M*A*S*H – 1970
M*A*S*H Gives A D*A*M*N.
Richard Hooker (novel)
Ring Lardner Jr. (screenplay)
Leon Ericksen associate producer
Ingo Preminger producer
Donald Sutherland – Capt. Benjamin Franklin ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce
Elliott Gould – Capt. John Francis Xavier ‘Trapper John’ McIntyre
Tom Skerritt – Capt. Augustus Bedford ‘Duke’ Forrest
Sally Kellerman – Maj. Margaret ‘Hot Lips’ O’Houlihan
Robert Duvall – Maj. Frank Burns
Roger Bowen – Lt. Col. Henry Braymore Blake
Rene Auberjonois – Father John Patrick ‘Dago Red’ Mulcahy
David Arkin – SSgt. Vollmer/PA Announcr
Jo Ann Pflug – Lt. Maria ‘Dish’ Schneider
Gary Burghoff – Cpl. Walter ‘Radar’ O’Reilly
Fred Williamson – Capt. Oliver Harmon ‘Spearchucker’ Jones
Michael Murphy – Capt. Ezekiel Bradbury ‘Me Lay’ Marston IV
Indus Arthur – Lt. Leslie
Ken Prymus – Pvt. Seidman
Bobby Troup – SSgt. Gorman
Kim Atwood – Ho-Jon
Timothy Brown – Cpl. Judson (as Tim Brown)
John Schuck – Capt. Walter Kosciusko ‘Painless Pole’ Waldowski
Dawne Damon – Lt. Storch
Carl Gottlieb – Capt. ‘Ugly John’ Black
Tamara Wilcox-Smith – Capt. Bridget ‘Knocko’ McCarthy (as Tamara Horrocks)
G. Wood – Brig. Gen. Charlie Hammond
Bud Cort – Cpl. Walter ‘Radar’ O’Reilly
Danny Goldman – Capt. Murrhardt
Corey Fischer – Capt. Bandini
Stephen Altman – Duke’s 5-Year-Old Son (uncredited)
Tommy Brown – Football Player, 325th Evac. (uncredited)
Buck Buchanan – Football Player, 325th Evac. (uncredited)
Jack Concannon – Football Player, 325th Evac. (uncredited)
Michael Consoldane – Football Player, 325th Evac. (uncredited)
Cathleen Cordell – Capt. Peterson, Nurse Corps (uncredited)
Ben Davidson – Football Player, 325th Evac. (uncredited)
James B. Douglas – Col. Wallace C. Merril (uncredited)
Tom Falk – Corporal (uncredited)
John Fujioka – Japanese Golf Pro (uncredited)
Sumi Haru – Japanese Nurse (uncredited)
Susan Ikeda – Japanese Caddie (uncredited)
Dale Ishimoto – Korean Doctor (uncredited)
Jerry Jones – Motor Pool Sergeant (uncredited)
Joe Kapp – Football Player, 325th Evac. (uncredited)
Ted Knight – Offstage Dialog (voice) (uncredited)
Harvey Levine – 2nd Lieutenant (uncredited)
Weaver Levy – Korean Doctor (uncredited)
Marvin Miller – Offstage Dialog (voice) (uncredited)
John Myers – Football Player, 325th Evac. (uncredited)
Lloyd Nelson – Offstage Voice (uncredited)
Monica Peterson – Pretty W.A.C. Receptionist (uncredited)
Masami Saito – Japanese Caddie (uncredited)
Samantha Scott – Nurse/Pin-up Model (uncredited)
Noland Smith – Football Player, 325th Evac. ‘Superbug’ (uncredited)
Fran Tarkenton – Football Player, 325th Evac. (uncredited)
Rick Teal – Hammond’s Aide (uncredited)
Dianne Turley Travis – Correspondent (uncredited)
Sal Viscuso – P.A. Announcer (voice) (uncredited)
Hiroko Watanabe – Japanese Prostitute (uncredited)
Howard Williams – Football Player, 325th Evac. (uncredited)
Tom Woodeschick – Football Player, 325th Evac. (uncredited)
Yoko Young – Japanese Servant (uncredited)
· Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. That’s where two young surgeons, Duke and Hawkeye end up during the Korean War. There is no plot as such, but instead a series of episodes during which they put their stamp on the camp including a football game against a larger unit with thousands riding on it, a trip to Tokyo to operate on a congressman’s son and play a little golf, and finding out if the head nurse is a natural blonde.
· November, 1951. The 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital is shaken up by the arrival of Captains Hawkeye Pierce and Duke Forrest…crack surgeons but lousy soldiers. Joined by renowned chest-cutter Trapper John McIntyre, the surgeons set about dealing with the daily carnage of the war by raising hell. From getting rid of the idiotic Major Burns, to helping the camp dentist commit “suicide”, there’s no lengths the Swampmen won’t go to distract themselves from the horrors of war.
