The staff of a Korean War field hospital use humor and hijinks to keep their sanity in the face of the horror of war.
Year 1, Day 251
BEFORE: No, I’m not watching the hit TV show from the 1970s, I’m watching the 1970 film which the show was based off of, MASH which itself was based off a novel by Richard Hooker, MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors. It once again stars Donald Sutherland and was also scheduled for Oscar month. While not pertinent to this film, an interesting tidbit I found was that the 43rd Academy Awards (for which MASH was nominated in five categories) was the first time an actor refused their award (George C. Scott refusing for Patton). Just thought it was interesting and worth sharing. Now for the film.
AFTER: Every once and a while I like to pull back the curtains and let you into the behind the scenes process of how I write my review and how my thoughts evolve over the course of the day. Today I set out to finish my seven-page paper before I did anything else meaning I wasn’t able to watch MASH until after dinner and then Jeopardy at 7:00. So when my dad asked at dinner what movie I watched today and I told him I’d be watching MASH later of course he started quoting the film with what were supposedly funny scenes. I laughed then. I didn’t laugh when I watched the film - not a lot anyway.
MASH takes place during the Korean War but being released in 1970, the subtext was about the Vietnam War. The film follows army surgeons Hawkeye (Donald Sutherland) and Capt. McIntyre (Elliott Gould) and company as they live their daily lives in camp full of operations and practical jokes. There were a handful of memorable and hilarious scenes, most notably those involving “Hot Lips” (the loudspeaker and shower pranks) and the football game at the end. Contrasted with the horrors of the day-to-day jobs (read: blood, guts, and surgery), these pranks were not only funny by themselves, but they were funny because they seem to be the natural occurrences in these high-stress environments filled with death and injuries.
But taken as a whole, I was bored out of my mind watching MASH. There was no conflict, no central story to follow along with. Scenes just drag on and on and then next thing you know, something else is happening. How did we get here? I don’t know, things seemed to have just moved on. There really aren’t any beginnings or endings in the film; it’s just one long continuous documentation of what these soldier’s lives are like. Now I’ve written many times before (especially recently with films like Terms of Endearment and Ordinary People) where I’ve praised films that get to the heart of reality; what is life really like without all the Hollywood stuff thrown on top to force the story along from point A to point B. MASH does the same thing - it tries to show what life is like for these men and women and how they cope with the horrors of war. But where this differs from the other films, and what in my opinion makes it so bad, is that there’s no purpose. Yes the execution is well done, but you could take any five minute scene from the film and get the just of the other 115 minutes. Parts of MASH are funny and it shows an interesting perspective on the Korean (Vietnam) War, but there’s not enough to keep me interested for the full two hours.
Maybe I just didn’t get the humor. Maybe this film has a stronger impact on people who actually lived through the Vietnam War. Maybe I was just too tired after writing a whole bunch of nonsense analyzing poetry all day. Whatever the reason is, MASH isn’t making it onto my favorite films list. That doesn’t mean it can’t make it on to yours. While I wouldn’t recommend it, I must say there are some pretty funny scenes scattered throughout and depending on your taste, you may end up finding this film more enjoyable than I did. It was nominated for Best Picture so that means at least a few people had to like it.
RATING: 2 out of 5