Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Altman
Fred Williamson (football scenes)
|Produced by||Ingo Preminger|
|Screenplay by||Ring Lardner, Jr.|
|Based on||MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors
by Richard Hooker
|Music by||Johnny Mandel|
|Cinematography||Harold E. Stine|
|Editing by||Danford B. Greene|
Ingo Preminger Productions
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||116 minutes|
MASH (stylized as M*A*S*H on the film's poster and art) is a 1970 American satirical black comedy film directed by Robert Altman and written by Ring Lardner, Jr., based on Richard Hooker's novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors. It is the only feature film in the M*A*S*H franchise and became one of the biggest films of the early 1970s for 20th Century Fox.
The film depicts a unit of medical personnel stationed at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) during the Korean War; the subtext is about the Vietnam War. It stars Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerritt and Elliott Gould, with Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall, René Auberjonois, Gary Burghoff, Roger Bowen, Michael Murphy and, in his film debut, professional football player Fred Williamson. The film inspired the popular and critically acclaimed television series M*A*S*H, which ran from 1972 to 1983.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (July 2011)|
In 1951, the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital is assigned two replacements: Captains "Hawkeye" Pierce and "Duke" Forrest, who arrive in a stolen Jeep. They are insubordinate, womanizing, mischievous rule-breakers but they soon prove to be excellent combat surgeons. They immediately clash with their new tent mate Major Frank Burns, who is both a religious man and an inferior surgeon. Hawkeye and Duke pressure Lt. Colonel Henry Blake, the unit CO, to have Burns removed from "their" tent. They also ask him to apply for a specialist thoracic surgeon to be assigned to the 4077th. Their wish is granted when Captain "Trapper" John McIntyre arrives at the 4077th.
Major Margaret Houlihan, the newly assigned chief nurse of the camp, arrives and later has a brief discussion about Army protocol with Hawkeye, who develops an immediate dislike for her, despite being attracted to her. Houlihan and Burns make plans to bring discipline to the M.A.S.H. unit, which they consider to be out of control. In the post-op ward, Trapper sees Frank Burns unjustly blame Private Boone, an orderly, for a patient's death. During Houlihan's tour of the camp, Trapper confronts Burns and punches him.
While Henry is away visiting General Hammond at the 325th Evac Hospital, Trapper, now chief surgeon, leads the camp in a general abandonment of regulations, and wild partying ensues. Burns and Houlihan are appalled and write a report to the General. They also give in to their repressed passions and engage in a sexual encounter. Hawkeye, Duke and Trapper quickly discover the tryst and broadcast it over the public address system; everyone hears Houlihan telling Burns to "Kiss my hot lips!", earning her the nickname "Hot Lips". The next day, Hawkeye quietly taunts Burns about the encounter, goading Burns to attack him. Burns is sedated, restrained and shipped stateside.
Father Mulcahy, the camp's chaplain, tells Hawkeye that Walt Waldowski, the unit's dentist, has consulted him about a problem. Mulcahy feels unable to divulge any details because Walt confided in him during confession. Waldowski tells Hawkeye that he suffered a "lack of performance" with a visiting nurse and now believes he has latent homosexual tendencies. He wants to commit suicide, and asks advice on a reliable method. Hawkeye, Trapper and Duke suggest that he use the "black capsule", a fictitious fast-acting poison. At a farewell banquet that satires The Last Supper, Walt takes the capsule (actually a sleeping pill) and falls asleep in a coffin. Hawkeye persuades Lt. Maria Schneider to spend the night with Walt and cure him of his "problem."
Duke announces that he is partial to blondes, prompting Hawkeye to declare that Duke is attracted to Hot Lips. Duke suggests she isn't a natural blonde; Hawkeye bets $20 that she is, but they have no way to find the truth. They develop an elaborate plan in which Hot Lips is isolated in the showers, and counterweights are used to raise the wall of the shower tent, exposing Hot Lips to the entire camp. The plan works, money is exchanged, and Hot Lips is further humiliated. The hysterical Houlihan demands that Blake do something to discipline his surgeons, and threatens to resign her commission if he doesn't have Duke and Hawkeye arrested. Blake, who is lying in bed with his mistress at the time, dismisses Houlihan's complaint. Houlihan leaves in tears.
Trapper is ordered to proceed to Kokura, Japan, to operate on the GI son of a U.S. Congressman. Seeing an opportunity to play golf, he takes Hawkeye to assist. The two invade the hospital and order the patient into surgery within the hour. An old friend of Hawkeye, "Me Lay" Marston, is their anaesthetist, and they quickly finish the surgery. Due to their previous antics, they are cornered by the MPs and escorted to the hospital's commander, Col. Wallace Merrill. They escape repercussions by reminding Merrill that they just saved the life of the Congressman's son. Later, while relaxing at Dr. Yamachi's New Era Hospital and Whorehouse (where Me Lay moonlights as a doctor), Hawkeye and Trapper are alerted to a Japanese-American baby with a serious medical problem. Taking advantage of their status as medical heroes, they go to the military hospital to operate, but are stopped by Merrill. They incapacitate him, anesthetize him, and then take nude blackmail photos of him with one of the prostitutes.
