M*A*S*H (1970)

M*A*S*H (1970)

“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.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Black Comedy
  • Bud Cort Films
  • Doctors and Nurses
  • Donald Sutherland Films
  • Elliott Gould Films
  • Ensemble Cast
  • Korean War
  • Michael Murphy Films
  • Robert Altman Films
  • Robert Duvall Films
  • Sally Kellerman Films

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)

Must See?
Yes, as a groundbreaking Altman film, and as a cult classic.


  • Cult Movie
  • Historically Relevant
  • Important Director

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “M*A*S*H (1970)

  1. Of course a must.

    I agree that this film has held up rather well, appearing fresh on this revisit. I can’t say I go back to it from time to time, but I can see how one could. And I probably did see it a few times when it was released, as well as another few when it became available on VHS. There’s a lot going on in it – often simultaneously, with overlap – guaranteeing more to catch on a return. A ragtag film that nevertheless doesn’t appear disorganized; there’s a real method to this bawdy, irreverent madness.

    Fave: the whole ‘suicide’ by ‘black capsule’ sequence (including ‘The Last Supper’).

    This time around, I watched the DVD with English subtitles while listening to the commentary by Robert Altman. What’s refreshing about Altman talking about the film is that he inserts background info at intervals (as opposed to throughout) and I didn’t notice much if any info that was extraneous. He seems to only bring up facts that a viewer of this film would particularly want to know, making it an enjoyable commentary indeed. I especially like the statement that ‘MASH’ was not so much a film that was released as much as one that “escaped” (with its life). It would appear that most studio execs at Fox hated the film (Altman relates the bizarre yet thwarted mandate that all operating room sequences be cut! ~esp. bizarre considering ‘surgical’ is part of the film’s title)…yet this little (costing 3.5 million) engine that could saved Fox from bankruptcy. DVD commentaries aren’t always done well but Altman’s is a pip and recommended for ffs.

    A note on the poster: Although word-of-mouth on the film was so strong and positive that it didn’t really need something as eye-catching and iconic as its ad, I still wonder how much of a part that clever idea played in the film’s success. To me, it indelibly, and in a single image, says: sex/tension/war/peace…and fuck you.

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