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MASH is a American Academy Award-winning satirical dark comedy film directed by Robert Altman and written by Ring Lardner, Jr., based on the novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors by Richard Hooker. It is the only feature film in the M*A*S*H franchise.

The film depicts a unit of medical personnel stationed at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War; however, the subtext is really about the Vietnam War. It stars Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould, with Robert Duvall, Sally Kellerman, Tom Skerritt, Roger Bowen, Gary Burghoff, Rene Auberjonois, David Arkin, and Fred Williamson. The film went on to inspire the television series M*A*S*H.

The film's title is often rendered as M*A*S*H, but, although asterisks were included in the original poster art and in the subsequent TV series, the title that appears onscreen in the film omits them.

Overview

MASH juxtaposes gory operating-room procedures with anti-establishment humor. Occasionally, these two elements coexist within the same shot. For example, while Hawkeye is amputating a patient's leg, he asks a nurse to scratch his nose, when all the while the sound of the saw cutting the bone is audible.

The film, the plot of which is episodic, is marked by Altman's trademark editing style, in which many scenes contain several simultaneous or overlapping conversations, as well as his frequent use of zoom.

Plot

Some really sharp surgeons

The 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital is in need of replacements, and is assigned two: Captain "Hawkeye" Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and Captain "Duke" Forrest (Tom Skerritt). On their arrival, it becomes clear that they are rebellious, womanizing, mischievous rule-breakers (they arrive having "borrowed" a Jeep, and immediately begin flirting with the nursing staff), but they soon prove beyond argument that they are also good at their jobs. They immediately clash with their new tent mate Major Frank Burns (Robert Duvall), who is both a religious man and an inferior surgeon. Hawkeye and Duke put pressure on Lt. Colonel Henry Blake (Roger Bowen), the unit's CO, to have Burns removed from "their" tent. At the same time, they ask him to apply to have a specialist thoracic surgeon assigned to the 4077th.

The new chest-cutter

The mysterious new thoracic surgeon arrives, and gives away little about who he is or where he's from. Hawkeye, though, is convinced he has seen the new man somewhere before. It is only after an impromptu football game that Hawkeye recalls a college football game he played in which he scored the only touchdown by intercepting a pass from the opposing team's (Dartmouth) quarterback, the new thoracic surgeon, Captain "Trapper" John McIntyre (Elliott Gould).

The new chief nurse

Major Margaret Houlihan (Sally Kellerman), the newly assigned chief nurse of the camp, arrives to be greeted by Henry Blake (who mistakenly refers to her as "O'Houlihan" several times). At the same time, in the post-op ward, Trapper observes Frank Burns blaming Private Boone, an orderly, for a patient's death when he doesn't get to Burns in time with a cardiac needle. During Houlihan's tour of the camp, Trapper confronts Burns and punches him. Since Houlihan witnesses this outburst, Henry must wait before he can appoint Trapper as the new chief surgeon.

"Kiss my hot lips!"

While Henry is away visiting General Hammond at the 325th Evac Hospital, the camp, led by Trapper, lets loose. Burns and Houlihan are appalled, and together they write a report on the unmilitary goings-on. In the process, they give in to their own passions and engage in a sexual encounter. But their tryst winds up being broadcast over the PA system and leads to Houlihan gaining her nickname, "Hot Lips". They are forced to end this when they realize the whole camp is listening to them. The following day, Hawkeye quietly taunts Burns about the encounter, so much so that Burns leaps across the mess table to attack him. This leads to Burns' being sedated, restrained, and shipped back stateside.

"Suicide is painless"

"Dago Red" (René Auberjonois), the camp's chaplain, tells Hawkeye that "Painless Pole" Waldowski (John Schuck), the unit's dentist, has consulted him about a problem. Though Mulcahy feels unable to divulge any details (Waldowski had come to him in confession), he makes clear the severity of the problem. Waldowski, the "best equipped dentist in the army", tells Hawkeye that he has suffered a "lack of performance" with a visiting nurse and now believes that he has latent homosexual tendencies. Soon after, he reveals his desire to commit suicide and seeks advice on which method to use. Hawkeye, Trapper, and Duke suggest that he use the "black capsule" (a fictitious, fast-acting poison). At an impromptu Last Supper, Painless takes the capsule (actually a sleeping pill) and falls asleep in a coffin to the strains of "Suicide is Painless". Hawkeye then persuades Lt. Maria "Dish" Schneider (Jo Ann Pflug), one of the nurses who is returning to the U.S. the following day, to spend the night with Painless, thus curing him of his problems.

A natural blonde

During a discussion, Duke announces that he is partial to blondes, to which Hawkeye responds by claiming his friend has a thing for "Hot Lips". Duke counters by suggesting she isn't even a natural blonde and bets $20 with Hawkeye to find out. Together, the boys come up with a scheme: when the nurses are all going to use the showers, each of them is waylaid except Hot Lips. Then, on cue, the flap covering the shower tent is lifted to expose Hot Lips, naked, to the camp, plunging her into complete and total humiliation.

