Wednesday, 6 August 2014

And that's that

Before we move on from Rommel & Patton, I’ve told Brian and Chris in e-mails what bothered me about the book, so I figure I should just blog about them. First, the haphazard structure of the book
drove me crazy. From the title and premise, what you would expect is a book that interweaves fictionalized accounts of the two title characters against the backdrop of post-D-Day Normandy and speculates on a plan to, without Hitler’s knowledge or consent, attempt to negotiate an armistice to save Germany from total defeat when things looked bleakest on the Third Reich’s Western Front.   

You’d also expect character portraits of the two that created some sense of their personalities. Humanizing them, if you will. How this is accomplished is to plod day-by-day through the story, meaning Rommel’s story takes place in the first half of the book; Patton’s the second. The trouble with this is that Rommel gets gravely injured, but the story (and premise for the book) have to play out. This means for the second half of the book, Feldmarschall Hans von Kluge has to take over as the main German character. It undercuts the whole idea of Rommel being considered a main character – and by extension also undercuts any contrasts/parallels you were drawing to Patton. 

The dialogue also sinks it for me.  Once again, people speak in facts. The British cannot say anything without a “jolly good” or “my dear chap” or “chop, chop” thrown in. I’m aware this might be legitimate idiomatic speech; it just feels strained and forced.

I will say this though – Patton’s Gap was written to assign blame to Montgomery and to portray Patton in an heroic light for the incident of the Falaise Gap; Rohmer has not forgotten this, and here that is taken to the extreme. Rohmer’s prejudices are transparent; Montgomery is portrayed as petty and petulant – and unable to get over the fact he wasn’t getting credit for the Allied offensive. Rohmer can’t resist having him whine about it at every opportunity and to describe him that way: As Monty is speaking, his assistant listens like so: “Corby sat listening intently, fascinated as always by Montgomery’s high-pitched, nasally voice with it’s peculiar lisp.”  In the same paragraph he is described as “the scrawny general”. A bit later – in case you didn’t get the message – Monty goes on a rant about how he’s being slighted: “And who’s getting all the kudos for my planning? Bradley and Eisenhower and now Patton. The great and glorious Georgie, racing across France but only because I made it possible. And what do I get? Nothing but criticism. So here is my chance Freddie, my chance to demonstrate to the world that I brought this off, not the bloody Americans.” All we need is him chortling evilly to complete the scene.

By contrast, Patton can do no wrong. During a conversation when Churchill and Roosevelt are ostensibly talking about a possible armistice offer from Hitler – when the fate of the war is at stake – Roosevelt can’t help but turn into a gushing fanboy. He wants Patton to negotiate with Kluge instead of Montgomery – seemingly because he looks so cool: “When Patton presents himself in front of Kluge for the first time, that poor Prussian bastard will be overwhelmed by what he sees.  Patton will have on his best shiny steel helmet, his battle-dress jacket will be flowing with ribbons, he’ll have on his cavalry jodhpurs, riding boots and spurs, and his riding crop will be tucked under his arm. And on each hip will be a beautiful ivory-handled revolver. And Patton’s tall Winston, he’s tall. Kluge won’t be faced by some little sparrow general in a beret and sweater, no sir. If he was here now, I’d give his knee a manly pat.”  Okay, I added that last line. But they are discussing something of vital importance that could end the war and save countless lives and Roosevelt feels it’s appropriate to describe how Patton looks and take a shot at Montgomery?


  1. No master of dialogue, Rohmer really struggles in Rommel and Patton . The problem is that he can't find his happy place between fiction and non-fiction… which is why we endure stuff like this:

    “Ike was just over here.” General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the genial U.S. general, was Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary force and thus was Montgomery’s superior. “He’s very unhappy with Montgomery’s performance, and the amazing thing is that so are Ike’s top staff people, and they’re all British: Tedder, Cunnigham, and Morgan."

    And yet, the Rommel and Patton has the greatest piece of Rohmer dialogue ever:

    "Winnie is all a’tiddly-bang about Eisenhower’s allegations."

    It’s the change in tone mid-sentence, you see.

    Not “Winnie is all a’tiddly-bang about Ike’s gripe."

    Not “The Prime Minister is very much concerned about Eisenhower’s allegations.”

    No, it's "Winnie is all a’tiddly-bang about Eisenhower’s allegations."

    Jolly good fun.

  2. The key to Rohmer is always to imagine a partner in a law office in Toronto in 1976, lying on the couch in his office free-stylin' into a tape recorder, in this case, from someone else's history of World War II.

    He reads a page to himself. Puts the book down, thinks for a second. Presses rec/play on the tape deck.

    "Monty came in. "Top of the morning, chums! I'm afraid I have damn bloody bad news! It's been three days since the bloody D-Day landings and our damn tanks are bogged down again. It's these damn bloody hedges!"

    Rohmer presses "stop." Picks up the book. Reads a little. Puts it down again.

    "Not to mention Hitler's deadly 88s! Though designed as an anti-aircraft gun, they're being used with devastating efficiency as an antitank weapon!"

  3. Wait until you get to the part in Starmaggedon where the President of the United States realizes what he likes about his best general is that he's a lot like Patton. He has slim hips, Rohmer points out.

  4. That was the quote I was looking for and couldn't find. I'm glad you found it and put in in.

    One more though: I don't doubt people called him "Georgie", but did everyone do it all the time? Sometimes it seems a tad informal when the upper echelons of command are having otherwise grave planning sessions.

    By the end, I wondered if he had a vendetta against Monty - he certainly makes sure that there isn't a single character who thinks positive about him. Churchill is the closest, but he is portrayed as being somewhat annoyed at having to stick up for him.

  5. In HTWAB$, Rohmer explains his rule for using real people's real names. (As opposed to thinly disguised ones, and there are some ridiculously transparent ones for Reagan's heroic cronies in Starmaggedon, by the way.) The rule is: A named real person never does anything bad.

    So they'll never sue, see?

    I guess he made an exception for Monty. Bad show, that. Rotter. Cor!

  6. And a note affixed to that tape record that can be seen before you press record: "don't forget to mention the Jabos".

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  8. Rommel was livid. "How can you fatsos expect me to continue to fight with all this honor and nobility (for genocidal fascism, but what the heck) with all these JABOS!"

    "...Not to mention the rocket-firing Typhoons."

  9. On a personal note, there's a funny section at the beginning of HTWAB$ where Rohmer craps all over novels with "characters." Sure, (fancy-pants) critics may like them, but critics don't buy books. He's wrong, of course, and that's why his books are so obstinately awful, even as pulp thrillers.

    A character has to have some past. He has to have some human drive. Some flaw. Something. That doesn't mean the author is a fobbish snob trying to be Tolstoy. Batman is more of a character than anyone in Rohmer.

    If Rohmer wrote Batman, Bruce Wayne wouldn't be avenging his dead parents. He'd decide to fight crime because it would increase real estate values.

    Or he'd decide for no reason at all.

    On this pilot I'm pitching, we keep getting the note that it's "not a show." Naturally, we think it is. But we've been adjusting it continually, trying to make the situation larger, at the expense (probably) of the characters. I don't think it's soft, but everyone else does. I thought it had a high concept that was so high it tipped over in tight turns. But apparently not.

    So that's what we're doing.