Anthony's Film Review

MASH (1970)

A comedy that takes our minds off the horrors of war...

War is such a nasty business. No human can face the harsh realities of war and not be affected by it. This, I imagine, is especially true for military surgeons operating in MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) units who have to attend to soldiers with massive bleeding and gaping wounds. War is so horrific that some, unfortunately, might consider themselves to be better off dead than to be alive witnessing it. This is why the 1970 war comedy film MASH, directed by Robert Altman, opens with the song "Suicide Is Painless" by Johnny Mandel.

There is essentially no plot in MASH. The film is a series of moments at the 4,077th MASH unit during the Korean War, from the operating room to the mess hall and officers' private quarters. A couple of moments involve very subtle and light humor. A few others involve bigger laughs and situations that make you forget that the setting is an overseas war. Certainly one can enjoy this movie as an antidote to the harsh realities of war, or even dramatic war films.

As for the cast of characters, the main two are military surgeons named Hawkeye Pierce and Duke Forrest, played respectively by Donald Sutherland and Tom Skerritt. Both of these guys are loose individuals who obviously serve as the source of this film's humor. There's also a surgeon named "Trapper" John McIntyre, played by Elliott Gould. Other characters include Robert Duvall as Major Frank Burns and Sally Kellerman as Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan, the latter of whom serves as the film's source of sexual humor.

For me, I only laughed a few times throughout this movie. I tend to like comedy that generates big laughs, not little smiles. Still, there were a few scenes in MASH that I thought were funny, or at least more notable than the rest of the movie. The funniest scene is where Burns and Houlihan engage in sexual activity, even after preparing a report on certain things going on in the army. It's funny because one of the other characters hides a microphone in the room so that other people can listen in, before it's broadcast over the public announcement system to everyone, even those in the operating room. (This is where Houlihan gets the nickname "Hot Lips.") In another infamous scene, Major Houlihan is exposed naked when the flap of a shower tent is lifted. Other notable moments include a character revealing that he might be gay and a hospital that doubles as a brothel (with the brothel providing financial support for the hospital).

It's interesting how this movie centers on the Korean War, not the Vietnam War that was actually going on at the time of this film's release. But that doesn't really matter, because war is war, and I'm sure people can tell that this movie is really about the Vietnam War without really saying so. While I think MASH is just an OK movie, because I only laughed a few times, I'm still giving it credit for presenting a series of situations that maintained enough of my interest. Plus, it manages to do what it wanted: take us into a war setting without making us think about it directly. Any movie that takes our mind off war is a good thing.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about MASH, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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