MASH (film)

MASH (film)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Altman
Produced by Ingo Preminger
Screenplay by Ring Lardner, Jr.
Based on MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors by
Richard Hooker
Starring Donald Sutherland
Elliot Gould
Tom Skerritt
Music by Johnny Mandel
Cinematography Harold E. Stine
Editing by Danford B. Greene
Studio Aspen Productions
Ingo Preminger Productions
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) January 25, 1970 (1970-01-25)
Running time 116 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.5 million
Box office $81,600,000

MASH is a 1970 American satirical dark 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. It 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 during the Korean War; however, the subtext is really about the Vietnam War.[1] It stars Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerritt and Elliott Gould, with Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall, Gary Burghoff, Rene Auberjonois, and Fred Williamson. The film inspired the popular and critically acclaimed television series M*A*S*H, which featured Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, Loretta Swit, Jamie Farr, and Burghoff, and ran from 1972 to 1983.



In the Autumn of 1951, the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital is in need of replacements, and is assigned two: Captain "Hawkeye" Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and Captain "Duke" Forrest (Tom Skerritt). On their arrival, it becomes clear that they are rebellious, womanizing, mischievous rule-breakers (they arrive having "borrowed" a Jeep, and immediately begin flirting with the nursing staff), but they soon prove beyond argument that they are also good at their jobs. They immediately clash with their new tent mate Major Frank Burns (Robert Duvall), who is both a religious man and an inferior surgeon. Hawkeye and Duke put pressure on Lt. Colonel Henry Blake (Roger Bowen), the unit's CO, to have Burns removed from "their" tent. At the same time, they ask him to apply to have a specialist thoracic surgeon assigned to the 4077th.

The mysterious new thoracic surgeon arrives, and gives away little about who he is or where he's from. Hawkeye, though, is convinced he has seen the new man somewhere before. It is only after an impromptu football game that Hawkeye recalls a college football game he played in which he scored the only touchdown by intercepting a pass from the opposing team's (Dartmouth) quarterback, the new thoracic surgeon, Captain "Trapper" John McIntyre (Elliott Gould).

Major Margaret Houlihan (Sally Kellerman), the newly assigned chief nurse of the camp, arrives to be greeted by Henry Blake (who mistakenly refers to her as "O'Houlihan" several times). At the same time, in the post-op ward Trapper observes Frank Burns blaming Private Boone, an orderly, for a patient's death when he doesn't get to Burns in time with a cardiac needle. During Houlihan's tour of the camp, Trapper confronts Burns and punches him. Since Houlihan witnesses this outburst, Henry must wait before he can appoint Trapper as the new chief surgeon.

While Henry is away visiting General Hammond at the 325th Evac Hospital, the camp, led by Trapper, lets loose. Burns and Houlihan are appalled, and together they write a report on the unmilitary goings-on. In the process, they give in to their own repressed passions and engage in a sexual encounter. But their tryst winds up being broadcast over the PA system and leads to Houlihan gaining her nickname, "Hot Lips", as a result of everyone hearing her tell Burns to "Kiss my hot lips!" They are forced to end this hastily when they realize the whole camp is listening to them. The following day, Hawkeye quietly taunts Burns about the encounter, so much so that Burns leaps across the mess table to attack him. This leads to Burns' being sedated, restrained, and shipped back stateside.

Father Mulcahy, also called "Dago Red" (René Auberjonois), the camp's chaplain, tells Hawkeye that "Painless Pole" Waldowski (John Schuck), the unit's dentist, has consulted him about a problem. Though Mulcahy feels unable to divulge any details (Waldowski had come to him in confession), he makes clear the severity of the problem. Waldowski, the "best equipped dentist in the army", tells Hawkeye that he has suffered a "lack of performance" with a visiting nurse and now believes that he has latent homosexual tendencies. Soon after, he reveals his desire to commit suicide and seeks advice on which method to use. Hawkeye, Trapper, and Duke suggest that he use the "black capsule" (a fictitious, fast-acting poison). At an impromptu Last Supper, Painless takes the capsule (actually a sleeping pill) and falls asleep in a coffin to the strains of "Suicide is Painless". Hawkeye then persuades Lt. Maria "Dish" Schneider (Jo Ann Pflug), a nurse who is returning to the U.S. the following day, to spend the night with Painless, thus curing him of his problems.

