During the Korean War, anarchic surgeons Hawkeye (Donald Sutherland) and Trapper John (Elliott Gould) raise havoc at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M*A*S*H) in Robert Altman’s Oscar-winning satire.
Though highly skilled and deeply dedicated, they adopt a hilarious, lunatic lifestyle as an antidote to the tragedies of their M*A*S*H, and in the process infuriate Army bureaucrats.
This sanguine black comedy was based on the 1968 book, MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors by Richard Hooker – the pen name of Dr Richard Hornberger who spent a number of years at the 8055 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea.
The film was a genuine shocker when it was released – not only for its bloody depiction of life in the emergency operating ward but also for its cheerful irreverence and unequivocal anti-war stance.
When it appeared in 1970, audiences – caught up in rebellion generated by the civil rights movement, feminism, the drug culture and the demonstration against the Vietnam War – revelled in the film’s joyful deflation of patriotism, religion, heroism and other values cherished by the establishment.
It wasn’t lost on them that Korea was standing in for Vietnam . . .
Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland were memorably teamed and Altman’s freewheeling direction gave the feeling that the film was perilously balanced on a high wire above deep and dangerous waters.
Robert Duvall, Gary Burghoff and Sally Kellerman co-star as a sanctimonious Major, an other-worldly Corporal, and a self-righteous yet lusty nurse.
M*A*S*H was the first financial and critical success for Robert Altman, who said he was offered the film because “fourteen more acceptable directors turned it down”. The film made $36.7 million for the studio and was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
The movie provided inspiration for the long-running TV series of the same name, although only Gary Burghoff made the transition from the movie version to the TV series.
McLean Stevenson played Henry Blake in the M*A*S*H TV series and died of a heart attack on 15 February 1996. Roger Bowen played Henry Blake in the movie version and died of a heart attack the very next day . . . on 16 February 1996. Spooky!
Trapper John McIntyre
Maj. Margaret ‘Hot Lips’ O’Houlihan
Maj. Frank Burns
Cpl. ‘Radar’ O’Reilly
Lt. Col. Henry Blake
Father John Mulcahy
Sgt. Major Vollmer
Jo Ann Pflug
Dr. Oliver ‘Spearchucker’ Jones
‘Me Lai’ Marston
Capt. ‘Painless’ Waldowski
Brig. Gen. Hammond