Monster M*A*S*H


The Novocaine Mutiny was the 93rd episode of the CBS-TV series M*A*S*H, and, also the 21st episode of the fourth season of the series. Written by Burt Prelutsky, and directed by cast member Harry Morgan, it first aired on January 27, 1976.


Hawkeye is court-martialed and put on trial for mutiny under Frank Burns' command.

Full episode summary[]

This episode opens in a military courtroom, with Hawkeye as the defendant.

Colonel Carmichael (Ned Wilson) is officiating, and he hears testimony about the alleged mutiny, a charge leveled by Frank.

Colonel Potter testifies, as do B.J. and Radar, who give the Colonel some examples of Frank's insanity as commander - a ban on gambling, snap inspections, parades - he even has the entire unit do a practice bug-out, moving across the road, only to move back to the same spot the very next day.

Frank testifies to the events that led to the "mutiny." He insists that during a long session in O.R., he had to do nearly everything, operating on several patients at once while giving blood - directly from his arm - to a third. He even does Father Mulcahy's job, saying a prayer (in Latin, no less), when Mulcahy collapses in exhaustion.

Bombs are falling, and everyone is scared and panicking, except for Frank. He insists more and more wounded be brought in. Hawkeye, unable to match the pace Frank is insisting on, grabs a hypo and knocks Frank out, screaming "I'm taking over."

Hawkeye then testifies, commenting on the bizarre fantasy Frank has concocted in his mind. He makes a joke, but seems genuinely sad realizing that that's how Frank actually sees the world. He admits Burns was telling the truth on two points: it was October 11th, and they were in Korea. "Other than that..."

Then he gives the real story - Frank was doing a pathetic job prepping the patients, as well as not sending them to the OR in the right order. Hawkeye and B.J. scold him for not doing his job, but he won't listen - in fact, Frank goes borderline hysterical at having to operate on so many wounded soldiers all at once.

The argument gets heated, and when Frank turns to go back to Pre-Op, a nurse accidentally slams a door into him, knocking him out. Hawkeye and B.J. - and everyone else - are relieved. Father Mulcahy takes over in Pre-Op, while Klinger drags the unconscious Frank - face down - out of the O.R.

After hearing all the testimony and looking into everyone's records, Col. Carmichael concludes that Capt. Pierce, while being thoroughly un-military, is a "top-flight surgeon," and concludes that no case for mutiny exists. He dismisses the case, throwing in a shot at Frank in the process.

Later, Burns shows Potter the weekly poker game, hoping to get Hawkeye in trouble; Potter just says "deal me in."

The Mystery Nurse/Nurses[]

The nurse assisting Frank in the O.R. (in Frank's version of the events) has a great number of lines but is uncredited. Frank calls her "Nurse Johnson." See Unidentified Nurses for photo and help identify her.

In Hawkeye's version, there is a nurse who bumps into Frank. He calls her "clumsy" and she replies, "In your ear." Later, she opens the door with Frank on the other side and knocks him out cold, earning praise from Hawkeye for saving countless lives. Many Internet resources attribute this part to Patricia Stevens.[1] (See photo in Unidentified Nurses). It's possible she could have been the Nurse Johnson in Frank's version.

Absence of Margaret[]

  • Though she receives billing, Loretta Swit does not appear in this episode. This is the third consecutive episode (in broadcast order) in which she does not appear. Commenting on this in the book "TV's M*A*S*H: The Ultimate Guide Book," writer Burt Prelutsky says that he did not have to rewrite the script to deal with her absence so he thinks he must have been told beforehand that she would not be available.[2]
  • Loretta Swit also does not appear in "The More I See You" and "The Interview." Together with "The Novocaine Mutiny," these are the last 3 episodes in the Season 4 production order. Her absence could be linked to her Broadway commitments as mentioned in the Research Notes section of "The Interview." Swit appeared opposite Ted Bessell in the play "Same Time Next Year" debuting on 1 Dec 1975.
  • It would have been interesting to see her testify at the hearing. She would have been torn between wanting to support Frank and professional honesty - in Season 9 "Death Takes a Holiday," she has difficulty falsifying a medical record.
  • Margaret's absence from the events of the narrative is neither commented on or explained in the course of the episode. It makes some degree of sense that she is not at the hearing -- someone of a suitably high rank had to stay behind to take charge of the camp while the others were away. But there's no explanation as to why Margaret was absent for the entire six days Frank was in command.

