M*A*S*H (1970)

mash poster 1970 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 9/10

Smartly written, great casting

The war/comedy mix might not fit everyone's taste

Movie Info

Movie Name:  M*A*S*H

Studio:  Aspen Production (I)/Ingo Preminger Productions

Genre(s):  Comedy

Release Date(s):  January 25, 1970 (Premiere)/March 18, 1970 (US)

MPAA Rating:  R

mash hot lips houlihan sally kellerman

“This isn’t a hospital, it’s an insane asylum!!!”

Welcome to the #4077.  It’s the Korean War, and the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital #4077 is a hopping place. The doctors and nurses of MASH spend as much time goofing off, playing gags, and playing around as they do saving lives.  When Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland) arrives and takes his place at the Swamp with Duke Forrest (Tom Skerritt), they are joined by Trapper John (Elliot Gould).  Trapper, Duke, and Hawkeye enjoy pushing the boundaries off class and what they can get away with, while people like Major Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) and Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Sally Kellerman) try to ruin their fun under the blissfully ignorant eye of Lt. Col. Henry Blake (Roger Bowen).

Directed by Robert Altman, M*A*S*H (often just written as MASH) is a war satire comedy.  The film is an adaptation of the 1968 novel MASH:  A Novel About Three Army Doctors by Richard Hooker.  The film was well received upon its release and won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium with nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Supporting Actress (Sally Kellerman).  The film was selected for preservation by Library of Congress in the National Film Registry in 1996.

mash last supper recreation painless pole funeral

It’s the Last Supper for Painless

I remember not getting the TV show or the movie when I was young, but now it is quite enjoyable.  The humor isn’t like a laugh-out-loud comedy, but it also isn’t high-brow comedy (it is also pretty sexist and dated).  M*A*S*H is a weird movie that keeps you smiling throughout and occasionally gets a chuckle, but it still is a comedy.

Most of the humor from M*A*S*H (and the TV series) results of the irony of the situation.  The people are surrounded by death, blood, and sadness, but they decide to joke their way through it.  From the low men on the totem pole to the top brass, the military is almost forgotten…but the people do care about their jobs and helping people.  It is a very unique balance that is difficult to find, but the movie does it.

mash major frank burns insane robert duvall

“If I nail Hot Lips and punch Hawkeye can I go home too?”

Altman’s directing also has to be noted.  Much of the film was improvised and there is such a mesh of talking and dialogue that you really have to listen carefully to get the humor (it is also noted that it is the first studio film to use the word “fuck” in the script).  Altman had a lot of trouble with this film with backlash from Sutherland and Gould, plus the studios kept trying to interject themselves.  His outspoken problems with the studio led to him even losing a percentage of the profit from the film (and ironically his fourteen-year-old son who helped craft the iconic theme song “Suicide is Painless” made a ton from the royalties).

Altman also shows his skill in casting in M*A*S*H.  The cast just works great together.  Not only are Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould great leads, but they are backed up by a great supporting cast.  I wish Duvall’s character had stuck around longer as a foil, but it also makes a fun Hot Lips.  Radar O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff) was the only actor who really made the transition to the television show.  The film also “introduced” many actors and had tons of cameos by people like Bud Cort, Fred Williamson, and René Auberjonois.

mash football game roger bowen rene auberjonois fred williamson sally kellerman

They play dirty

What is unfortunate about M*A*S*H today is that it is rather outdated.  The characters are crass and cruel.  The male characters are sexist womanizers who cross social boundaries and assault others (sexually and physically) despite being the good guys.  The bad guys are a man who is religious and a woman trying to follow the rules of the military…but both Burns and Hot Lips aren’t good people either…it is equal opportunity badness.

M*A*S*H is an entertaining film. It isn’t my favorite Altman film (that goes to Nashville), but it is still good.  The style and writing of M*A*S*H raises it above many of its contemporaries.  Altman also shows his skill that he continued to developed over his career.  If you were like me and stayed away from MASH or the TV series because you didn’t get it when you were young it is worth checking out now…something is always happening at the #4077!

Related Links:

M*A*S*H—Season 1 Review and Complete Episode Guide

M*A*S*H—Season 2 Review and Complete Episode Guide

M*A*S*H—Season 3 Review and Complete Episode Guide

M*A*S*H—Season 4 Review and Complete Episode Guide

M*A*S*H—Season 5 Review and Complete Episode Guide

M*A*S*H—Season 6 Review and Complete Episode Guide

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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