On a visit to the 4077th, General Hammond suggests that the two units play a "friendly" football game, with some money thrown into a pot to make bets ($5,000 or $6,000). Hawkeye comes up with a plan to win all the money. First, they get Henry to apply for a specific neurosurgeon: Dr. Oliver Harmon Jones, a former professional football player for the San Francisco 49ers. Then, they bet half their money up front and keep the ringer (Jones) out of the first half of the game. During the game, Houlihan uncharacteristically participates as a cheerleader, letting her hair down so to speak, perhaps in an effort to fit in and perhaps resigning herself to the reality that she is not going to change the culture of the 4077th. Once the other team has racked up some easy points and become confident enough to offer good odds to bet the rest of the money, the 4077th brings in Jones for the second half. The 325th has their own ringers, however, and the 4077th fights back with illegal injuries and by drugging the 325th's running back. The game comes down to the last play, in which the quarterback (Trapper) returns the ball to the center, who then hides the ball under his jersey and runs into the end zone for the winning touchdown while everyone else chases a phantom ball.
Not long after the football game, Hawkeye and Duke get their discharge orders and begin their journey home - in the same stolen Jeep they arrived in.
- Donald Sutherland as Capt. Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce
- Elliott Gould as Capt. John Francis Xavier "Trapper John" McIntyre
- Tom Skerritt as Capt. Augustus Bedford "Duke" Forrest
- Sally Kellerman as Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan
- Robert Duvall as Major Frank Burns
- Roger Bowen as Lt. Col. Henry Braymore Blake
- René Auberjonois as Father John Patrick "Dago Red" Mulcahy
- John Schuck as Capt. Walter Koskiusko "The Painless Pole" Waldowski, DDS
- Carl Gottlieb as Capt. John "Ugly John" Black
- Danny Goldman as Capt. Murrhardt
- Corey Fischer as Capt. Dennis Patrick Bandini
- Jo Ann Pflug as Lt. Maria "Dish" Schneider
- Indus Arthur as Lt. Leslie
- Dawne Damon as Capt. Scorch
- Tamara Horrocks as Capt. Bridget "Knocko" McCarthy
- David Arkin as SSgt. Wade Douglas Vollmer/PA Announcer. (Note: In the movie, Duke called him "Lee".) (Note: The credits list him as a staff sergeant, but he wears the three rockers of a master sergeant)
- Gary Burghoff as Cpl. "Radar" O'Reilly
- Ken Prymus as Pfc. Seidman
- Fred Williamson as Capt. Oliver Harmon "Spearchucker" Jones
- Michael Murphy as Capt. Ezekiel Bradbury "Me Lay" Marston IV
- Timothy Brown as Cpl. Judson
- Bud Cort as Pvt. Lorenzo Boone
- G. Wood as Brig. Gen. Charlie Hammond
- Kim Atwood as Ho-Jon
- Dale Ishimoto as Korean doctor
- Bobby Troup as SSgt. Gorman
- Marvin Miller as PA Announcer
The screenplay, by Ring Lardner, Jr., is radically different from the original novel; in the DVD audio commentary, Altman describes the novel as "pretty terrible" and somewhat "racist" (the only major black character has the nickname "Spearchucker"). He claims that the screenplay was used only as a springboard. However, the screenplay itself reveals that, while there is some improvisation in the film, and although Altman moved major sequences around, most sequences are in the screenplay. The main deletion is a subplot of Ho-Jon's return to the 4077th—as a casualty. When Radar steals blood from Henry, it is for Ho-Jon's operation under Trapper and Hawkeye's scalpels. When the surgeons are playing poker after the football game, they are resolutely ignoring a dead body being driven away—Ho-Jon's. The main deviation from the script is the trimming of much of the dialogue.
The filming process was difficult, because of tensions between the director and his cast. During principal photography, Sutherland and Gould spent a third of their time trying to get Altman fired; Altman, relatively new to the filmmaking establishment, at that time lacked the credentials to justify his unorthodox filmmaking process and had a history of turning down work rather than creating a poor-quality product. Altman: "I had practice working for people who don't care about quality, and I learned how to sneak it in." Altman later commented that if he had known about Gould and Sutherland, he would have resigned. Gould later sent a letter of apology, and Altman used him in some of his later works, but he never worked with Sutherland again.
There were only a few uses of loudspeaker announcements in the original cut. When Altman realized he needed more structure to his largely episodic film, editor Danford Greene suggested using more loudspeaker announcements to frame different episodes of the story. Greene took a second-unit crew and filmed additional shots of the speakers. On the same night that these scenes were shot, American astronauts landed on the moon.