In hysterics, "Hot Lips" storms off to Colonel Blake's tent and screams at him that the camp is an insane asylum and that it's his fault for letting the doctors get away with practically anything. She threatens to resign her commission if Blake doesn't turn them over to the MPs. However, Blake says that she can resign her own commission.

"The pros from Dover"

Ho-Jon (Kim Atwood), a local teenager who works in the camp, is drafted into the South Korean army. Hawkeye drives him to the induction center in Seoul for his physical, where he is found to have high blood pressure and a rapid heartbeat. The examining doctor refuses to disqualify Ho-Jon, insinuating that Hawkeye may have given Ho-Jon some medicine to induce these symptoms and keep him from being conscripted. Hawkeye reluctantly has to let him go.

Back in camp, Trapper is ordered to proceed to Kokuramarker, Japanmarker, to operate on the GI son of a U.S. Congressman who has been injured in training. Seeing an opportunity to golf on the quality courses, he takes Hawkeye to assist. The two barge into the hospital and order the young man into surgery within the hour. With Hawkeye's old friend "Me Lay" Marston (Michael Murphy) as the anaesthetist, they quickly finish the surgery; but on the way out of the hospital, they are cornered by the MPs and are escorted to the hospital's commander, Col. Wallace Merrill. Reminding the Colonel that "the Pros from Dover" have bailed him out of a potential situation with the Congressman's son, any threats that Merrill could make are effectively nullified.

While recuperating at the hospital/whorehouse where Me Lay moonlights as a doctor, Hawkeye and Trapper come across a Japanese-American baby with a serious medical problem. Taking advantage of their status as "the Pros from Dover", they go to the military hospital to operate, but are stopped by Merrill. However, the three anesthetize him and then blackmail him by taking nude pictures of him in bed with one of the prostitutes.

On their return from Japan, Hawkeye, and Trapper immediately go into surgery for several hours. Done with the surgery and eager to get some sleep, they head back to their tent only to find that Duke has locked it up. They then observe him sneaking Hot Lips out, making it clear that Duke was not as averse to the chief nurse as he claimed.

The football game

On a visit to the 4077th, General Hammond shares a drink with Hawkeye, Trapper, and Duke and suggests that their two units play a "friendly" football game, with some money thrown into a pot to make bets ($5,000 or $6,000). Seeing an opportunity to make some money, Hawkeye comes up with a plan. First, they get Henry to apply for a specific neurosurgeon: Dr. Oliver Harmon "Spearchucker" Jones, a former professional football player for the San Francisco 49ers. Then, Hawkeye's plan calls for them to bet half their money up front and keep the ringer (Jones) out of the first half of the game. Once the other team has racked up some easy points and become confident enough to offer good odds to bet the rest of the money, the 4077th brings in Jones for the second half. The game goes down to the last play, described as "semilegal", which calls for the ball to be returned from the quarterback (Trapper) to the center (Wade Douglas Vollmer), who then hides the ball under his jersey. While everyone chases the phantom ball, Vollmer runs unobserved to score a touchdown, winning the game and the bets for the 4077th.

Finale

Not long after the football game, Hawkeye and Duke receive their discharge orders and begin their journey home - in the same Jeep they arrived in.

Cast



Because of the number of unknown actors that Altman had cast, the opening credits, after the established stars, are entirely "Introducing…."

Gary Burghoff was the only member of the movie cast to become a regular on the television series. However, other actors did appear in both. G. Wood, who played Gen. Hammond, appeared also in three episodes of the series. Timothy Brown had different roles in the film (as Cpl. Judson) and, for a brief time, the series (as "Spearchucker" Jones). Corey Fischer played Capt. Bandini in the film and the guitar-playing dentist Cardozo in the TV episode "5 O'Clock Charlie".

Fred Williamson, who portrays "Spearchucker" Jones — a neurosurgeon who played professional football before being drafted into the Army - actually played professional football (for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders, and Kansas City Chiefs. In the film's football sequence, he appears wearing anachronistically white football shoes (football players did not wear white shoes until Joe Namath sported them in the late 1960s). Tom Woodeshick appears in one shot at the end of the football game taking a hit off of a joint. Likewise, Timothy Brown had a real-life career with the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Baltimore Colts. Ben Davidson, who was the player who spat his drink in Radar's face and was thrown out of the game in the second half, had a long career with the Raiders.

Production

The screenplay is radically different from the original novel; in the DVD audio commentary, Altman refers to the novel as "pretty terrible" and possibly "racist"—the major black character in the movie has the nickname "Spearchucker". He claims that even Lardner's screenplay was used only as a springboard. However, the screenplay itself reveals that, while there is some ad-libbing in the film, and although Altman moved major sequences around, most sequences are in the screenplay. The main deletion is a subplot of Ho-Jon's return to the 4077th—as a casualty. When Radar steals blood from Henry, it is for Ho-Jon's operation under Trapper and Hawkeye's scalpels. When the surgeons are playing poker after the football game, they are resolutely ignoring a dead body being driven away—Ho-Jon's. The main deviation from the script is the trimming of much of the dialogue.

