a/perture Cinema, Alan Alda, Corey Fischer, Donald Sutherland, DVD.com, Elliott Gould, Fred Williamson, G. Wood, Gary Burghoff, IMDb, Loretta Swit, M*A*S*H, McLean Stevenson, Netflix, René Auberjonois, Robert Altman, Robert Duvall, Roger Bowen, Rotten Tomatoes, Sally Kellerman, The BCPF, The Less Desirables, Timothy Brown, Tom Skerritt, Wayne Rogers, William Christopher
The Official Movie Sponsor of The Less Desirables, a/perture cinema, presents The Less Desirables Movie of the Week: MASH (1970), starring Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt and Gary Burghoff.
Per IMDb: “The staff of a Korean War field hospital use humor and hijinks to keep their sanity in the face of the horror of war.”
“Hawkeye” Pierce (Sutherland) meets up with Duke Forrest (Skerritt) when they both end up at the transfer station as replacements for the 4077th MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital). Duke mistakes Hawkeye for an enlisted man and has him drive him to the camp. Hawkeye doesn’t tell him any different (they’re both Captains) and they steal a Jeep to get to there. They arrive drunk, defiant, lewd and with no regard for the rules. They are however, awesome at what they do. Next arrives the equally rowdy “Trapper” John McIntyre (Gould). The three cause headaches for the new head nurse, Major Margaret “Hot Lips” O’Houlihan (Sally Kellerman) and the inadequate surgeon, Major Frank Burns (Robert Duvall), the two of which start a very clandestine, yet not-so-secret sexual relationship. They’re both sticks in the mud and are always looking for ways to get the trio of goons in trouble. They go to Japan to operate on an American Congressman’s son. The get into trouble there. They play football. Blah. Blah. Blah.
I can go into details about what happened but that would be giving the whole thing away and we can’t have that. What I will do, however, is talk about the film itself minus the actual plot. This is the less-funny-yet-still-funny predecessor of the television series, which is in my top three if not my top one television show of all time. The cast itself, while great actors, to me never capture what the series did. I could be biased, I guess, but I’m just telling it how I see it.
I think that Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt and Robert Duvall are all great actors; truly wonderful at their trade. I think, however, that Alan Alda was a better Hawkeye, Wayne Rogers was a better Trapper, although I really did like Gould as him. Robert Duvall seemed, to me, restrained when it came to his portrayal of Frank Burns. He’s no Larry Linville, who as I said in my Talking Tuesday series recap a month or so ago (you can listen here), played the character beautifully; a character that I couldn’t stand, which was the point.
In the television show, they changed Hot Lips’ last name from O’Houlihan to just Houlihan and I think that made more sense, and while Sally Kellerman was prettier than Loretta Swit, she didn’t play the character nearly as good (I did like her as a cheerleader, though). They left Duke out of the series completely, and I’m glad because I didn’t like the character in the film. To me, perhaps, the biggest disappointment was Roger Bowen as Lt. Major Henry Blake. I thought Bowen played the character horribly. He was too stiff and awkward. McLean Stevenson, as Henry, was jokey and mostly hokey but he was lovable. Bowen’s treatment was loathsome. The one saving grace as far as casting was they had Radar right. That’s because it was Gary Burghoff in the series and the film. He had his preemptive orders in place, already.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the film had its pluses. Again, the actors were great (except Bowen) and the story was plausible (it is historical fiction, after all). I liked the golfing attempt while they were in Japan; those antics were funny. And, I liked the football game. Hot Lips did look good as a cheerleader, as I said. I don’t know if it’s something that [director] Robert Altman does a lot of or not, but it seemed that either the sound editing for the film was off or he didn’t care if the actors were barely audible in some areas. I think it could be for effect, but for someone who already has hearing issues (me), it’s not good. And The BCPF noticed it, as well, and she has great hearing.
Altman claims that this film was the first to use the “F” word in its dialogue. I can’t confirm that it’s true but it’s plausible. It’s uttered during the football game. The film and the first season of the television series, each, had a black character named “Spearchucker” Jones (in the film, Fred Williamson; in the series Timothy Brown who was also in the film as another character). Now, in the film he states that he used to throw javelin. Um, yeah? When I saw the first season, I was like: “What the heck is that all about!?” That character was gone after the first season. The reason wasn’t because it could have been considered offensive, but because the series producers realized there were no black surgeons in Korea at that time.
There were four actors who were in both the film and series: Gary Burghoff (Radar), Timothy Brown (Cpl. Judson, film; Spearchucker Jones, series), G. Wood (General Hammond), Corey Fischer (Capt. Bandini). René Auberjonois’s Father Mulcahy was decent in the film but I much prefer William Christopher from the series (after George Morgan for the pilot). Overall, the series wiped the floor with the film. I’d see the film before, several years back and remember liking it, but then I watched the series and nothing else mattered about it.
This film was on both the 1998 (#56) and 2007 (#54) versions of the AFI 100 Years… 100 Movies list so I had to watch it when I did the list around 2008-09. Rotten Tomatoes has it rated as 87% Fresh with an Audience Score of 84%; pretty close. IMDb has it at 7.6 stars out of 10. This isn’t currently on any streaming (unless you rent it) but it is available via Netflix‘s DVD.com service. I own a copy and watched that. Upon first watch, years back, it was a great film, but my view was skewed after watching the series. I found I just didn’t get into it as much as the series. I will rate the film 3.25 stars out of 5. Have you seen it? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“It’s a good thing you have a nice body, nurse, otherwise they’d get rid of you quick.” – Hawkeye Pierce