Today! Because if I nail Hot Lips and punch Hawkeye, can I go home too?
Directed by Robert Altman
Starring Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall, Tom Skerritt, Rene Auberjonois, David Arkin, John Schuck, Gary Burghoff, Jo Ann Pflug, Roger Bowen, Fred Williamson, Bud Cort, Michael Murphy, Timothy Brown, Carl Gottlieb, Bobby Troup
For the longest time, the beginning and end of my interest in the entire MASH franchise was the play. Like the movie, it is based on the book by Richard Hooker, but except for the same basic plot and characters – football game and all – it shares few real similarities. The TV show is even further afield, again with the same characters, but even less like the play, movie, or book. All have different tones, different dialogue, and different interactions among the primaries. I was in the play my junior year of high school, having never really watched the show, and was pretty dismissive of the film at the time. I was Hawkeye, by the way, and I think it was a pretty decent show, as far as a high school production of a very adult war satire could be.
I’ve still never cozied up to the long-running sitcom, but as my appreciation for that distinctive Robert Altman style grew – thanks mainly to Nashville and The Player – I came around to enjoying this movie. It was undoubtedly revolutionary in its day – John Schuck’s Painless utters the first “fuck” in major studio film history! – and it does a tricky dance around the fact that the movie is set during the Korean War (only mentioned in on-screen titles at the beginning of the film) and not Vietnam, which it’s more clearly skewering. It’s still pretty funny (maybe a touch more sexist than you’d remember) and boasts an outstanding cast. Ring Lardner Jr.’s script won an Oscar, even though he practically disowned the movie, saying that none of his words made it on-screen in the largely improvised dialogue (ah, Altman!).
In addition to that screenplay Oscar, and not a Best award but First Onscreen F-Bomb, MASH should also get some extra recognition for Painless’s Best Faux Suicide Funeral (I clearly love John Schuck) and Best Character-Defining Whistle, Hawkeye’s repeated signature move coming in second only to Omar’s approaching announcement on The Wire in all of big-or-small screen history.