MASH is a 1970 satirical dark comedy/anti-war/drama film directed by Robert Altman, based extremely loosely on the novel written by Richard Hooker. Nominally about an outfit of medical personnel stationed at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War, the film stars Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould. Robert Duvall, Sally Kellerman, Tom Skerritt, Roger Bowen, Gary Burghoff, Bud Cort and Fred Williamson are also featured. MASH went on to inspire the hit 1972-83 CBS television series M*A*S*H.
The film won the 1970 Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It was nominated for five Academy Awards and won an Oscar for its screenplay. It was deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected in 1996 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 1998, the film was recognized by the American Film Institute (AFI) as one of the 100 greatest American films; two years later, AFI recognized it as one of the10 funniest American films.
MASH, unlike many war films, delivers an anti-war message with a light touch through moderate anarchy, bizarre conversation, and the boredom, stress, and resentment of the draftee physicians. The film famously juxtaposes gory operating room procedures with absurdist and often silly humor; occasionally these two elements co-exist within the same shot. The plot is episodic, which results in several considerable changes in the film's tone. In this way, as well as others mentioned above, it is said to be similar to the book Catch-22. MASH is marked by Altman's trademark sound editing style, in which each scene contains several simultaneous or overlapping conversations, as well as his unusual use of zoom.
Some of the film's critics disliked the limits on war carnage in favor of camp existence, and also for a certain callous attitude, notably in the treatment of the characters Major Burns (Duvall) and Major O'Houlihan (Kellerman)
- Donald Sutherland as Capt. Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce
- Elliott Gould as John Francis Xavier "Trapper" McIntyre
- Tom Skerritt as Capt. Augustus Bedford "Duke" Forrest
- Sally Kellerman as Major Margaret "Hot Lips" O'Houlihan
- Robert Duvall as Major Frank Burns
- Roger Bowen as Lt. Col. Henry Braymore Blake
- René Auberjonois as Father John Patrick "Dago Red" Mulcahy
- John Schuck as Captain Walter Koskiusko "Painless" Waldowski, DDS
- David Arkin as SSgt. Vollmer/PA Announcer
- Jo Ann Pflug as Lt. Maria "Dish" Schneider
- Gary Burghoff as Cpl. Walter "Radar" O'Reilly
- Fred Williamson as Capt. Oliver Harmon "Spearchucker" Jones
- Michael Murphy as Capt. Ezekiel Bradbury "Me Lay" Marston IV
- Timothy Brown as Corporal Judson
- Tamara Horrocks as Captain Bridget "Knocko" McCarthy
- Indus Arthur as Captain Leslie
- In the director's commentary on the DVD release, Altman says that this was the first major studio film to use the word "fuck" in its dialogue, the word being spoken during the football game near the end of the film.
- MASH features the song "Suicide is Painless", with music by Johnny Mandel and lyrics by Mike Altman, the director's son. The television show used an instrumental version as its theme tune which is heard during the opening sequence and closing credits.
- MASH was the original title of the 1953 film Battle Circus starring Humphrey Bogart, a film also about life in a MASH unit.
- During principal photography, Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould spent a third of their time trying to get Robert Altman fired. Altman later commented that if he had known, he would have resigned. Gould later sent a letter apologizing. Altman has used him in some of his later works. He has not worked with Sutherland since.
- In a few shots of the "speaker" at night, the moon is visible in the background. On the same night when these scenes were shot, American astronauts landed on the moon.
- Gary Burghoff was the only cast member to reprise his role for the television series. G. Wood, who plays General Hammond, also appeared on the TV series, if only for three episodes.
- The movie was one of the first films to be released to the home video market place when 20th Century Fox licensed fifty motion pictures from their library to Magnetic Video.
Errors and Explanations
Internet Movie Database
- Margaret's surname is scripted as "Houlihan". The 'O' was added due to a slip of the tongue by General Hammond and Henry Blake, the only two people who refer to her as "O'Houlihan" in the whole movie. They must have been under the impression that her name was O'Houlihan.
- Hawkeye, in his diagnosis of the sick Japanese-American infant in Kokura, mispronounces "fistula," putting the emphasis on the last syllable. Is there only one pronunciation?
- An announcement is made that Yom Kippur cannot be held on Friday due to extenuating circumstances, but those who wish to observe may do so on Sunday.Yom Kippur never falls on either a Friday or a Sunday; an "alternate" day for the holiday that could actually occur would be Saturday. The person who drafted the announcement was obviously not Jewish.
- When Hawkeye and Trapper John are in Japan, a "Japanese" nurse speaks in heavily American accented, awkward, and mispronounced "Japanese". Japan was operating under US occupation after WW2.
- The driver who was supposed to drive Hawkeye to the camp, after Hawkeye and Duke have gone off with the stolen jeep and after he has poured his coffee over his commander, can't help laughing so hard that he has to cover his face at the end of the shot. Could happen to the character, too.
- When Hawkeye and Duke arrive at MASH and drive by the mess there are four nurses, two sitting on each side of a longish table, together with someone else. When Hawkeye and Duke enter the mess the nurses are placed 3+1, and the other person is gone. At no time are the nurses seated two on each side.
- This film contains the first use of the f-word in movie history. Not true. M*A*S*H was released in 1970. "I'll Never Forget Whatshisname" with Marianne Faithfull, and "Ulysses", both released in 1967, were mainstream films using the f-word. There are also much earlier, though far from mainstream, movies that include it as well.
- Ho-Jon, Burns's Korean boy, can hardly read but speaks almost accent-free American English. There is nothing at all surprising about this. Learning to read and write English would be a whole new skill for Ho-Jon, as Koreans (like most Asians) do not use the English alphabet. It works in reverse - a lot of soldiers learned enough Korean (and later, Vietnamese) to get by, but almost none learned to read and write it.
- M*A*S*H film at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb)
- Elliott Gould remembers M*A*S*H, from the BBC website; the same clip is directly available here in RealMedia format