Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mike Nichols|
|Screenplay by||Buck Henry|
|Edited by||Sam O'Steen|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Running time||122 minutes|
Catch-22 is a 1970 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Joseph Heller. In creating a black comedy revolving around the "lunatic characters" of Heller's satirical anti-war novel, director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Buck Henry (also in the cast) worked on the filmscript for two years, converting Heller's complex novel to the medium of film.
The cast included Alan Arkin, Bob Balaban, Martin Balsam, Richard Benjamin, Italian actress Olimpia Carlisi, French comedian Marcel Dalio, Art Garfunkel, Jack Gilford, Charles Grodin, Bob Newhart, Anthony Perkins, Paula Prentiss, Martin Sheen, Jon Voight, and Orson Welles. Garfunkel made his acting debut in the film.
Captain Yossarian (Arkin), a U.S. Army Air Force B-25 bombardier, is stationed on the Mediterranean island of Pianosa during World War II. Along with his squadron members, Yossarian is committed to flying dangerous missions, and after watching friends die, he seeks a means of escape.
Futilely appealing to his commanding officer, Colonel Cathcart (Balsam), who continually increases the number of missions required to rotate home before anyone can reach it, Yossarian learns that even a mental breakdown is no release when Doc Daneeka (Gilford) explains the "Catch-22" the Army Air Corps employs. As explained, an airman "would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he'd have to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't, he was sane and had to."
Trapped by this convoluted logic, Yossarian watches as individuals in the squadron resort to unusual means to cope; Lt. Milo Minderbinder (Voight) concocts elaborate black market schemes while crazed Captain "Aarfy Aardvark" (Grodin) commits murder. Lieutenant Nately (Garfunkel) falls for a prostitute, Major Danby (Benjamin) delivers goofy pep talks before every bomb run and Captain Orr (Balaban) keeps crash-landing. Meanwhile, Nurse Duckett (Prentiss) occasionally beds Yossarian.
Yossarian survives an attempt on his life when an unknown assailant stabs him (in the novel it was "Nately's whore," and in the director's commentary Nichols says he regrets not making this clear in the film): the murder attempt is shown in the film's start and ending. Once recovered, Yossarian sets out to sea in a raft, paddling to Sweden, after he learns from the Chaplain and Major Danby that it is now a refuge for another squadron mate who got away and had successfully figured out a way to escape the madness.
As appearing in screen credits (main roles identified)
- Alan Arkin as Captain John Yossarian, (Bombardier)
- Martin Balsam as Colonel Cathcart (Group Commander, 256th Bomb Group (M))
- Richard Benjamin as Major Danby (Flight Operations Officer)
- Art Garfunkel (billed Arthur Garfunkel) as Lt. Nately (Pilot)
- Jack Gilford as Dr. "Doc" Daneeka (Group Flight Surgeon)
- Buck Henry as Lt. Colonel Korn (XO / Roman policeman)
- Bob Newhart as Captain/Major Major (Laundry Officer, later Squadron Commander)
- Anthony Perkins as Capt. Fr. A.T. Tappman (Chaplain)
- Paula Prentiss as Nurse Duckett (Army Medical Nurse Corps)
- Martin Sheen as 1st Lt. Dobbs (Pilot)
- Jon Voight as 1st Lt. Milo Minderbinder (Mess Officer)
- Orson Welles as Brigadier General Dreedle (Wing Commander)
- Bob Balaban as Captain Orr (Bomber Pilot)
- Susanne Benton as Dreedle's WAC
- Norman Fell as First Sgt. Towser (Major Major's Desk Clerk, later Acting Squadron Commander)
- Charles Grodin as Captain "Aarfy Aardvark" (Navigator)
The adaptation changed the book's plot. Several story arcs are left out, and many characters in the movie speak dialogue and experience events of other characters in the book. Despite the changes in the screenplay, Heller approved of the film, according to a commentary by Nichols and Steven Soderbergh included on a DVD release. According to Nichols, Heller was particularly impressed with a few scenes and bits of dialogue Henry created for the film, and said he wished he could have included them in the novel.
The pacing of the novel Catch-22 is frenetic, its tenor intellectual, and its tone largely absurdist, interspersed with brief moments of gritty, almost horrific, realism. The novel did not follow a normal chronological progression; rather, it was told as a series of different and often (seemingly, until later) unrelated events, most from the point of view of the central character Yossarian. The film simplified the plot to largely follow events in chronological order, with only one event shown in Yossarian's flashbacks.
In a long, continuous shot, in the scene where Captain Major accepts his rank as Major, becoming Major Major Major Major, the portrait in his office inexplicably changes from President Roosevelt, to Prime Minister Churchill, then to Premier Stalin.
