1970

M.A.S.H

Now my fellow readers, we have moved into a new decade of film- a very memorable decade because many influential movies were introduced to the public. Many of these movies had something to say. This is my first review from the 1970’s-the review of M.A.S.H which is about staying sane in the heat of war. The film came out when things were going downhill in Vietnam. People hated the involvement in the Vietnam War, but this movie was so successful despite the setting in 1951 during the Korean War. How could it be so successful? Well it was a funny and subversive movie and it was unlike any war picture people have seen. The adventures of Hawkeye Pierce and Duke Forrest stayed in the minds of many Americans and later on, it inspired a very popular television series off the title name. As for me, I found some moments to be uproariously hilarious, but I found other moments to be somewhat dull.

The movie had somewhat of a problematic production largely due to the tension between the director and his cast. Robert Altman, who would turn out to be one of America’s most influential directors, was new to the world of film. He filmed in the movie in an unconventional way, and it bothered the cast so much that rumors say that actors Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould were trying to get the director fired. The director has been known to turn down projects because of lack of quality, so he wanted to make the films the way he wanted to make them. This film was different and it raised the eyebrows of the studio, 20th Century Fox. The film lacked a central narrative and it tells the story in somewhat of an episodic way, which was rarely seen those days. The studio believed they had a disaster on their hands, but luckily they were wrong.

Altman’s film takes place in November of 1951. The 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital is ready to be surprised when Captain Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and Captain Duke Forrest arrive (Tom Skerritt.) Their duo of merry surgeons are joined by Trapper John McIntyre (Elliot Gould). They were all great surgeons, but terrible soldiers (in a good, funny way.) They deal with the effects of war by pretending they don’t care. They use comedy in their lives to set their minds on other things that affects the camp in one way or the other. They pull of stunts such as getting rid of the really stupid Major Burns (Robert Duvall) after his “public” affair with “Hot Lips” O’Houlihan (Sally Kellerman). They help the camp dentist commit suicide (which actually is the best scene of the movie in my book.)

It took me awhile to warm up to them, but I liked the performances of the film. The characters are rather interesting. When not in the surgeon room operating, they run around the camp making fun of other people. But they show a contrast when in the operating room. They are covered in blood, and they look so realistic performing such operations like sawing off a leg or closing up arteries and using such words related to their medical profession. Seeing the contrast between the two sides was very interesting. It shows they are serious when it comes to their job of saving lives, but in general are just goofballs. Donald Sutherland does a great job as the leader of the gang and Elliot Gould and Tom Skerritt likewise turn in good, fun performances. I also found Robert Duvall’s brief performance as the idiotic Major Burns was a hoot to watch.

The music in the film is also memorable. I liked the song that played at the beginning of the movie, “Suicide Is Painless,” which was written by a 15-year-old apparently. But that song would become the main theme song for the television series. It continued the trend of using pop ballads in feature films introduced several years previously, but it’s a song that I found very enjoyable.

So just remember, the film uses dark comedy in the face of war. This movie may not be for everybody. I really didn’t care much to see it at first because the tone turned me off, but it’s not a bad little film. The scene where they are helping the dentist commit suicide is a classic scene. The scene reminded me of the classic Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting “The Last Supper.” If you saw the film, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. In the beginning, where they are giving hell to Major Burns was also very entertaining. I couldn’t stop laughing when they got Major Burns and Hot Lips making love over the camp’s loudspeakers. Just a brilliant scene. Also the use of those very loudspeakers were a main part of the story, and a plot novice according to Altman. These random (but often funny) loudspeaker announcements helped connect the “episodes” in the film.

I had some issues with the film. I liked the loudspeaker announcements, but I felt it gave the film a choppy look and that it wasn’t edited that well. Also, the final act of the film is focused on a football game against a general. The football game itself was well-done, but I felt it ruined the tone of the film. It didn’t fit with the first two-thirds of the movie. The game was meant to be funny, but the funny references are what only true football fans will get. I like the sport, but I wouldn’t call myself a fan so some of these references went over my head.

That being said, I rather enjoyed M.A.S.H. It is a different kind of war movie and I applaud the efforts of Robert Altman to bring his vision to screen. He didn’t even use the screenplay written by Ring Lardner Jr. which actually went on to win an Oscar for best adapted screenplay.  It was nominated for four Oscars including Picture and Director. The performances are genuinely funny because of the characters and the situations they get themselves into. The movie took a bold move in portraying the story and it worked out. It shows there can be lightness during dark times. But the dark comedy, while very hilarious at times can be a little offensive. It is a good movie, and I can respect the kind of film it wanted to be.

My Grade: B

 

How did you like it?

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