Set during the Korean War but made at the height of the war in Vietnam, Robert Altman's exceptional antiwar comedy-drama follows the fortunes of a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit. Hawkeye Pierce (Sutherland), Trapper John (Gould), and Duke Forrest (Skerritt) are the
martini-swilling, prank-playing, but compassionate and capable battlefield surgeons who make life miserable for chief nurse Hot Lips Houlihan (Kellerman) and fellow surgeon Maj. Frank Burns (Duvall), a by-the-book prig. Among the terrible trio's shenanigans are the broadcast of a Burns-Houlihan
lovemaking session over the camp public address system and the collapse of the women's shower to reveal the naked Maj. Houlihan. At the root of all this foolishness, however, is the attempt to mitigate the otherwise overwhelming bleakness of the war, to distract the doctors and nurses from the
terrible waste of life they witness. The film's climactic football game, one of Hollywood's funniest (featuring a number of onetime pro players), pits the MASH unit against a crack team brought in by a general who has been investigating the unit.
Clever camera setups, Altman's patented overlapping dialogue, wonderful sight gags and situations, and universally fine ensemble performances combine to make this one the most enjoyable war-themed films ever. What makes M*A*S*H so extraordinary, however, is that beyond its hilarious antics and
rich characters, the film offers a poignant portrait of the madness of war. This film was Altman's first major hit; the strength of this film made his subsequent career over the next decade possible.
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Robert Altman's Soundtracks: Film, Music, and Sound from M*A*S*H to A Prairie Home Companion (Oxford Music/Media)
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