Review by Bill Slocum
Important, influential, just not that good,
“MASH” broke barriers and defied conventions when it was first released in 1970. It still does today. The pendulum has swung back a lot since 1970, and for that you still get a sense of the pioneering spirit with which the film was made. The overlapping dialogue. The non-linear, character-driven plot. The caustic humor. The attacks on religion (real religion, as the New York Times noted when the film came out, not false sanctimony but actual belief in God.)
Yes, in those ways the film is as powerful now as it was when it was first released. But you see something else, something audiences didn’t see in 1970, so blown away were they by the newness of it. That is the picture runs out of gas halfway through.
You have a powerful beginning, that eerie montage with the strange song “Suicide Is Painless” playing mournfully while doctors, nurses, and orderlies silently rush to relieve choppers of their human cargo. It’s quietly effective, immediately giving you a sense of the 4077th MASH unit (looking much bigger and grimmer than it ever did in the TV series) and coming as close as the movie ever does to delivering an effective anti-war statement. The movie builds from there as we meet the various characters, beneficiaries of their actors’ strong improvisational work. It feels like real-time eavesdropping on a community of actual human beings. Scenes like Major Burns and Hot Lips’ transmitted tryst and Painless Pole’s suicide attempt are not as funny as we are meant to think, but they are well shot, especially the Painless Pole bit, the best thing in the movie for pure entertainment. The way all the guys in the Swamp crack up when Painless tells them he’s decided to kill himself may be the film’s funniest moment.
What happens next feels like a wrong turn. Hot Lips becomes the subject of a camp bet that exposes her to massive humiliation. Call it “indecent” or “politically incorrect,” it is just plain wrong, exposing the film’s (and its director’s) nasty streak toward women and alienating any concern you might have built up for the characters. When she and Burns were targeted before, you had a sense they had it coming because of her overbearing military approach and his blaming orderly Boone for killing a patient. This time, she’s a spent force, no threat to anyone, and “a damn good nurse,” as Trapper says, just doing her job as best she can despite her earlier bad experience. I’m struck dumb at the idea I’m supposed to be laughing when she rushes into Col. Blake’s tent in shock and tears.
The film never recovers. Instead, it veers wildly off course, away from the camp and into two radically pointless subplots, one involving a trip by Hawkeye and Trapper to Japan where they operate on a congressman’s son and a sick infant (some sort of parallel there, though lost on me), the other a football game that apparently was director Robert Altman’s comment on the folly of war, but to me just shows what happens when you allow your characters to veer off-script for so long you can’t make it back to the ending as written. The game takes up too much time, throws in goofy circus music complete with slide whistles, and features the once iron-willed Hot Lips in the role of outlandishly enthusiastic cheerleader for all the people who tormented her so viciously for the duration of the film. Sally Kellerman’s performance in the second half of the film is nothing like it was in the first half; it’s embarrassingly, cartoonishly bad. Altman should have reined her in, but you get the feeling he was just rushing by then to get it all in the can before the studio figured out what he was up to and took his film away.
Altman was just so much better making “Nashville.” Obviously he learned a lot. It’s amazing how pasty everyone in this film looks, particularly Donald Sutherland, who seems leprous. No wonder he tried to get Altman fired. So much of the supporting players faded away, and though they do good work, it’s not a surprise. They all seem so squalid and ugly as Altman shoots them.
It’s interesting comparing the characters here to their counterparts in the TV series. For me, the TV characters are usually preferable. Robert Duvall mines zero comedy from Frank Burns, playing him very seriously in comparison to Larry Linville’s more likeably miserable TV Burns. Roger Bowen had a great voice, but is nearly robotic as Blake, having none of McLean Stevenson’s panache. What’s worse than a pompous moralizing Hawkeye with Groucho affectations? How about that annoying whistle! Even Gary Burghoff, the one real holdover from film to series, plays a nastier Radar in the movie, meaner, tougher, less innocent.
The whole film is mean, tough, less innocent. It gets points from me for that. Altman and his cast develop a magnificent mood right away. But they fail to do very much with it. “MASH” is a great 45-minute-long movie that just goes on too long.
Review by Gary F. Taylor
Vulgar, Blasphemous, Mean Spirited–And Brilliant,
Although M*A*S*H is probably his most audience-friendly film, Robert Altman’s style of over-lapping dialogue and multiple themes provokes a divided reaction even in this early work: you either like it or you don’t. Perhaps more significant, however, are expectations raised by the popular and long-running television series the film inspired: the series concerned likable characters playing situation comedy with a dramatic spin. Viewers who expect to see this repeated in the film will be disappointed–and very probably outraged as well.
