Directed by: Robert Altman | 116 minutes | drama, comedy, war | Actors: Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt, Robert Duvall, Sally Kellerman, Rober Bowen, Rene AUberjonois, David Arkin, Jo Ann Pflug, Gary Burghoff, Fred Williamson, Michael Murphy, Indus Arthur, Ken Prymus, Bobby Troup, Kim Atwood Timothy Brown, John Schuck, Dawne Damon, Carl Gottlieb, Tamara Wilcox-Smith, G. Wood, Bud Cort, Danny Goldman, Corey Fischer
A humorous war film? Isn’t that a contradiction? There is nothing nice about a war, especially not about a dirty war like the one that took place in Korea in the 50s. Despite the heavy subject matter, the British filmmaker manages to put down a particularly witty film. In fact, the film was so well received that an entire TV series was created around the characters.
‘M*A*S*H’ revolves around two doctors (Sutherland and Gould). The doctors are not at all happy with their stay in war-torn Korea. Still, the duo tries to make the best of it. Our doctors don’t just deal with bloody surgeries, in between the two play some golf and get into some mischief. Meanwhile, the men also rid a traumatized colleague of his homosexual tendencies and bully the stern sister of the camp.
What else can you say about ‘M*A*S*H’? The series has been immensely popular and the film has now become a real classic. Completely right of course, because even 35 years later the film is still rock solid. Altman has created a vicious satire on American war films. The Brit portrays his main characters as pacifist joggers who, unlike their superiors, are still thinking about their lives. The patriotism and heroism that the generals pride themselves on are ruthlessly ridiculed by the doctors.
While Sutherland and Gould play some rather adolescent pranks, like tearing down shower cubicles and decorating every female officer they meet, they’re the ones who realize the madness they’ve gone into. It is precisely the duo who notice the immediate consequences of the battle, the maimed and badly wounded soldiers keep coming in, while the doctors with limited resources have to perform miracles. To blow off steam, the most bizarre jokes arise.
By concentrating on the bloody victims, the minimal resources in the emergency hospital and the harsh conditions of a camp as well as the childish teasing, Altman has found a nice symbiosis between humor and seriousness. ‘M*A*S*H’ is funny without being flat. If you look between the lines, you see a tragic story about two helpless men who at all costs want to make the world a little better with humor. But that is not easy in a world that takes everything so seriously and rejects everything that falls outside the margins.
The acting is of a high standard. Sutherland is great in the lead role, the actor portrays a sympathetic yet complex character. The American gets good counterplay from a modest Gould. Duvall and Kellerman are also doing well in their more serious roles. Across the board there is just strong playing in ‘M*A*S*H’. In addition to good acting, the film also has an atmospheric soundtrack. Classical music is interspersed with 50s and 60s evergreens. Of course the intense and melancholic ‘Suicide is Painless’ by Johny Mandell also plays a major role.
‘M*A*S*H’ is at first sight a strange, surreal film that seems rather superficial. But as so often, appearances are deceiving. The film raises fundamental questions about war. Besides a lot of humor, there is indeed a deeper layer in the Altman production. Impressive movie.