The filming process was difficult, due to tensions between the director and his cast. Sutherland has stated that he was the only member of the principal cast and crew not using drugs during the filming. During principal photography, Sutherland and Gould spent a third of their time trying to get Altman fired; Altman, relatively new to the filmmaking establishment, at that time lacked the credentials to justify his unorthodox filmmaking process and had a history of turning down work rather than creating a poor-quality product. Altman: "I had practice working for people who don't care about quality, and I learned how to sneak it in." Altman later commented that if he had known about Gould and Sutherland, he would have resigned. Gould later sent a letter of apology, and Altman used him in some of his later works, but he never worked with Sutherland again.

There were only a few uses of loudspeaker announcements in the original cut. When Altman realized he needed more structure to his largely episodic film, editor Danford Greene suggested using more loudspeaker announcements to frame different episodes of the story. Greene took a second-unit crew and filmed additional shots of the speakers. On the same night that these scenes were shot, American astronauts landed on the moon.

During production, a caption that mentions the Korean setting was added to the beginning of the film, at the request of 20th Century Fox studios. The Korean War is explicitly referenced in announcements on the camp public address system and during a radio announcement that plays while Hawkeye and Trapper are putting in Col. Merrill's office.

In his director's commentary on the DVD release, Altman says that MASH was the first major studio film to use the word "fuck" in its dialogue. The word is spoken during the football game near the end of the film by "The Painless Pole" when he says to an opposing football player, "All right, Bud, your fucking head is coming right off!" The actor, John Schuck, has said in several interviews that Altman encouraged ad-libbing, and that particular statement made it into the film without a second thought. Interestingly, the offending word was not censored during a late-night broadcast of the film on ABC in 1985; subsequent broadcasts of the film on network television have the word removed altogether. (MASH had its television premiere as a CBS Friday Night Movie on September 13, 1974 @ 9:00 (EDT), 3 days after the start of the third season of the M*A*S*H TV series; it was repeated on CBS March 5, 1976.)

Music

MASH features the song "Suicide Is Painless", with music by Johnny Mandel and lyrics by Mike Altman, the director's 14-year-old son. The version heard under the opening credits was sung by uncredited session vocalists John Bahler, Tom Bahler, Ron Hicklin and Ian Freebairn-Smith (on the single release, the song is attributed to "The Mash"); the song is reprised later in the film by the character of Pvt. Seidman (played by Ken Prymus). Altman has noted in interviews that his son made quite a bit more money off publishing royalties for the song than the $70,000 or so he was paid to direct the film.

An instrumental version of the song by Al DeLory was a hit in 1970. Ten years after the film's release, the song reached number one in the UK charts. The television show used an instrumental version of the song as its theme music. The tune has notably been covered by Manic Street Preachers and Marilyn Manson. "Suicide is Painless" also became a standard of jazz music, with versions by Bill Evans, on You Must Believe in Spring (recorded in 1977 but only released after his death in 1980) and Ahmad Jamal, on Digital Works (1985).

Mandel also composed incidental music used throughout the film. Also heard on the soundtrack are Japanese vocal renditions of such songs as "Tokyo Shoe Shine Boy", "My Blue Heaven","Happy Days are Here Again", "Chattanooga Choo Choo", and "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo"; impromptu performances of "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and "Hail to the Chief" by cast members; and the instrumental "Washington Post March" during the climactic football game.

Awards and honors

The film won the Grand Prix at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Sally Kellerman), and Best Film Editing, and won an Oscar for its screenplay.

The film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture in 1971.

The movie was the 38th film to be released to the home video market when 20th Century Fox licensed fifty motion pictures from their library to Magnetic Video.

In 1996, MASH was deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congressmarker and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

This film is number 17 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies".

American Film Institute recognition

References

  1. Film Curator, (NCMA), the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina "Gould and Sutherland had rebelled on the set, convinced that Altman's unstructured directing would destroy their fledgling careers."
  2. Film Curator, (NCMA), the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina. "Between 1957 and 1964 he worked on at least 20 tv shows... fired from most of them for his experimentation with non-linear narrative and overlapping sound."
  3. Film Curator, (NCMA), the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina, quote attributed to Robert Altman
  4. "Enlisted: The Story of M*A*S*H" (making-of documentary), Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2001
  5. Film Curator, (NCMA), the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina. "There was absolutely no mention of Korea in the movie, and Fox insisted that be fixed. An introductory title and the PA announcements were used..."
  6. Film Curator, (NCMA), the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina. "An introductory title and the PA announcements were used to clarify that this was certainly -not- the current Asian war, Vietnam."
  7. http://www.nashvillescene.com/1996-10-31/stories/setting-a-new-tempo/


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