M*A*S*H

Film Review

By: Brianna Studer

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MASH is the darkest and crudest comedy of the year, but I loved it.  Robert Altman directs this film which is set in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (hence MASH) three miles behind the front lines in South Korea.  The hospital assigned two replacements for the unit, Captains Hawkeye Pierce and Duke Forest.  Donald Sutherland played the dark humored Hawkeye Pierce and Tom Skerritt played his partner in crime Duke Forest.  The theme of defiance of authority even in the military starts when Hawkeye and Duke steal an army jeep after landing in Korea to travel to the MASH unit, and the commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake is happy for the extra vehicle.

From the beginning, Altman makes it obvious to the audience that Captains Hawkeye and Duke are great surgeons, but also sexist, cruel trouble makers.  The dark comedy begins with Hawkeye and Duke making fun of their bunkmate Major Frank Burns, played by Robert Duvall, for not only believing in God but also for praying for the whole community.  This dialogue really patronized religion, and could definitely have been seen as offensive by some of the more religious audience.  Soon after, Trapper John McIntyre, played by Elliott Gould, and Major “Hot Lips” O’Houlihan, played by Sally Kellerman, are mobilized to the MASH unit.  Trapper is the perfect third musketeer to Hawkeye and Duke as he is also a drafted surgeon who isn’t nearly as dedicated to the mission or army lifestyle as the normal enlisted soldier.  These three enjoy drinking heavily and pranking the more serious officers in the camp like Major Frank Burns and Major Hot Lips O’Houlihan.  The blatant and sometimes pushed out humor is obvious when Major Hot Lips O’Houlihan, who got her nickname by being caught fornicating with another soldier, is complaining about the dirty minded surgeons by saying “I wonder how a degenerated person like that could have reached a position of responsibility in the army medical core”, to which the priest responds with “He was drafted.”  I found this just hilarious because Hot Lips had chosen to fight in the war, and was stuck dealing with these surgeons who didn’t even want to be overseas in the first place.

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The only part of the film that Altman took way too far is a scene where a dentist in the MASH hospital confesses his urge to commit suicide to his fellow surgeons, and they play along with it, and even help him complete the act.  This is incredibly dark, even for the surgeons that see the effects of death every day in their hospital tent.  The worst part of this scene is the music playing in the background claiming that “Suicide is painless.”  Thankfully, the dentist pulls through and decides that life is worth living, but this mockery of suicide is never okay in my book.

Trapper and Hawkeye get a message to travel to Japan to do a skilled surgery, but the most meaningful part of this trip is when these two surgeons show their humanity for the first and almost last time in this film by helping a local boy.  This empathy is much needed to humanize the surgeons again after all the crude things that had been done prior.  After returning to MASH, the doctors decide to increase moral by playing in a football game against an evacuation hospital unit.  This is the first time that the MASH unit has taken anything serious in the whole story line, and it’s just a stupid, meaningless football game, which in itself is humorous.  It all ends with Hawkeye and Duke getting discharge orders and leaving in the stolen jeep they had arrived in, thus completing their trip, maybe leaving MASH better without them.

I found this war comedy funny, but it matches my dark sense of humor.  As I see it, the surgeons were dealing with the war in the only way they could which was to just fool around so they could forget and detach themselves from the gore and blood of surgery.  The best audience would be young adults and up, with the same dark humor that I possess.

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