Sunday, May 30, 2021


I mentioned the other day that as part of FXM's meager programming for Memorial Day, they'd be airing M*A*S*H at 10:10 AM tomorrow. It's getting another airing on Tuesday, and more over the next few weeks. With that in mind, I watched it to do a review on here.

It's the summer of 1951, so for those of you who know your history, that means it's the middle of the Korean War. Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland) is a doctor who was drafted into the army to serve as a surgeon in the Korean War. He's just arrived in Korea to take a jeep to the field hospital near the front along with another draftee, Duke Forrest (Tom Skerritt). Understandably, neither of them wanted to be drafted.

So when the two men get to their new assignment, they don't care too much about Army rules and regulations, trying to organize things to their own benefit as much as possible as a way of dealing with the insanity of war. Also at this particular unit, numbered the 4077th, there's "Trapper" John McIntyre (Elliott Gould), who if anything is even more opposed to the Army way of doing things than Hawkeye or Duke. Unsurprisingly, there are people who enlisted to be in the army, and they would much prefer things to be run by the book, such as Maj. Frank Burns (Robert Duvall), and the chief nurse, Margaret Houlihan (Sally Kellerman), who gets the nickname "Hot Lips".

So there's a running theme throughout the film of conflict between Hawkeye and friends on the one hand, and Burns and Houlihan, with other people like unit commander Col. Blake (Roger Bowen) in charge, at least nominally. M*A*S*H, however, is more of an episodic movie, so that structure of conflict is really more of a frame for the various adventures that Hawkeye, Duke, and Trapper John get into.

The movie was based on a book and, having been successful, was then turned into a weekly TV series that ran for over a decade. Most people would probably know the TV show better than the movie, which presents a problem in that people will probably compare the TV show and the movie. The only actor from the movie who reprised his role on the TV show is Gary Burghoff as Radar O'Reilly. There are also characters in the movie not on the TV show (Duke Forrest), while Cpl. Klinger from the TV show is not in the movie.

Some of the episodes in the movie work better than others, mostly those set at the hospital, with there being a fair bit of dark humor which is understandable when you have to deal with death on a daily basis. Scenes set away from the hospital, such as Hawkeye and Trapper John's trip to Japan to perform emergency surgery on a Congressman's son, don't work so well; likewise, the climactic football game goes on way too long.

For me, it also didn't help that Hawkeye and Trapper John grew into increasing jerks as the movie wore on. Now, I tend to have a fair amount of disrespect for authority, but tend to do so quietly by doing my own thing rather than being obnoxious like Hawkeye. So I found the ostensible heroes to be characters difficult to like, which makes it difficult to like the movie as a whole.

M*A*S*H is a movie that didn't work for me, although watching it I can see why anybody who had to deal with the Vietnam War -- after all, the movie was released in 1970 and has always been seen as an allegory for Vietnam -- would have liked it at the time. By the same token, I can see why a lot of people today would still like it. So watch and judge for yourself.

No comments: