on 22 July 2004
If you are only familiar with the TV version of M.A.S.H., you will find the film very different but very funny. Donald Sutherland (Hawkeye) and Elliott Gould (Trapper)are both brilliant as the crazy surgeons trying to keep sane amidst the chaos of war. The humour of the film is much blacker than the Tv series, of the movie cast only Gary Burghoff (Radar O'Reilly) went on to star in the TV version. These days I find I prefer Donald Sutherland's Hawkeye, Alan Alda's relentless niceness gets on my nerves a bit. In the movie (as in the original novel) there are two other surgeons joining in Hawkeye and Trapper's antics, Duke Forrest and Spearchucker Jones (you may recall there was a halfhearted attempt to include Spearchucker in the first TV series, but he soon faded from view). I love the bit where Duke, a Southerner, is told he's going to be sharing accomodation with a black surgeon, and says plaintively "Oh no, it's bad enough having to share with you two Yankees!" Uptight army nurse Margaret Houlihan is subjected to rougher treatment than in the TV series, as for instance when her all is exposed when the doctors make the shower collapse while she's using it in order to settle a bet over whether she's a natural blonde or not. Then there's the climatic football match where some very dirty tactics are brought into play to make sure the M.A.S.H. team win. The movie is darker, dirtier, and in some ways funnier than the TV version.
I usually confine my comments to the standard of the film, but in this case the quality of restoration deserves a mention, as do the extras provided on the DVD. Unusually, these are well worth having and add to the enjoyment of the main feature.
M.A.S.H. is probably best known nowadays for having spawned the classic TV sitcom starring Alan Alda but more an ensemble creation of well-loved characters. A number of these appear in the original film, though it was originally intended as a star vehicle for Messrs. Sutherland and Gould. Where the TV series took much longer to explore the nuances of relationship and unpeel the subtle layers of about war, the film uses the limitations of a 2-hour format to create a dark satire with the essential underpinning of serious compassion and empathy, gloss over some aspects of characterisation and stays lightweight to retain its audience. That said, there is more gore and therefore sense of realism about the big screen version, even if it wimps out of a more direct condemnation of war.
Robert Altman's evolving neo-fly-on-the-wall style will be familiar to anyone watching his later films such as the Player and Nashville. And it works - the comic results are a joy to behold, and stand the test of time remarkably well through the endless topicality of war - consider what the Trapper and Hawkeye of today would feel about the Iraq war from their mobile army surgical hospital in Basra!
on 15 April 2002
There is a general law that says books are normally better than the films, though there are some exceptions. That is why i had my doubts before i saw this film, boy was i wrong. Though the book by Richard Hooker is brilliant i think the film is better! Robert Altman did a great job and Sutherlands and Gualds performances are sheer class.
on 6 July 2013
I went to see this xx! years ago as a teenager and wanted to see it again. It is still as excellent now as it was then and, in many ways I prefer it to the series that came from it. Brilliant actors makes the whole experience a lot of fun and a great experience. Do get it if you have a sense of humour - this does not diminish the whole sad experience of the Korean war however!
on 7 February 2014
Miss Alan Alda as the leading man, but Donald Sutherland makes the part his own as Hawkeye Pearce. I also loved the music, but am not allowed to play it on the Radio Station I work for (Hospital) as the title doesn't go down very well. Suicide is painless!!!!!!!
