There are endless cliches out there about the importance of a first impression, but whatever truth they may hold in our everyday lives they go double for film. When there’s only a couple of hours to tell a story and capture its players, an audience’s first chance to meet a character is an asset no filmmaker worth their salt is going to waste. So with that in mind, CHUD is going to take a look through the many decades of cinema to extract the most special of those moments when you are first introduced to a character, be they small moments that speak volumes, or large moments that simply can’t be ignored.
Inevitably it will be the major characters and leads that are granted the grandest of entrances, but don’t be surprised to see a few supporting players and minor individuals get their due, when the impact of their appearance lingers longer than their screentime. Also know that these moments may be chosen for any number of reasons, and the list could never be exhaustive. But here you’ll find moments that make a big splash, say a lot with a little, or we think are just particularly cool.
We hope you enjoy, and can’t wait to hear from you about each and every entry. Don’t spend the effort guessing future choices or declaring what must be included– just enjoy the ride!
The Film… Patton (1970)
Director… Franklin J. Schaffner
Entering From Stage Left… George C. Scott in the role of George S. Patton.
What Makes it Special… A perfect storm of Acting and Writing.
George S. Patton was more than just a successful American general, he was an icon of warfare and the perfect representation of the simultaneously frightening and comforting military spirit. If you’re not familiar with the man, well then by God I would suggest you read up on one of the most important figures in WWII, with a good start being the film in question, Patton. Though it was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (Papillon) it is the screenwriter, Francis Ford Coppola, that has been the most enduring name and the one that imbued the movie with its eccentric structure and focus. It is Coppola who loaded the script with so much of the reincarnation and “a man out of time” thematics that make Patton such an infinitely fascinating biopic war film, and it is also he that pushed for the famous American flag-backed speech that opens the film, and that we examine here.
Our introduction to Four-Star General George S. Patton, JR. also serves as the cold opening to the film. A dramatic wide and slightly-low angle shot is filled nearly edge-to-edge with a vivid American Flag, and from below (not from stage left or right) emerges the General to center stage. Right away we are forced to ponder the implications of his entrance… is he a product of hell, or has he merely emerged from amidst his fight against it to deliver this speech?
Before he utters a word, we hear a trumpet standard as tight close-ups detail the various accoutrements on Patton’s person. From all the medals, sashes, stars, rings, and ivory-handled pistols (Patton’s actual guns, on loan from his museum), we gather that Patton is a man of action, accomplishment… and perhaps a twinge of vanity? No matter what you think, t’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that this is a very serious military figure. Then he opens his mouth.
“Now, I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
And right away we know what Patton is all about.
This speech was adapted by Coppola from a real and very famous speech from Patton, that is only preserved in second-hand accounts. The original speech is longer naturally, but it is also more profane and frank– qualities the general was known for. Despite a bit of language cleansing, the speech as presented in the film is still a powerful explanation of Patton’s views on war and courage. In fact, he concludes with the line, “Alright now, you sons-of-bitches, you know how I feel,” before reminding his men that he would be proud to fight with them at any time in any place in the world.
George C. Scott very nearly refused to film the scene, convinced that if placed at the beginning of the film it would diminish everything that came after. With a bit of lying on the part of the filmmakers, he was convinced to shoot it, and it encapsulated everything that is great about Scott’s Oscar-winning performance across the length of the film- the subtle humanity, the merciless spirit of violence, the pride in accomplishment, America, and most of all: his men. Scott’s quiet chuckles and threatening whispers are as impossible to ignore as his graveled shouts, and this speech offers him plenty of material for both.
It’s one of the finest monologues ever delivered, and it remains among the truly indisputable pantheon of character introductions.
Why it Resonates… Referenced in dozens (if not hundreds) of shows, movies, ads and cartoons, the image of the scene is one of the boldest ever captured. What’s beautiful is that when you watch it, the parodies diminish none of its power- a very rare thing. Scott’s performance is just too perfect to be diluted by familiarity with the scene. It also remains important because it captures a spirit that has been in some ways lost. Military personnel certainly haven’t lost their love of honorable bloodlust or big triumphant posturing, but it’s impossible not to wince just a tiny bit at Patton’s suggestion that “America has never lost and will never lose a war.” Patton is a figure that was growing out of place even in his own era, so to look back from where we currently stand makes him even more of a representation of a bygone time.
Other Grand Entrances… Nobody is allowed to upstage Patton in his own film, but look to his triumph at Messina for another example of his theatrical ability for entering a scene.
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