Like most Altman films, M*A*S*H is character-driven, and there is no plot in any traditional sense. In general, the film concerns three surgeons (Hawkeye, Trapper, and Duke, here played by Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, and Tom Skerritt) who are drafted to serve in Korea. Sharing a mutual fondness for martinis and a complete disrespect for all things military, they run riot through the M*A*S*H 4077, mocking the efforts of by-the-book military officers to make them toe the line and using the army’s need of their skills to prevent higher authority from penalizing them for their antics. Most of the characters (including the three leads) are somewhat unsympathetic, and the film’s comic elements are deliberately grotesque, mean-spirited, blasphemous, sexist, and vulgar.
Altman clearly intends us to read the Korean setting as a metaphor for Vietnam and the disrespect for an inept military authority as a metaphor for America’s increasing disenchantment with military intervention in Vietnam. At the same time, the film’s graphic surgery scenes provide us with a clear vision of the human toll war requires. Because the film mixes these points of view with comic elements, it is frequently described as an anti-war black comedy–but the film is so profoundly bitter that the word comedy, even when codified as “black,” is rather misleading. There are certainly comic elements and even a few laugh-out-loud moments (most centering upon Margaret “Hotlips” O’Houlihan, brilliantly played by Sally Kellerman), but the tone of the film is so bitter that the laughter induced is very rueful indeed.
Seen today, M*A*S*H feels slightly uneven in execution and very much of its place and time–but even so the cast performs with an extremely compelling immediacy and Altman’s dark and multi-layered vision makes a powerful statement. The DVD release features a superb restoration of the film, a rather dismissible director’s commentary track, and four short documentaries re the film which are extremely interesting but often redundant. While I do recommend the film to newcomers, I offer the warning that response to the film varies considerably from individual to individual.
Review by Wayne Malin
Almost classic comedy,
Basis for the very long-running TV series “MASH”.
It’s an absurdest, surrealistic view of a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) stationed in Korea. It primarily involves the antics of three surgeons in the unit played by Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould and Tom Skeritt. It’s a very episodic film that shows that people in order are complete idiots and everyone working for them knows it. This was made in 1970 and making fun of authority figures was very popular then.
This film is easily one of Robert Altman’s best. It moves quickly (the 2 hours speed by), has a GREAT cast and has his trademark overlapping dialogue–yet you hear exactly what you’re supposed to (somehow). It seems strange but this movie has you laughing while showing you graphic operating room sequences (which are cut down in the PG version). The antics of these guys are very immature and childish–but that’s how these guys keep their sanity. Despite myself I was laughing. A highlight was when one man intends to commit suicide–take a look at the “Last Supper” he has.
I don’t totally like this movie because Altman’s sexism comes roaring through twice. The character of Major “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Sally Kellerman) is treated horribly. While she is having sex at one point the guys slip a mike under her bed and broadcast it to the whole camp. That’s not funny. Even worse is when they rig the shower curtain to fly up while she’s in it–it publicly, humiliatingly exposes her. Seeing her crying and screaming while trying to crawl away nude is not funny just sick. I’ve seen this multiple times in movie houses and no one has ever laughed at either scene. They’re just too cruel and Altman seems to enjoy it. Kellerman deserves credit for maintaining her dignity despite these sequences.
Because of those scenes I can only give this a 9. Still, this is mostly a great comedy. Much better than the later TV show.
Review by Zetes
Great, but takes a stupid turn near the end that harms the overall product,
I loved nearly every moment of MASH. It balanced its drama and comedy quite perfectly. The acting was great and the characters were well developed. This is also one of the few episodic movies which works well. Episodic films usually become tedious. Every episode in MASH is entertaining and works towards developing its characters and its mood.
My only complaint, which was originally going to be a small one, but as it went on and on and on, it became a big enough problem to knock the film down a notch in my opinion: the football sequence. This sequence goes on for nearly twenty minutes, and occupies most of the last moments of the film. Before this, the film kept getting better and better as it went on. Then, with the football game, it hit an insurmountable wall. The one thing this film did not need was a sports finale. Everything seems to depend on the game, even though absolutely nothing does depend on it. I was interested in the characters, and during the game, I couldn’t even tell which one was which. Therefore, I could have cared less about what was happening here. I became terribly bored, almost to the point of fast forwarding through this sequence. To boot, Hot Lips becomes insufferably annoying and uncharacteristically bimbonic as she dresses up as a cheerleader. We were told in a previous scene that Hot Lips rebuked the others for playing football, so it seemed unlikely to me that she would turn into a cheerleader.
I was praying that the film would not end at the end of the game, and luckily, it didn’t. It does have a rather classy ending, as I would expect from Altman. The credit sequence is very unique, kind of like the end of Welles’ Magnificent Ambersons or Altman’s own opening credits for his greatest masterpiece, Nashville. I still give MASH a 9/10, but it should have been a 10/10, because it was going that way the entire picture.