our audiences really want to come out and see the different kind of films we present. We literally have had full houses for everything we have done since Sept. 11.... It's a major biopic in the history of American film. It doesn't whitewash war in any way."

Harrington believes the film also harks back to a time when "it was clear who the good guys were and who the heroes were. Even though Patton is a flawed character, he is somebody who is admirable and fascinating. I think that is something everyone will want to watch regardless of the political climate."

"Patton" was released during the Vietnam War, the same year as another memorable war film, Robert Altman's irreverent black comedy "MASH." Both were nominated for best film, with "MASH" receiving an Oscar for adapted screenplay.

"They are two very different sides of the same coin," says Harrington. "One is very kind of epic and reverential to this outrageous character. 'MASH' obviously is extremely ironic. I think it shows that people making good films--they can come out in any context and people will respond to them."

Malden, who won the 1951 best supporting actor Oscar for "A Streetcar Named Desire," says he had a wonderful time making "Patton" in Spain in 1969.

"I thought Franklin Schaffner did a wonderful job directing it. I think it's the best job that George had ever done," Malden says. "You know how they advertise the film? They say, 'George C. Scott is Patton.' Well, he was Patton. He was absolutely Patton. He had read books on him left and right and told me things about Patton."

Malden got to visit with the real Bradley before filming began. "I saw him for a week every afternoon for two or three hours. When I talked to Gen. Bradley, I said, '[Patton] was pretty mean. A lot of the boys hated him--"Blood and Guts Patton."' But Bradley said, 'Well, listen to this, Karl: Lucky he was on our side. He was a fighting soldier. He wanted to fight, and we needed men like that.' So there are two sides to everything and it [the movie] showed that, I thought."

The restoration work on "Patton" was done by the Academy Film Archive and 20th Century Fox, which released the film.

"We started inspecting elements and pulling in everything that existed on the film," says Mike Pogorzelski, director of the Academy Film Archive. "The original camera negative is in excellent to very, very good condition." One of the reasons that the negative was in such good shape is that very few 70-millimeter prints had been made during the original release. "Everything else was distributed on 35-millimeter, and nobody asked for a 70-millimeter [print] again."

The main problem with the negative were the English subtitles that translated the German dialogue. "The subtitle bands were actually a separate strip of film," he reports. "In 1970, there was equipment to basically print both strips of the film back to back in the same printer. That technology, for all intents and purposes, doesn't exist any more."

So they had to create a new negative with the titles built into it. "I think it is the most important part of the restoration," Pogorzelski says. "Nobody will have to go back and copy this work again."

"Patton" screens Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Admission is $5 for the general public; $3 for academy members. Information: (310) 247-3600.

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