on 9 May 2000
M.A.S.H is one of those films that rewards multiple viewings. Firstly, because of the overlapping, quickfire dialogue. It is almost impossible to get every joke the first time round. Secondly, there are the performances : Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould are superb as the two hell-raising surgeons. It is as if the roles of Hawkeye and Trapper John were created especially for them - they are totally convincing in every respect, whether it's in the operating room stitching up wounded soldiers, or plotting how to rig the final football game. Thirdly, there is the rest of the ensemble, who all give magnificent performances. Particularly memorable are Sally Kellerman as Major 'Hot-Lips' Houlihan, and John Schuck as the suicidal dentist Painless Pole. Much of the dialogue was improvised during filming under Robert Altman's direction. As a result, the characters of the 4077 are brought unforgettably to life. This improvisation gives the film its gritty, realistic edge, which makes it all the more believable. The scenes in the OR - bloody, gruesome, painfully realistic - contrast brilliantly with the anarchy of the surgeons' zany antics when they're off duty. These antics primarily involves the ridicule of anyone who has any respect for the Army authority (oh, and trying to score with the nurses!). Vindictive though this behaviour is, you understand it because you see the job that these people do, since you are there with them in the operating room. M.A.S.H. is a study of people trying to stay sane under insane circumstances. The solution ? The people go a little crazy. Unlike the TV series, the film is not a laugh-a-second affair. The humour is dark to the point of not being funny. It attacks everything. It satirises everything. This film bites. It has a stab at almost everything a proud nation holds dear. But there is something about M.A.S.H. - a kind of twisted logic - that makes it all make sense. Perhaps the best illustration of this is that although this film is set during a war, you don't actually see any war. Just the effects of it. Which is enough.
This 1970 satire on the Korean War, in my estimation, faced a number of hurdles in terms of its cinematic ambition. First, it represented one of master director Robert Altman's early forays into film-making following a long career in TV and, whilst there are some hints of the magical touches he would show in his later (superior) films McCabe And Mrs Miller, Nashville, The Player and Short Cuts, for me this film is more of a mixed bag. Second, the film was, of course, succeeded by the long-running (and, for me, significantly superior) TV series, which, admittedly with a much extended scope (around 50 times the film's duration, if my calculations are correct), allowed much deeper character and plot development.
Having said this, there are, of course, many things to commend the film version. Ring Lardner Jnr.'s Oscar-winning screenplay is in large part hilarious, particularly during the superior first half of the film. Altman also assembled an all-star cast (or, at least, soon to be stars) and there are many standout performances. As the trio of rebellious, philandering doctors variously arriving at the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, each of Donald Sutherland ('Hawkeye' Pierce), Elliot Gould ('Trapper John' McIntyre) and Tom Skeritt ('Duke' Forrest) are suitably sardonic in the presence of authority figures. Similarly, there are superb character parts delivered by Roger Bowen as the camp's commanding officer, Colonel Henry Blake, René Auberjonois as the resident chaplain Father Mulcahy and (soon to play the same memorable character in the follow-up TV series) Gary Burghoff as Corporal 'Radar' O'Reilly. For me, however, the film's acting honours go to the marvellous pair of Sally Kellerman (who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar) as the uptight, stickler-for-rules, and sexually repressed Major Margaret 'Hot Lips' Houlihan and Robert Duvall, who demonstrates his outstanding acting versatility in this comedic role, as the equally uptight, religious fanatic Major Frank Burns. Unlike the majority of the film's cast who, for me, do not live up their TV series equivalents, Kellerman and Duvall are the exceptions, delivering two of their finest ever big screen performances.
The first half of Altman's film is a delightful series of comic vignettes which serve to develop the anarchic roles of the Hawkeye, Trapper and Duke characters and, in particular, their increasingly fractious relationship with the superficially upstanding pair of Hot Lips and Frank. This section of the film includes the hilarious scenes where Hot Lips and Frank's tempestuous coupling finds itself being broadcast to all and sundry on the camp's PA system and that where Hot Lips' true hair colour is 'investigated' by Hawkeye & Co. during the infamous shower scene. There are many great lines of dialogue here too, such as that where Hawkeye has again disgraced himself, causing Hot Lips to question, 'I wonder how a degenerated person like that can have reached a position of responsibility in the army medical corps?', to which an onlooker replies, 'He was drafted'. Also, during the early sections of the film Altman repeatedly emphasises the sheer horror of war, and the nature of the characters' day jobs, by showing (moderately) gory scenes of the surgery that Hawkeye and colleagues routinely undertake.
