Set up just three miles from the front lines in Korea, the men and women in MASH stitch soldiers back together while trying to keep their sanity in tact. The level of comedy is dark, and revolutionary, and helped promote anti-war movements in Vietnam. MASH holds true today, standing at number seven on AFI’s top 100 comedies list.
Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould play Hawkeye and Trapper, two leading surgeons and the ringleaders in camp. They’re almost too laid back and playful to be military men. Their antics bring quenching laughter and life to a place in real need of refreshment. Without them, MASH would feel like a desert rather than a small oasis.
The only problem I had with MASH was it’s lack of a substantial plot. It’s a series of events, taking turns on different characters with a final battle during a friendly football game. Easy to see how it turned into such a successful TV series. Sure, Hawkeye and Trapper save some lives and maybe even learn a few lessons along the way, but there’s no real arc to the story. Hmm, maybe that’s the point, that there’s no real story or arc to war as well…and therefore sending an antiwar message with some laughs, brilliant!
Don’t let my rambling revelations confuse you. I really enjoyed MASH. Great dark comedies are a rare breed and should be praised more. MASH doesn’t preach against war and it doesn’t throw you onto the battlefield. It’s like a small limbo where everyone, including the viewer, is allowed to breathe and think for themselves for a while.
Putting stark war and operating tent realism in a comedy is genius and took some balls back in 1970. The men are dirty, just as they would be in Korea. They live in tents, sweat and get blood on their hands. Look at a lot of more pro-war films (most of Patton) and you’ll see soldiers shine like they just had a shower. In fact, the only reason some soldiers in Patton are a little rough at times, is because of a Fox executive’s visit to the set of MASH.
One piece that really caught my eye was a scene where a few men are sunning in lawn chairs and beach towels right next to the remains of a crashed helicopter. They even nonchalantly discuss the pilot’s condition. These men aren’t living in the fantasy of being all they can be, it’s real-as-the-limbs-they-amputate life. I’d crack open a Pap’s and lay in the sun if I got the chance too.
MASH is a wonderful film, for those to can stand some dirty tricks, sex talk and blood. Oh, and it was the first to use the F-word in film, just a fun fact. So don’t miss out on a classic, just send the kids to grandma’s or something. Unless you want to explain why Trapper and Hawkeye are wagging their fingers down by their pants.
“Tonight’s movie has been “M*A*S*H.” Follow the zany antics of our combat surgeons as they cut and stitch their way along the front lines, operating as bombs and bullets burst around them; snatching laughs and love between amputations and penicillin.”
I had no problem with the lack of plot. This is one of those movies where atmosphere, setting and characters dominate. And boy do they dominate! What a great film.
I think if they tried to have a plot it would seem disingenuous. I thought about the football game, for example. Other film-makers might try to give the game in the finale meaning by having some situation where the men are granted leaves if they win, or some other fabrication. instead, they are just playing for cash, which is much more to the spirit of the film and characters.