The personnel at the 4077 MASH unit deal with the horrors of the Korean War and the stresses faced in surgery by whatever means. The tone at the MASH is established by recent arrivals, surgeons Captains 'Hawkeye' Pierce, 'Duke' Forrest, and 'Trapper' John McIntyre - the latter who Hawkeye knows he's met somewhere, but Trapper who won't divulge where - whose antics can be best described as non-regulation, and in the negative words of one of their fellow MASH-ers: unmilitary. The unit's commanding officer, Colonel Henry Blake, doesn't care about this behavior as long as it doesn't affect him, and as long as they do their job and do it well, which they do. Their behavior does extremely bother fellow surgeon, Major Frank Burns, and recently arrived head nurse, Major Margaret Houlihan, who obtains the nickname 'Hot Lips' based on information they glean about her through underhanded means. Beyond their battles with Frank and Hot Lips, Hawkeye, Duke and/or Trapper help unit dentist Painless ... Written by
Clearly an important part of film history, but the years haven't been kind to it (in my eyes)
I should probably watch this again, since so many consider it a masterpiece. Maybe I was over-prepared (Hey, it took me a second viewing of 'Citizen Kane' to get my past pre-set expectations!). But while I could see why M*A*S*H was groundbreaking and important for a Hollywood film of it's day (lack of the usual clear narrative line, anti-war stance, overlapping, improvised dialogue, sexuality, bloody operating room scenes serving as ironic counterpart, etc), it felt pretty dated and unfocused. There are some very funny moments, but a lot of the ironies seem easy, and there's a lack of a true darker underpinnings and ideas, unlike, say, 'Dr. Strangelove'.
A lot of the humor is juvenile, cruel and silly. And while I get that's the point nothing can be more deeply juvenile, cruel and silly than war, it got repetitive and heavy handed after a while. The performances are good, but beyond Robert Duvall, none of the characters have much in the way of dimensions. People stay exactly what we think they are from the moment we meet them.
Walter Chow makes a good argument on the web site 'Film Freak Central', that the sexism, homophobia, etc are the whole point. Altman is saying we're ALL beasts at heart, even if we act like we're bucking the system. It's an interesting idea, but I'm not sure I buy it's what Altman was intending.
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