These more serious reflections on the nature of war are, for me however, underdeveloped throughout the film - and, indeed, particularly when this element is compared with the TV series. Similarly, the latter half of the film, which features the episode where Hawkeye and Trapper travel to Tokyo and the final set-piece of the inter-camp football match are less funny (relying in part on more slapstick humour).
For me, therefore, this is not up with Altman's very best films, but is still worth seeing for its plus points.
on 24 February 2013
This is a really good movie, very human and very real, it is such a shame that Vietnam happened and it never should have been allowed, but politics aside as a movie it is great, some bits a little too raunchy for the kids but for todays standards pretty tame.
on 23 July 2009
I really enjoy watching re-runs of MASH and have even got the final episode (featuring Alan Alda) stored on hard disk. As I had not seen the original 1970 film (unbelievably) I decided to order from Amazon. My package arrived speedily and I settled down to watch. What a difference to the TV series, although I enjoyed the film and realised the level of noise was meant to portray the chaos of war, but did detract from the enjoyment of the film somewhat and at times made it difficult to follow. The sexism, racism and OTT machismo in the film dated it somewhat, but hey, it was the 70's playing the 50's. All in all a good film, making a comedy in a hospital setting based in the middle of a war zone must have been a brave step, but as anti-Vietnam feeling was running high then perhaps it was the right time. I still prefer the film length version of the last TV episode
on 16 February 2014
Robert Altman's 1969 anarchic comedy still holds up very well. Set during the Korean War and made during the Vietnam War, it's main comic focus is on the irrelevance of authority -- that, more than anything, caused it to resonate when it first came out, at a time when the public was beginning to realize that the political authorities prosecuting the Vietnam War were systematically deceiving the people with false body counts overseas and efforts to stifle dissent at home. The movie depends on the good-heartedness and professional competence of the military doctors and nurses to let us see that authority has really nothing to do with whether or not the M*A*S*H unit is doing its job of saving lives and that in that basic human concern rank and hierarchy mean nothing. Hawkeye's insistence on being addressed by his nickname even by "subordinates" is just one example of that. Col. Blake's refusal to see that a M*A*S*H unit isn't simply "the army" drives him into hypocrisy and craziness -- he refuses to see that he is basically under the same pressures as his men, and when he is humiliated by being very publicly caught in a liaison with "Hot Lips" Houlihan he can't laugh it off and is carted away in straitjacket. Houlihan, who starts as a stickler for order and discipline, is publicly humiliated twice -- and finally joins in the anarchic spirit, which means that she can go on doing what she's really good at: being a nurse. So ironically, the anarchy is enabling and life-enhancing, not destructive. Burns's replacement. Col. Blake, is presented as wise enough to turn a blind eye to all but the essentials, which here is simply keeping the field hospital going.
The anarchic spirits are played by Donald Sutherland (Hawkeye), Elliott Gould (Trapper John), and Tom Skerritt (Duke), all in their golden youths. Sally Kellerman is "Hot Lips" and Robert Duvall has in effect a cameo as the unfortunate Col. Burns -- he would have his own destructive anarchic time a little later in "Apocalypse Now" ("I love the smell of napalm in the morning . . ."). All are marvelous. Altman is also not afraid to play for some sheer old-fashioned Three-Stooges-like physical schtick (the MPs when Hawkeye steals the jeep, and the football game with the 325th), but grounding it all are the wounded bodies that the men work on -- not grossly presented but bloody enough to keep it real.
None of that thematic stuff is articulated in the movie itself -- it's all rendered through action. Were it to be made explicit, by having a character explain it all, the movie would become preachy and sanctimonious. The TV series spun off from this movie was good but didn't always avoid sentimentality and sanctimony. It's often said by pundits, especially on the right, that Americans have never recovered from the general lack of respect for authority that began to be questioned during the 1960s. Arguably we haven't -- and arguably most of those who still set themselves up as moral authorities especially end up showing their hypocrisy or venality or pettiness. So it's still useful to have movies like this around . . .