M.A.S.H. (1970) 

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Donald Sutherland
Elliot Gould
Tom Skerritt
Sally Kellerman
Robert Duvall
Roger Bowen
Rene Auberjonois
Fred Williamson

Robert Altman



Time: 116 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy

Won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Nominated for Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress.

Even though I grew up watching the television series, I have to admit that I had never seen the film version of MASH all the way through until recently. I was quite excited to finally be able to sit down and enjoy what is heralded as a comedy classic. I'm still stunned by the fact that it wasn't even half as good as I expected. It was juvenile and mean-spirited, which I'm generally not always against, but in this case I was rooting for the bad guys. The non-stop frat-boy mentality becomes more and more grating as the film wears on because there's nothing to balance it with. I suppose the operation scenes were included to add seriousness and depth, but all they did really was slow down the movie. I'm a big fan of booze and sex, but without real character development it just left a bad taste in my mouth.

Granted, working on the front line of a war, witnessing the horror of conflict up close and personal every day is apt to make people a little crazy. Hijinks are a harmless way of blowing off steam and bringing laughter to a grave situation. However, there just was not enough of a reason given why Hawkeye and Trapper would choose to torture Frank and Hot Lips the way they do. I would be part of the party crew and probably drunk most of the time, so I can understand why they wouldn't want to share their tent with a religious, tight-ass like Frank. Major Houlihan has one conversation with Hawkeye after which he makes it his prime directive to humiliate her at every opportunity. They never show Frank or Margaret doing or saying anything even half as vindictive. It makes the film terribly one-sided and empty. Unlike the series, they are no match for the residents of "The Swamp."

"Frank, were you on this religious kick at home, or did you crack up over here?"

Which isn't to say that the film doesn't have it's immensely funny moments. The dialogue is intelligent and witty and goes a long way to raising the caliber of what would've been an otherwise mediocre movie. Gould and Sutherland, though not your traditional leading men types, are amazingly charming and sexy as the incorrigible doctors. They are obviously having fun and it brings life to the film. It is also quite amusing to watch Robert Duvall as Frank Burns. I had no idea and he does a great job as their uptight nemesis. I know it must have seemed new and clever to place a raucous sex comedy in an army hospital, but frankly it could've taken place anywhere. They may have been good doctors, but I wouldn't have wanted to be operated on by them. You don't really get much of a sense (again because there's nothing on screen to back it up) that these are world-class surgeons as much as doctors who were unlucky enough to be drafted, which I guess would be closer to the truth.

Maybe if there had been more of a plot, the film would have worked better for me. It begins with Hawkeye's arrival and ends with him leaving, but nothing in between could be said to resemble a sequential order of events. There's no real storyline, just a string of wacky escapades, interspersed with scenes of them operating. All of the characters are pretty much the same from beginning to end, with the exception of Hot Lips, who has a radical change of heart in the final 15 minutes. Up to that point, it is her duty in life to make Hawkeye and Trapper John pay for their behavior in general and towards her. Then, all of a sudden, she becomes their main cheerleader – literally – when the camp attempts to win an inter-army football game. Huh? It's quite a disjointed turn of events. Certainly being part of a war would change a person, but you just don't see that when Hawkeye finally gets to return home.

Maybe if I had seen MASH when it originally came out, I would have liked it more. I'm sure it was quite a radical concept, as it did reflect events from the life of its' screenwriter. It seems a bit flat and dated when compared to the TV show. An enjoyable comedy to be sure, but nothing special. Now that I've seen it all the way through, I don't think I'll be watching it again. I'd rather catch the re-runs. Certainly one of Robert Altman's funniest films, but not one of his best. I know it was nominated for Best Picture, but in my opinion that's a matter of the times more than the quality of the work. Maybe it's just me. Everyone else seems to disagree. You be the judge. I'm not against juvenile situations. Just juvenile without heart.

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