Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Mules were shot during the filming of the bridge scene in the 1970 motion picture Patton.
Origins: In December 1943, Time magazine reported several contentious incidents that would figure large in the legend of combative U.S. general
[What was an] isolated [slapping] incident quickly became two. Bellicose Lieut. General George SmithThese episodes were all memorably dramatized in 20th Century-Fox's Academy Award-winning 1970 film, Patton (although the two slapping incidents were conflated into a single case, and a cook rather than a group of anti-aircraft men receives a dressing-down on screen for not wearing his leggings). Ironically, the general's encounter with a mule cart was the episode that became the most controversial scene of the film, as described in Robert Brent Toplin's Unchallenged Violence:
There were other stories of unsoldierly conduct by West Pointer Patton. On one occasion he had pounced on a group of anti-aircraft men who had just beaten off an enemy attack, with casualties. Those who could stand were lined up and dressed down by Patton for not wearing their leggings. In Sicily, a Patton outburst was touched off by a mule cart which blocked a bridge. Patton ordered the cart tipped over, then ordered the mule shot.
More relevant to the issue of violence is the tradition of not showing the killing of animals on television. Organizations like the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals do not look kindly on such portrayals. When the movie Patton made its debut on TV, audiences familiar with the motion picture saw a good example of media irony. The television version cut out a brief but rather detailed scene of Patton shooting a mule, then having the carcass tossed over a bridge. The cinematic slaughter of hundreds of people remained in the TV version, of course.As this scene is depicted in the movie, Patton becomes enraged upon discovering that a column of American troops, tanks, and vehicles has been held up and exposed to enemy fire because two mules hitched to an Italian peddler's cart are blocking a narrow bridge. The bellicose general angrily turns on the soldiers who have been trying, ineffectively, to pull the stubborn animals off the bridge, shouting at them: "Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed on account of a couple of jackasses?
Animal welfare groups criticized Patton's producers when the film was released, because the movie portrayed the killing of animals on-screen and because of suspicions that animals had been
The American Humane Association (AHA) found investigating the reality of Patton to be difficult because most of the film had been shot in Spain, a country that was far away from the prying eyes (and jurisdiction) of American and British animal welfare organizations, and one in which rough treatment of animals was more common. According to newspaper accounts of time,
Apparently in the two countries where bull fighting is a national mania [i.e., Spain and Mexico], rough handling of hoofed, beaked and scaled performers is no big deal. But bullfighting is blacklisted by the AHA.The animals look dead or tranquilized in the single
The unacceptable pictures [listed in a recent AHA bulletin] were American-made, but filmed abroad.
Perhaps the loudest objection was voiced over the apparent shooting of two mules blocking a key bridge in "Patton." The scene depicts the colorful general shooting the animals to clear the way for his troops.
"Foul!" cried the AHA.
"Innocent," came the answer from 20th Century-Fox.
Observers on the scene disclaimed knowledge of whether the mules were in fact donkeys.
Is it less humane to kill mules than donkeys became a side issue.
Someone also declared it was virtually impossible to teach either mules or donkeys to lie down and play dead on voice command. The most effective way to have them act dead is to dispatch them with a bullet.
An unofficial spokesman for 20th Century-Fox said, "Look at it this way. Those were very old animals. They were sick and dispirited. They had come to the end of the trail."
The man's voice quavered with emotion. "If those
The American Humane Association didn't believe him.
However, Toplin noted in a later book, History by Hollywood, that:
In the film Patton points his gun at the animals and fires. Soldiers are then seen tossing the carcasses into a river. An extra in the film told reporters that the crew killed the animals with strychnine and had also clubbed a donkey to death and blown up a horse by tying dynamite to its belly.With not much more to go by than some sketchy, decades-old newspaper accounts, our best guess would be that a couple of mules (or donkeys) were killed during the production of Patton, but off-camera and by poisoning rather than shooting.
Last updated: 1 February 2007
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