References to "The Caine Mutiny"[]

  • The episode title and several plot elements are adapted from Herman Wouk's 1951 Pulitzer prize-winning novel "The Caine Mutiny" (later adapted into a courtroom drama for Broadway and turned into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart, Jose Ferrer, and Fred MacMurray).
  • In the original version of "The Caine Mutiny," an ensign is put on trial for mutiny after relieving the unlikeable, dictatorial Captain Queeg, who has become mentally unbalanced during the stress of piloting his ship through a typhoon. In this episode, Hawkeye is put on trial for mutiny after assuming command when a stressed-out Frank is accidentally knocked out cold in the OR.
  • In the original version of "The Caine Mutiny," Captain Queeg becomes obsessed with the idea that someone has stolen the ship's entire supply of strawberry ice cream, despite being informed that the mess stewards ate up all the ice cream after hours. Here, Frank becomes obsessed that someone has stolen $300 from Sgt. Zale, despite being told by Hawkeye and B.J. that he "lost" the money in a poker game (which Frank had previously banned).
  • An additional nod to "The Caine Mutiny" is the voiceover at the beginning of Frank's heroic story, recounted on the witness stand: "It was one of those days that (more than most) remind us that war - no matter how much one may enjoy it - is no strawberry festival."

Other Research notes/Fun facts[]

  • Although Frank was legally in command of the MASH while Potter was away, many of the arguments he had with Hawkeye in this and other episodes are about what priority to give to which patient, and when and how to operate on a patient. These decisions are the prerogative of Hawkeye as Chief Surgeon. So Hawkeye could just have easily have pressed charges for Frank's failure to comply with his instructions. But perhaps Hawkeye was not G.I. - or petty - enough to want to do that. Likewise Hawkeye should have filed charges against Frank for his incompetent care of selecting patients for operations. In fact, Frank's refusal to assume responsibility in regard to prepping the wounded for surgery (at least two of the wounded would have died during surgery due to Burns' incompetence) could have landed Burns before a court-martial board on violation of Article 96, conduct unbecoming an officer.
  • In the ME-TV version of this episode, parts showing the poker game in the beginning and the end are left in place. Also restored is a section where Burns is inspecting the meat locker where Zale accidentally remarks about "losing" his money, prompting Burns to conduct his infamous search; other syndicated versions leave these parts out. Ironically, the ME-TV version cuts out part of Colonel Wilson remarking Klinger trying to get a Section 8 discharge, and Hawkeye's comment about he'd only have a company of Klingers if Christian Dior attacked Pearl Harbor; also cut out was B.J.'s testimony of Frank prohibition on gambling; likewise cut was Frank's threat to sue everyone for calling him a dope.
  • Timeline is October 1952 - Potter took over command Sept. 19, 1952 in 4/3 "Change of Command"; this is Episode 4/20; in Episode 4/4 "The Late Captain Pierce," the timeline is December 1952 (Eisenhower's visit to Korea after being elected President). However, 4/4 was filmed before 4/20.
  • This is called a preliminary "hearing" - in fact, it would have been an impartial investigation before a court-martial. According to the 1959 US Army almanac, the three types of courts-martial are: summary court-martial (one officer presiding - resolution of relatively minor offenses for simple form of procedure); special court-martial (three officers presiding for non-capital offenses - max punishment is confinement at hard labor for three months; hard labor without confinement for six months; or forfeiture of 2/3 pay per month for six months; also adjudge a bad conduct discharge; it is also noted that an offense for which the death penalty is permissible but not mandatory may be tried by special court-martial provided that the proper authority determines the offense is "not capital" - such an offense can not be tried by a summary court under any circumstances); and general court-martial (five members and is highest trial court provided by the court of military justice - can try any person who is subject to military jurisdiction for any offense punishable by military law. It may adjudge any punishment not forbidden by the law including the penalty of death when specified by the Code. The Code goes one step further and provides that a general court-martial may try and punish any person suB.J.ect to trial and punishment by the law of war).
  • Hawkeye, despite being anti-military, actually legally threatens to have Frank reported for misconduct. Frank tells Hawkeye that he cannot threaten a superior officer like this. The irony is that Frank, himself, has several times threatened to report former C.O. Henry Blake for misconduct.
  • Once again, Radar's comic books were, in real life, printed well over ten years after the Korean War.
  • Anomaly: Colonel Potter's testimony includes Frank's comments - to himself - about how God made the universe in 6 days, Klinger delivering the mail to Frank, and Frank saying how God wasn't surrounded by a bunch of flakes. There's no way Colonel Potter would know about that, since he'd already left for R&R. Unless as Commanding Officer, he reviewed Frank's twisted version of the facts before sending it to the Judge Ad Gen; in fact, knowing about Frank's grudges and hatreds, the major had probably written up the whole incident himself in his report, possibly trying to have Klinger charged with disrespect to an officer [his comments and his out-of-uniform clothing].
  • This is the first of nine episodes directed by cast member Harry Morgan, which would explain why Colonel Potter (who was played by Morgan) doesn't have many lines.
  • Cast member Jamie Farr, then-recurring character William Christopher and recurring character Johnny Haymer all appear but only in a flashback from the stories told in the court room.

Recurring cast/Guest stars[]

Uncredited appearances by


  1. Ed Solomonson & Mark O'Neil, TV's M*A*S*H: The Ultimate Guide Book (Albany, GA.: BearManor Media, 2009), 303.
  2. Ed Solomonson & Mark O'Neil, TV's M*A*S*H: The Ultimate Guide Book (Albany, GA.: BearManor Media, 2009), 303.