Paramount assigned a $17 million budget to the production and planned to film key flying scenes for six weeks, but the aerial sequences required six months of camera work, resulting in the bombers flying about 1,500 hours. They appear on screen for approximately 10 minutes.
Catch-22 is renowned for its role in saving the B-25 Mitchell aircraft from possible extinction. The film's budget accommodated 17 flyable B-25 Mitchells, and one hulk was acquired in Mexico, and flown with landing gear down to the Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico filming location. The aircraft was burned and destroyed in the landing crash scene. The wreck was then buried in the ground by the runway, where it remains to this day.
For the film, prop upper turrets were installed, and to represent different models, several aircraft had turrets installed behind the wings representing early (B-25C/D type) aircraft. Initially, the camera ships also had mock turrets installed, but problems with buffeting necessitated their removal.
Many of the "Tallman Air Force fleet" went on to careers in films and television, before being sold as surplus. Fifteen of the 18 bombers remain intact, including one displayed at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.
Death on the set
Second Unit Director John Jordan refused to wear a harness during a bomber scene and fell out of the open tail turret 4,000 ft. to his death.
Catch 22 was not regarded as a great success with the contemporary public or critics, earning less money and acclaim than MASH, another war-themed black comedy from the same year. In addition, the film appeared as Americans were becoming resentful of the bitter and ugly experience of the Vietnam war, leading moviegoers to quit seeing war movies of all kinds, except for the movie hits MASH and Patton. Critic Lucia Bozzola wrote "Paramount spent a great deal of money on Catch-22, but it wound up getting trumped by another 1970 antiwar farce: Robert Altman's MASH." Film historians and reviewers Jack Harwick and Ed Schnepf characterized it as deeply flawed, noting that Henry's screenplay was disjointed and that the only redeeming features were the limited aerial sequences. Despite the film's commercial and critical failures, it was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography and retained a cult following. A modern reassessment has made the film a "cult" favorite; it presently holds an 88% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Adaptations in other media
There have been other films with "Catch-22" in their names, including the documentary Catch-22 (2007) and the short films Catch 22: The New Contract (2009) and Catch22 (2010), but they have been unrelated to either the book or film adaptation.
In popular culture
- The Simon & Garfunkel song "The Only Living Boy in New York" was written by Paul Simon about his experience being left alone when Art Garfunkel went to Mexico to make the film.
- The anti-war song “Survivor Guilt” by punk rock band Rise Against features samples of dialog from the movie at; specifically, the discussion between Nately and the old man about the fall of great countries and potential fall of the USA, and their argument about the phrase “It’s better to live on your feet than die on your knees.” The same excerpts from the film were previously used by lead singer Tim McIlrath, in the song, "Burden" with his former band, Baxter.
- "Catch-22, Box Office Information" at The Numbers (retrieved May 23, 2012).
- Canby, Vincent. "Catch-22 (1970) Movie Review." New York Times, June 25, 1970.
- Tallman 2008, p. 15 (Editor's Note).
- Nichols and Soderbergh 2001
- McCarthy, Todd. "Catch-22 (Review)." Variety, Volume 383, Issue 5, p. 18, June 18, 2001.
- Evans 200, p. 38.
- "Trivia." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: November 20, 2011.
- Orriss 1984, p. 189.
- Farmer 1972, p. 59. Note: Most of the aerial footage was unused due to a directorial conflict between Nichols and Tallman, head of the Air Operations and Aerial Unit.
- Farmer 1972, pp. 20–21.
- Thompson 1980, p. 75.
- Farmer 1972, p. 23.
- Farmer 1972, pp. 58–59.
- "National Air and Space Museum Collections Database." Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved: April 16, 2008.
- Conant, Richard. "The 70's movies Rewind.". 70s.fast-rewind.com. Retrieved: June 27, 2009.
- Bozzola, Lucia. "Catch-22 (overview)." The New York Times. Retrieved: April 15, 2008.
- Harwick and Schnepf 1989, p. 62.
- "Catch 22 (1973)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: November 20, 2011.
- "Catch-22." IMDb. Retrieved: November 20, 2011.
- "The Words and Music of Paul Simon", James Bennighof, p. 48, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007, ISBN 0-275-99163-6
- "Reviews: "File under: Rejuvenated political punk (from Rise Against Endgame)." altpress.com, March 15, 2011. Retrieved: May 22, 2012.
- Farmer, James H. "The Catch-22 Air Force." Air Classics, Volume 8, No. 14, December 1972.
- Harwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies". The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
- Nichols, Mike and Steven Soderbergh. "Commentary." Catch-22 DVD (Special Features). Los Angeles: Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, 2001.
- Orriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorne, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.
- Tallman, Frank. "The Making of Catch-22." Warbirds International, Vol. 27, no. 4, May/June 2008.
- Thompson, Scott A. "Hollywood Mitchells." Air Classics, Vol. 16, No. 9, September 1980.
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