“Follow the zany antics of our combat surgeons as they cut and stitch their way along the front lines…”
During the Korean War, two irreverent surgeons (Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould) and their colleagues in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital try to distract themselves from the horrors of the battlefield.
Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “rare anti-war film to make money during a time the U.S. was at war” is “best known for radically diverging from conventional narrative techniques” by doing away with a linear storyline and focusing instead on “establishing [a] uniquely absurd ambience”. Most Americans will simply know it as the precursor to the wildly popular television series (which ran for 11 seasons), but it holds special interest for film fanatics as the movie that first established Robert Altman as an auteur with a unique vision for feature-length filmmaking. As a comedy, it’s held up remarkably well over the years, with most vignettes remaining bitingly funny (though I’ll admit I’m not a fan of the final, hectic football game). The ensemble cast members — particularly Sutherland, Gould, and Sally Kellerman (as “Hot Lips” Houlihan) — are all “first-rate”, and “deservedly became stars as a result of their performances”. As Peary notes, Altman’s greatest challenge in M*A*S*H was “to get us to believe that such irreverent characters… really are sensitive about the men being killed in the war”, but he achieves this by showing us that “their zany, childish antics are just an emotional release — while performing surgery, they come through.”
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland as Captains Hawkeye and Trapper John
- Sally Kellerman as “Hot Lips” Houlihan
- A fine ensemble cast
- Many darkly humorous sequences
- Johnny Mandel’s instantly hummable theme song (which carried over to the T.V. series, but without 14-year-old Mike Altman’s dark lyrics)
Yes, as a groundbreaking Altman film, and as a cult classic.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)