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Film Review: M*A*S*H

Updated on September 16, 2016


In 1970, Robert Altman directed MASH, based on the 1968 novel, Mash: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, by Richard Hooker. Starring Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Tom Skerritt, Sally Kellerman, Roger Bowen, Rene Auberjonois, Gary Burghoff, Bobby Troup, Marvin Miller, and David Arkin, the film grossed $81.6 million at the box office. Nominated for multiple awards, including the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Director, and Best Film Editing, the Golden Globe Awards for Best Director, Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy, Best Supporting Actress -Motion Picture, and Best Screenplay - Motion Picture, and the Grammy Award for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special, the film won many other awards, such as the Academy award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy, the Laurel Award for Best Comedy Performance, Male, and Best Comedy Performance, Female, and the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Film.


During the Korean War, the 4077th MASH Unit is tasked with fixing up wounded. But when two drafted surgeons arrive, they defy all conventions. Joining with Trapper John McIntyre, Hawkeye Pierce and Duke Forrest fix up the mood of the hospital with their brand of black humor, displaying a year in the life of the hospital.


With a plot full of random events to show what life is like in a year for the army hospital, MASH has quite the cast of characters taking part in all the various hijinks. For one, there’s Hawkeye, who generally comes up with the weird plans to make life memorable while in Korea. But while many find his ideas to be a welcome relief from the dreariness of the war, some don’t, seen in how Major Houlihan calls him a degenerate and wonders how he reached a position of authority. It’s immediately established not only how, but why he acts like he does: he was drafted and never wanted to have that authority, so he acts out. That bolsters the fact that he really doesn’t care about his rank, which is seen pinned to a busted zipper. That leads to an assumption that he’s just a driver and doesn’t really care to correct Duke until they’re at their destination. Along with Hawkeye is Trapper John, who is found to be prepared for any occasion, even a lack of olives, seen when offered a martini, but can’t drink it without them, so he pulls out a jar from his coat pocket. The two of them aren’t above illegitimate methods to get them out of trouble either, with a notable example seen after they perform an unauthorized surgery. To get out of the predicament, they decide to anesthetize a colonel and take compromising photos of him with a prostitute.

However, just one example of the notable subplots that make up the whole plot of the movie. Early on, there’s a story that portrays the hopelessness and depression of many during war, especially Korea or Vietnam by making the camp dentist suicidal. It’s very entertaining to see how Hawkeye helps him, by giving him a funeral prior to having him take fake cyanide and then spend a night with a nurse who’s about to go home. It’s interesting in that it helps him realize that killing himself isn’t worth it and there’s plenty that makes him want to continue living. There’s also the scene that a really breaks Houlihan of her haughtiness, where Hawkeye, Trapper and Duke pull down the shower tent while she’s in it. One of the most iconic scenes in the film, it’s meant to bring her down to their level and make her quit acting better than them. And following her rant to Col. Blake about the hospital being an insane asylum, she actually does loosen up and sees the setting as the bleak place it actually is and that it needs a little bit of humor every now and then. And the characterization seems to stick, where she’s loosened up a lot by the end of the film and becomes a cheerleader for the football game.

4 stars for M*A*S*H

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