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Frederick De Cordova
Nurse Lt. Ruth McGara is assigned to a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit near the front lines of the Korean War. There she meets and is roughly romanced by Major Jed Webbe, one of the unit's surgeons. Webbe is pushy and seems to care only for momentary pleasures, but McGara falls for him just the same. Their romance blossoms in the midst of overwhelming numbers of casualties, threats from the enemy and from the weather, and emergency evacuations that test the mettle of even a unit whose very name suggests quick mobility.Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Many small moments of candor and skill don't patch up this mediocre mash-up
Battle Circus (1953)
An awkward movie with really uneven acting and some routine (or worse) dialog. Even the battle actions scenes, which have along history of success in Hollywood, are sometimes clumsy. You have to accept all this up front to get anywhere further here and appreciate the sincere shreds of insight into a little known aspect of war, and of the Korean War in particular at the time—the mobile hospitals that followed the front line fighting.
Of course MASH the movie and then MASH the t.v. show took the idea and made it everyday material (with a not-so-hidden commentary on the Vietnam war). "Battle Circus" is unusual in coming right as the "Korean Conflict" was ending (the war ended in 1953), and a decade before Vietnam grew into an actual war for the U.S. And so it is very interesting—if you are a student of war, and war movies, that is. It's a bit of a slog as a drama, however, even watching the kinds of vehicles in use or the hardships of weather and war. The methods of setting up these hospitals so quickly is quite accurate and the army cooperated with some of the filming.
There is also Humphrey Bogart. When an actor reaches his kind of fame, even his lesser movies take on meaning. He has a central role as a leading officer in the group, and of course he has near-misses and a few near-kisses with the women—nurses—who are the center of activities. He's portrayed as a womanizing, practical man, not especially nice but eventually very admirable—like many of his characters, in fact.
Some of the scenes are quite serious and strong, taken by themselves. But they get beaten down by the stiff romance that is forced on Bogart and his counterpart, June Allyson. She has to play a naive, smart, well-meaning "girl next door" and while that might be the truth sometimes, it makes for a kind of false set-up, and she's a lightweight presence.
So the movie stumbles along in a weird zone. The decision of Altman making MASH to turn it truly comic was essential (the humor here is rare and flat, like falling in the mud). So tune out in the love scenes and get absorbed in the genuine intensity of the best of the staged war scenes and the hospital dynamics. The title, by the way, is suggested very early when Allyson cheerfully says that moving the tents every few days is just like a real circus on the move.
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