Joseph Heller's classic anti-war novel CATCH-22 is a brilliant read, but you could arguably describe it as "un-filmable".
In 1970, Paramount Pictures threw a lot of cash, a first rate production team and cast to bring it to the screen and the results are intriguingly mixed.
Director Mike Nichols and Writer Buck Henry had "The Graduate" together, capturing the late sixties zeitgeist of rebellion against tradition.
With many times the budget and a war size production, they bring their same smart, urbane wit to the story of bombardier Capt. Yossarian (Alan Arkin) and his descent into the madness of World War II.
We see the war through Yossarian's eyes and experiences with a massive cast of characters, including the inept Colonel Cathcart (Martin Balsam), kiss-ass Col. Korn (Buck Henry), unwilling Major Major (a hilarious Bob Newhart). the innocent Capt. Nately (Art Garfunkel), unstable Chaplain Tappman (Anthony Perkins) and the insane Brigadeer General Dreedle, played with gusto by the terrific Orson Wells, who never attends a briefing without his gorgeous young wife.
The film is a crazy blend of styles, from the pratfalls of every soldier falling over themselves to get Dreedle's wife a chair, to quiet musings on death and violence as Yossarian comforts a wounded gunner mid-flight.
Jon Voight is terrific as 1st Lt. Milo Minderbinder, who manages to turn the entire war into a money making corporation that provides everything from ammo to prostitution.
He's a much darker version of Radar O'Rielly in "M*A*S*H" that hit movie screens the same year.
Nichols and Henry challenge you with their storytelling. The entire movie is non-linear, with scenes popping up several times and a timeline that's as scattered as Yossarian's bombing efforts. It's a strong choice, forcing you to consider the character's actions in the context of each scene, versus any kind of arc from beginning to end.
You can never get too emotionally involved in any scene before it pops to another that might have preceded it in time.
The budget is massive, the flight scenes full scale and the madness of it all on full display.
CATCH-22 will make you laugh a lot while delivering a very dark message about the military complex and war itself.
Like "M*A*S*H", its got a lot to say beneath the laughter. CATCH-22 is inconsistent, difficult, smart, sad and funny.
We'll give it an intriguing B.