During production, a caption that mentions the Korean setting was added to the beginning of the film, at the request of 20th Century Fox studios. The Korean War is explicitly referenced in announcements on the camp public address system and during a radio announcement that plays while Hawkeye and Trapper are putting in Col. Merrill's office which also cites the film as taking place in 1951.
In his director's commentary on the DVD release, Altman says that MASH was the first major studio film to use the word "fuck" in its dialogue. The word is spoken during the football game near the end of the film by "The Painless Pole" when he says to an opposing football player, "All right, Bud, this time your fucking head is coming right off!" The actor, John Schuck, has said in several interviews that Altman encouraged ad-libbing, and that particular statement made it into the film without a second thought. Interestingly, the offending word was not censored during a late-night broadcast of the film on ABC in 1985; subsequent broadcasts of the film on network television have the word removed altogether. (MASH had its television premiere as a CBS Friday Night Movie on September 13, 1974 @ 9:00 (EDT), three days after the start of the third season of the M*A*S*H TV series; it was repeated on CBS March 5, 1976.)
Johnny Mandel composed incidental music used throughout the film. Also heard on the soundtrack are Japanese vocal renditions of such songs as "Tokyo Shoe Shine Boy", "My Blue Heaven","Happy Days are Here Again", "Chattanooga Choo Choo", and "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo"; impromptu performances of "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and "Hail to the Chief" by cast members; and the instrumental "Washington Post March" during the climactic football game. Columbia Records issued a soundtrack album for the film in 1970.
MASH features the song "Suicide Is Painless", with music by Mandel and lyrics by Mike Altman, the director's then 14-year-old son. The version heard under the opening credits was sung by uncredited session vocalists John Bahler, Tom Bahler, Ron Hicklin, and Ian Freebairn-Smith (on the single release, the song is attributed to "The Mash"); the song is reprised later in the film by Pvt. Seidman (played by Ken Prymus). Altman has noted in interviews that his son made quite a bit more money off publishing royalties for the song than the $70,000 or so he was paid to direct the film.
MASH won the Palme d'Or at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Sally Kellerman), and Best Film Editing, and won an Oscar for its screenplay.
The film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) in 1971.
The film was re-released in North America in 1973 and earned an estimated $3.5 million in rentals. In order to attract audiences to the M*A*S*H television series which was struggling with audiences at the time the film was re-released at 112 minutes and received a PG rating. Several scenes were edited including segments of graphic operations, the f-word in the football game, and the scene where the curtain in the shower is pulled up on Hot Lips. "Suicide is Painless", the film's main theme song was removed from this version and new title music by Ahmad Jamal, was used instead according to film critic and historian Leonard Maltin in his movie and video guide. In the 1990s Fox Video released a VHS version of MASH under their "Selections" banner which ran 116 minutes and rated PG. However this is not the alternate PG version which was released in 1973. It runs the same amount of time that the original 1970 version did and none of the aforementioned scenes were removed from this VHS release and "Suicide is Painless" was still the main theme used. The actual 1973 PG edited version, has never been released on any video formats in the United States.
The critical reception for MASH was unanimously positive. The film currently holds a 90% rating on review aggragator Rotten Tomatoes based on 39 reviews.
- Blumberg, Joel (2008). "A Conversation With Fred "The Hammer" Williamson". Blair & Associates (Kit Park Films).
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p. 256.
- "M*A*S*H, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 29, 2012.
- The Entertainment Weekly Guide to the Greatest Movies Ever Made. New York: Warner Books. 1996. p. 49.
- Film Curator, (NCMA), the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina "Gould and Sutherland had rebelled on the set, convinced that Altman's unstructured directing would destroy their fledgling careers."
- Film Curator, (NCMA), the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina. "Between 1957 and 1964 he worked on at least 20 tv shows... fired from most of them for his experimentation with non-linear narrative and overlapping sound."
- Film Curator, (NCMA), the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina, quote attributed to Robert Altman
- Robert Altman (director commentary) (2002-01-08). M*A*S*H (DVD). Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
- "Enlisted: The Story of M*A*S*H" (making-of documentary), Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2001.
- Robert Altman (director commentary) (2002-01-08). M*A*S*H (DVD). Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Retrieved 2007-05-15.
- Film Curator, (NCMA), the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina. "There was absolutely no mention of Korea in the movie, and Fox insisted that be fixed. An introductory title and the PA announcements were used..."
- Film Curator, (NCMA), the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina. "An introductory title and the PA announcements were used to clarify that this was certainly -not- the current Asian war, Vietnam."
- "Festival de Cannes: MASH". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-04-10.
- "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p. 19.
- MASH at the Internet Movie Database
- MASH at the TCM Movie Database
- MASH at Box Office Mojo
- Elliott Gould remembers M*A*S*H, from the BBC website; in RealMedia
- Mash at Rotten Tomatoes