The Gun was the 86th episode of the CBS-TV series M*A*S*H, and, also the 14th episode of the fourth season of the series. Written by Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds, and directed by Burt Metcalfe, it first aired on December 2, 1975.
Frank sinks to a new low when he steals a wounded colonel's vintage Colt 45 revolver from the camp's gun locker, and then allows Radar to stand accused.
Full episode summary
Wounded arrive at the 4077th, including a Colonel Chaffey (Warren Stevens), who is armed with a rare, antique pistol as a side-arm. As standard procedure, Radar takes it and locks it up in the gun bin, but not before Frank takes a few moments to drool all over it, in a display of machismo.
Later, when Radar returns to the gun bin, he sees that Chaffey's gun is gone, so he tells Potter, who starts an investigation to find it; if it remains missing, Radar could go to the stockade for 15 years. Radar is paralyzed with fear: "I won't get out until I'm thirty - that's almost dead!" The gun fails to turn up, and Potter has to break the bad news to Chaffey who, as expected, furiously demands Radar be brought up on charges. Meanwhile, Frank shows Margaret an antique gun that he got from home. He asked to have it sent to him because he "missed my old pal".
Though they can't prove it, Hawkeye and B.J. are convinced that Frank was the one who stole the gun and confront him in the OR, but Frank refuses to give an inch and states that everyone is entitled to be innocent until proven guilty, pointing out that Radar deserves the same consideration. Hawkeye and B.J., annoyed that Frank is actually right for once, back down.
Certain that his guilt has already been presumed, Radar gets drunk, and in the middle of the night goes to see Chaffey to protest his innocence. While there, they both hear a gun go off, causing everyone to run outside. In the confusion, Frank stealthily makes his way to Margaret's tent, with a gun shot wound to his foot. He initially tries to tell a tall tale about getting into a fight with someone he saw lurking in the Supply Shed, but Margaret coerces the truth out of him, that the gun isn't and never was his, and while he tried to return it, it went off. Margaret is furious at Frank for stealing the gun and then lying about it, and Frank has learned his lesson: "When you steal something, don't ever try to return it".
With the gun now returned, all of the charges against Radar are dropped. Chaffey apologizes to Radar, and Potter, realizing that the gun is more trouble than it's worth, suggests that Chaffey should donate it to a museum, but Chaffey refuses to listen, insisting on keeping it until he dies, and rides off.
The next day, Hawkeye and B.J. see Frank limping - he claims it's an old football injury, but they hint that they know the true source of the wound. How did they know? Just a guess, really - a "shot in the dark."
Research notes/Fun facts
- Had Frank been caught with the gun in his possession (as he rightfully should have), he would have almost certainly faced court martial charges under the UCMJ, most notably:
- Article 121- Larceny and Wrongful Appropriation
- Article 133- Conduct Unbecoming an Officer
- Colonel Chaffey's aide -- the soldier who describes at some length how he and the others in the jeep were injured when an American tank ran them off the road -- is uncredited. The actor remains unidentified.
- The part where B.J. and Hawkeye confront Burns has two versions: in one Hawkeye signals the orderlies to leave so he and B.J. can have a private chat with Burns; in the other a scared Burns remarks how the last time he was alone with these two, they put whitewash on his behind; the remastered version cuts out the part where Frank claims that it can't be proven he took the gun (while Burns seems to have won this round, he was obviously scared enough to replace the gun).
- Potter tells a story about a time when he almost got crushed by a runaway portable latrine. He also talks about his uncle accidentally shot off his toe and killed his cat by accident. (This portion is usually omitted in most syndicated airings.)
- One of Radar's best John Wayne impersonations: "You better believe it, mister, or you're dead where you stand." (In fact, John Wayne didn't say this in any movie.)
- "A shot in the dark" is an old English idiomatic expression meaning exactly what Hawkeye implies: a guess. There is also a 1964 comedy film with this phrase as its title.
- The remastered version cuts out the part where the soldier takes his rifle out of the gun bin; it does add the part where Potter asks Mulcahey to pray for a gun.
- The Colonel's gun is described as a Colt 45, chrome with bone grips. When examining it, Margaret reads off the inscription "1884". This is an anachronism. The gun is a Colt New Service which was made 1898-1941. (The US Army adopted this model in 1909.) Hawkeye calls it the kind of gun they signed Indian Treaties with. There were no Indian Treaties after the 1870s, but Hawkeye was probably only making a joke.
- Perhaps it was unwise to have a full frame of Potter holding up his Stars and Stripes newspaper. From the headlines "Nationalists Reject Red Ultimatum," we can see that it is an anachronism: the paper is dated April 20, 1949. But of course, they were filming in the days before viewers had freeze frame and slow motion playback.
- Timeline fix
- The P.A. announces that the movie for the night is "Kansas City Confidential". This came out in November 11, 1952. So we are in late 1952, early 1953. This is on track and consistent with the last fix in "Dear Peggy," but we are hurtling towards the last few months of the Korean War with 7 more seasons to go. The timeline will have to be reset soon.
- The mention of Eisenhower and Nixon is correct as the Presidential Elections was in November 1952.
- Potter reads about 80 cadets being expelled from West Point. The actual scandal was in August 1951, when 83 West Point cadets were dismissed for cheating in their exams. So Potter is a year late here. But they probably needed this reference for a bit of deliberate irony; we have just seen Frank show off the stolen gun.
- Continuity issues
- Radar has a sister in this episode - he is usually referred to as an only child.
- Chopper pilot Smilin' Jack Mitchell can be seen in the Officers Club and later by the camp bulletin board. He will be grounded and sent home 8 episodes later in the episode "Smilin' Jack". No problem if you watch in broadcast order, but there will be a discontinuity if watched in production order because "Smilin' Jack" was produced very early in Season 4, 8 episodes before "The Gun". Episodes with a lot of outdoor scenes like "Smilin' Jack" were usually produced early in the Season to take advantage of longer hours of daylight.
The Gun is the first episode of Season 4 to air on Tuesday night (9:00 pm ET), as CBS returned M*A*S*H to its formerly-solid Tuesday night lineup. At the beginning of Season 4, CBS punished M*A*S*H for its season 3 shock finale Abyssinia, Henry by moving it to Friday night (first at 8pm, then at 8:30pm ET); this maneuver caused the show to fall to #15 in the Nielsen ratings as it was pitted against NBC's strong Friday night lineup of Sanford & Son followed by Chico and the Man. After it was moved back to Tuesday nights, M*A*S*H returned to the Top 10 and remained there for the rest of its run-- even after permanently moving to Monday nights during Season 6.
- The final scene has Radar and Colonel Potter exchanging glasses, after they realize that Potter put the wrong ones beside Radar's cot as he was putting him to bed. Potter never took his own glasses off in that scene, making the switch impossible- and implausible.
- The scene in which Radar confronts Chaffey; this happens after Potter tucks him in, and Radar is wearing the (presumably) correct glasses.
Guest stars/Recurring cast
- Warren Stevens as Colonel Chaffey
- William Christopher as Father Mulcahy
- Uncredited appearances: