Back in 1970, NO ONE had seen a film like Robert Altman's M*A*S*H. If you've only seen the terrific TV series that started two years later, you're in for a very different experience with this film classic.
Until M*A*S*H, most war films were like "The Longest Day" or "The Great Escape", staunchly pro military and flattering toward the command.
Altman's film is a brilliant, episodic treat as it details chapter after chapter of Hawkeye (Donald Sutherland, fantastic) and Trapper John (hilarious Elliott Gould) as the surgeons who fill their spare time with debauchery of every sort and constant challenging of authority.
Robert Duvall is excellent as the by-the-book pain in the ass Frank Burns, who only bends the rules to romance Hot Lips (Sally Kellerman, incredibly sexy in her film debut).
Audiences LOVED the film, embracing its new, non-linear and hilarious story telling style, with often overlapping dialogue, a story that fits and starts without any traditional flow, buckets of operating room gore and a cast as obsessed with sex as they are survival.
Some scenes have become comedy classics. Radar (Gary Burghoff, who would repeat his role on TV) sneaking a microphone into Hot Lips & Franks loud lovemaking session and broadcasting it camp wide, the climactic football game with Fred Williamson as a drafted NFL player and Gould & Sutherland's golfing excursion are LOL highlights.
This is jet black comedy at its finest, executed by a cast up to the task. In just three years, it will be 50 years since its original release in theatres, which is pretty hard to imagine.
The title song "Suicide is Painless" is damn dark and will be a shock to those that only know the song from the TV show. The TV series was fantastic in its own right, with excellent writing and acting, but this is a very different animal and it earns its R rating.
There's a great story around the production that Fox execs called Director Altman after seeing dailies and said that the soldiers were too dirty, that their uniforms were always clean in war movies. Altman told them that he served in Korea and everyone was filthy all the time. Rumor has it that Zanuck called the team working on "Patton" and told them to make their soldiers more dirty!
Robert Altman made plenty of excellent films in his own remarkable style after this breakout hit, including "Nashville", 'McCabe and Mrs. Miller" and "Gosford Park" to name just a few.
If you haven't seen this in awhile, its worth a revisit to laugh all over again. If you've never seen it, check out the first huge anti-war film of the seventies. It changed the movies for good.
M*A*S*H is a hilarious masterpiece and gets an A.