M*A*S*H (1970)


Starring: Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt, Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall, Roger Bowen, Rene Auberjonois, Fred Williamson

Director: Robert Altman

Summary: The staff of a Korean War field hospital use humor to keep their sanity during wartime

Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actress (Kellerman), Adapted Screenplay*, Film Editing


-Although it occasionally missed for me, this is overall a pretty funny movie with strong black comedy elements. Unlike the tv series, the movie never has the characters actually reflect on the human death toll they have to experience every day, and instead lets the audience put two and two together about why they do what they do, which is what makes it work as a black comedy.

-This was a very subversive movie for its day and was clearly reflective of the ongoing Vietnam War: it was unafraid to show full bloody result of war before this film, it has a very unromantic depiction of American servicemen and it comments on preferential treatment of soldiers who came from privileged backgrounds. While there had of course been anti-war films to come out of Hollywood before this, this comes in as pure cynicism and bluntness rather than as a melodrama which was unusual.

-I liked the meta humor from the end of the movie (and the PA announcer jokes in general)


-I know these aren’t supposed to be upstanding characters at all, but some of the humor at the expense of Kellerman felt mean-spirited and not all that funny-what is this, a Porky’s movie? As stuck up as she was, it didn’t feel justified.

-For a movie with as many actors as a like who are in it, none of them really stood out to me, and all would do better work during the rest of the decade, especially Duval who was the ace supporting actor of the 70s (this, the Godfather movies, Network, Apocalypse Now and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution) and Donald Sutherland (with Don’t Look Now, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Animal House, Klute and in 1980, Ordinary People); he might be the best actor who never got an Oscar nomination in his career.

Other Stuff

-Robert Altman said he wanted the opening theme (which is replayed again later) to be “the stupidest song in the world”, and was having trouble writing the lyrics, so he enlisted his 14 year-old son to write them. His son ended up getting paid $2 million for his 5 minutes of work (due to the royalties from when the song was played as the theme to every episode of the the show) whereas he only got $75,000 for directing it.

-The football game has a number of current/former players in uncredited roles: Johnny Unitas, Fran Tarkenton, Buck Buchanan, Ben Davidson (who is highlighted and I immediately recognized), Joe Kapp and future coach Howard Schnellenberger; it’s like a proto-version of The Longest Yard.


Even if some anti-war films after it have aped its tone and style and the TV series overshadowed it, this is still a very good movie that works as both a comedy and as a commentary on war.

Rating: B


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