M*A*S*H Movie Review
M*A*S*H isn't just the most successful translation from film to TV show of all time, it's also a masterful movie in its own rite. Maybe Robert Altman's best work (and his first movie of any serious note), though he's barely associated with the film in the popular consciousness now.
As the original novel's subtitle explains, this is a movie about three doctors in the army. Two in specific take center stage: "Hawkeye" Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and "Trapper John" McIntyre (Elliott Gould), two incredible pranksters who take their responsibilities as surgeons with a grain of salt and a few field martinis.
M*A*S*H doesn't so much as tell a story as it follows these two clowns around Korea. They battle with a clueless authority that knows nothing about medicine, they flirt with nurses (including the infamous "Hot Lips" O'Houlihan (Sally Kellerman)), and they practice a little medicine from time to time, even if that means breaking the law and taking pictures of some (drugged) military muckity muck in a compromising position.
And that's M*A*S*H, a film which would open many doors for Altman, who found you could make a compelling movie despite a cast list of dozens. All of Altman's best works that have followed have been structured similarly, though Altman has since found ways to work more of a plot into them. Of course, he's aided incredibly by the one-two punch of Sutherland and Gould, perfect foils for each other (and, oddly, neither playing the straight man), and dryly hilarious. Doctors in the jungle? You can sense the absurdity of their situation from the first frame, and these actors cut to the heart of these strangers in a strange land: They should be playing golf, right? (And in fact, they set up a driving range to do so.)
The film isn't perfect. Its episodic nature veers into irrelevance at times (a high-test football game being the pinnacle of wartime absurdity), and more than one character makes a complete about-face without explanation (the draconian Hot Lips eagerly turns into cheerleader at the aforementioned game). But these are minor faults, concessions to keep the film moving and acceptable casualties in a battle against the idea that "a war movie" had to be a serious affair.
The DVD includes commentary from Altman and a number of featurettes offering retrospectives on the film.
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