“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“How many nurses do we have on the base, sir?”
This countdown has made me re-watch movies I know for a fact I hate. It’s given me a great excuse to re-watch movies I know I love. It’s even made me change my opinion slightly on movies where I mistakenly thought I knew exactly how I felt. It’s also forcing me to watch movies that I just don’t get. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s that I don’t understand why they’re considered classics. And in a way, those movies are even more frustrating to watch than the ones I hate. At least the ones I hate give me something to rant about. But today was one of those ones I just don’t get, and with it fresh in my mind, I still just don’t get M*A*S*H.
It’s the Korean War and conscription means that even peace loving hippies and happy go lucky slackers populate the army. Two arrive fresh from the States, to work as doctors in an army hospital just three miles from the front lines. There’s slacker and womaniser Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland), and good ol’ boy and womaniser, Duke Forrest (Tom Skerritt). They like to drink and joke and generally dick around in their off hours, but in the hospital, they’re true professionals.
The opposite is their tent mate, Frank Burns (Robert Duvall). A hard ass and stickler for the rules, he’s also a terrible surgeon. Both sides find new allies with the arrival of surgeon Trapper John (Elliot Gould) and Chief Nurse Hot Lips O’Houlihan (Sally Kellerman). While Trapper falls straight into an easy friendship with Hawkeye and Duke, Hot Lips and Burns do their best to have the others drummed out of the army, and even try to have their commanding officer (Roger Bowen as Henry Blake) relieved of his post.
I’d say these days, the sitcom M*A*S*H is more well known than this movie. Watching the movie this time, it became really obvious why it was translated into one of the most successful sitcoms in television history. M*A*S*H the movie isn’t a regular, three act movie. There’s no big obstacle to overcome, or goal to reach. It’s totally episodic, flowing from one short vignette to the next. It’s a collection of many days in the lives of many characters, with just a little extra focus on some more than others.
I know why I should find M*A*S*H funny, I also know I just don’t. It has a classic slobs versus snobs vibe. It gives Trapper and Hawkeye honourable jobs and honourable outlooks on life. But it also makes them kind of dicks. They’re arrogant, they’re misogynists, they pick on people weaker than them. That’s what I don’t get. How did this movie do so well, how does it still have a such a great reputation, when there isn’t a single likeable character in it?
Best Picture (nominated, lost to Patton)
Best Director (Altman nominated, lost to Franklin J Schaffner for Pattton)
Best Supporting Actress (Kellerman nominated, lost to Helen Hayes for Airport)
Best Adapted Screenplay