Justin does MASH

“Oh, Frank, my lips are hot. Kiss my hot lips.”

The Scoop: 1970 R, directed by Robert Altman and starring Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould and Gary Burghoff

Tagline: M*A*S*H Hysteria

Summary Capsule: Before the show was the movie. Before the movie was the book. And after everything, there was Trapper John, M.D.

Justin’s Rating: War!  It’s FAN-tastic!

Justin’s Review: I won’t pretend to know what the culture and national environment was like in 1970, but since it resulted in the Bee Gees and a heapload of driftwood furniture, it couldn’t have been too good.  I guess Vietnam was a thing back then?  I dunno, it was about six years before I graced this world with my acerbic presence, so I’m not accountable for what went on back then.

If the film MASH was considered a darkly subversive and delightfully witty snark aimed at the military institution/mindset of the times, then I narrowly dodged a somewhat lame bullet.  Based on a best-selling if insanely racist novel, MASH collected a heap of nobodies (including Tom Skerrit, Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould), threw them under the reign of film auteur Robert Altman, and took to tunneling under the rigid structure of the US Army, straight into the freedom of open kookiness.

If you’re like most people who aren’t old enough to collect or almost be collecting Social Security, then it might well be a surprise for you that a movie exists in the MASH franchise.  Most everyone I know grew up at least knowing of — if not being an avid watcher — of the 11-year TV series, which chronicled an alternate universe where the Korean War went on almost four times as long as it did in our world.  The show intermixed comedy with drama (“dramedy” or “coma”) to provide a safety valve for our general uptightness when it came to the Vietnam War (Korea being the closest available substitute at the time).  While the film was popular and did a doozy at the B.O., the TV show overwhelming eclipsed its ancestor in viewers and fandom.  So for a lot of folks, the order of viewing wasn’t MASH-the-movie –> MASH-the-show, it was the reverse, if the movie got watched at all.  And that was a recipe for a bizarre experience.

For you see, the movie never considered the idea that it would become a television franchise, so it’s more or less an isolated grouping of incidents in a MASH camp that begins with Hawkeye arriving and ends with his discharge from the Army.  For all that it may have been subversive at the time, the film almost completely ignores the war backdrop (casualties are used just to add a bit of medical spice to the OR scenes) and treats the military as yet another wacky location for scruffy slackers to rebel against The Man.

Hawkeye’s arrival in the camp signals a shift into open anarchy aganst the military system.  The camp CO, Colonel Blake, is a laid-back fly fisherman who doesn’t care what the doctors do in their spare time, as long as they perform well in the operating room.  Hawkeye, Trapper John and Duke band together to form the core of miscreants that gleefully run the camp as they see fit — driving hardnosed Frank Burns insane, playing golf on the helicopter landing pad, and staging an assisted “suicide” for a  friend who is so worried about his recent lack of sexual aptitude that he wants to end it permanently.

While many of the names made the transition from the film to the later TV series, all but one of the faces lack any familiarity — that one being Gary Burghoff, who plays Radar O’Reilly.  The antics are familiar, however.  Despite a few of the pranks bordering on being mean spirited, the docs generally mean well and there’s an aura of invincibility that surrounds them when it comes to authority.

It’s not a bad movie, but perhaps it’s one that had a greater impact at a certain point in time, which will never be regained.  If you’re looking for a fairly funny flick, then this might serve you well; if you’re searching for a deep satire on the politics of war, then you’re going to be scratching your head when you find out that MASH is mostly about sex and football.  It’s pretty fine, either way.

Your army medical treatment plan comes complete with Hawaiian shirt

Intermission!

  • The 14-year-old son of Robert Altman, Mike Altman, wrote the lyrics to the theme song (and reportedly made more money from the movie than his father did as a result).
  • Although set on the front lines of the Korean War, the only gunshots heard throughout the movie are from the referee’s pistol during the inter-camp football game.
  • This film was among the first to be released on home video. In 1977 20th Century Fox licensed 50 of its titles to a fledgling video duplication company called Magnetic Video Corp. Fox purchased the company in 1978, laying the groundwork for its current successful video operation.
  • Robert Altman cast so many unknowns that after the few known actors (Tom Skerritt, Elliott Gould, etc.), the opening credits are entirely “Introducing…”.
  • Robert Altman says that during filming, Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland together went to the studio and complained that Altman was filming too much of the secondary characters. They requested that he be removed from the film, but the studio refused. After the film was completed and received its accolades, only Gould confessed the matter to Altman. As a result, he received parts in other Altman pictures, whereas the director never again used Sutherland.
  • Writer Ring Lardner Jr. was the only Academy Award winner out of the movie’s five nominations. Lardner practically disowned the movie when he saw that very little of his original script made it into the final cut.
  • Reportedly the first major studio release to use the F-bomb in its dialogue.
  • Some of the loudspeaker shots have the Moon visible and were shot while the Apollo 11 astronauts were on the Moon.
  • The initial scene of the suicide of “Painless” is a mimic of “The Last Supper” by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Groovy Quotes

Hotlips O’Houlihan: Oh my God! They’ve shot him.
Colonel Blake: Hot Lips, you incredible nincompoop. It’s the end of the quarter.

Hotlips O’Houlihan: [to Frank Burns, during sex, not knowing everyone is listening] Oh, Frank, my lips are hot. Kiss my hot lips.

Hawkeye Pierce: Get him off me! I’ve got glasses. Get him off me!

P.A. Announcer: Attention. Tonight’s movie has been “M*A*S*H.” Follow the zany antics of our combat surgeons as they cut and stitch their way along the front lines, operating as bombs and bullets burst around them; snatching laughs and love between amputaions and penicillin.

Spearchucker: I drew up about seven or eight plays. I figure that’s about all this bunch can handle.
Colonel Blake: Oh, these are good. These are very good. Uh, what are these little arrows here?

Colonel Blake: Ever since the dark days before Pearl Harbor, I have been proud to wear this uniform.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Stripes
  • M*A*S*H the series
  • In The Army Now
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5 Comments

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