During a discussion, Duke announces that he is partial to blondes, to which Hawkeye responds by claiming his friend has a thing for "Hot Lips". Duke counters by suggesting she isn't even a natural blonde and bets $20 with Hawkeye to find out. Together, the boys come up with a scheme: when the nurses are all going to use the showers, each of them is waylaid except Hot Lips. Then, on cue, the flap covering the shower tent is lifted to expose Hot Lips, naked, to the camp, plunging her into complete and total humiliation. Duke then tells Hawkeye that Hawkeye owes him $20 (implying that her pubic hair is not blonde).

In hysterics, "Hot Lips" storms off to Colonel Blake's tent and screams at him that the camp is an insane asylum and that it's his fault for letting the doctors get away with practically anything. She threatens to resign her commission if Blake doesn't turn Duke and Hawkeye over to the MPs. Blake, who is listening to Houlihan's diatribe while lying in bed with nurse Leslie (Indus Arthur), finally tells Houlihan " Well goddamn it, Hot Lips, resign your goddamn commission". Houlihan dejectedly turns and leaves, while sobbing "My commission, my commission".

Ho-Jon (Kim Atwood), a local teenager who works in the camp, is drafted into the South Korean army. Hawkeye drives him to the induction center in Seoul for his physical, where he is found to have high blood pressure and a rapid heartbeat. The examining doctor refuses to disqualify Ho-Jon, insinuating that Hawkeye may have given Ho-Jon some medicine to induce these symptoms and keep him from being conscripted. Hawkeye reluctantly has to let him go.

Back in camp, Trapper is ordered to proceed to Kokura, Japan, to operate on the GI son of a U.S. Congressman who has been injured in training. Seeing an opportunity to golf on the quality courses, he takes Hawkeye to assist. The two barge into the hospital and order the young man into surgery within the hour. With Hawkeye's old friend "Me Lay" Marston (Michael Murphy) as the anaesthetist, they quickly finish the surgery; but on the way out of the hospital, they are cornered by the MPs and are escorted to the hospital's commander, Col. Wallace Merrill. Reminding the Colonel that "the Pros from Dover" have bailed him out of a potential situation with the Congressman's son, any threats that Merrill could make are effectively nullified.

While recuperating at the Dr. Yamachi's New Era Hospital and Whorehouse where Me Lay moonlights as a doctor, Hawkeye and Trapper come across a Japanese-American baby with a serious medical problem. Taking advantage of their status as "the Pros from Dover", they go to the military hospital to operate, but are stopped by Merrill. However, the three anesthetize him and then blackmail him by taking nude pictures of him in bed with one of the prostitutes.

On their return from Japan, Hawkeye, and Trapper immediately go into surgery for several hours. Done with the surgery and eager to get some sleep, they head back to their tent only to find that Duke has locked it up. They then observe him sneaking Hot Lips out, making it clear that Duke was not as averse to the chief nurse as he claimed.

On a visit to the 4077th, General Hammond shares a drink with Hawkeye, Trapper, and Duke and suggests that their two units play a "friendly" football game, with some money thrown into a pot to make bets ($5,000 or $6,000). Seeing an opportunity to make some money, Hawkeye comes up with a plan. First, they get Henry to apply for a specific neurosurgeon: Dr. Oliver Harmon "Spearchucker" Jones, a former professional football player for the San Francisco 49ers. Then, Hawkeye's plan calls for them to bet half their money up front and keep the ringer (Jones) out of the first half of the game. 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 game goes down to the last play, described as "center-eligible", which calls for the ball to be returned from the quarterback (Trapper) to the center (Wade Douglas Vollmer), who then hides the ball under his jersey. While everyone chases the phantom ball, Vollmer runs unobserved to score a touchdown, winning the game and the bets for the 4077th.

Not long after the football game, Hawkeye and Duke receive their discharge orders and begin their journey home - in the same Jeep they arrived in, while the PA Announcer reads the credits.



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, due to tensions between the director and his cast. During principal photography, Sutherland and Gould spent a third of their time trying to get Altman fired;[2] 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.[3] Altman: "I had practice working for people who don't care about quality, and I learned how to sneak it in."[4] Altman later commented that if he had known about Gould and Sutherland, he would have resigned.[5] 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.[6]

During production, a caption that mentions the Korean setting was added to the beginning of the film,[7] at the request of 20th Century Fox studios.[8] The Korean War is explicitly referenced in announcements on the camp public address system[9] 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.[citation needed]

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.



The film won the Palme d'Or at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival.[10] 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 movie was the 38th film to be released to the home video market when 20th Century Fox licensed fifty motion pictures from their library to Magnetic Video.

In 1996, MASH was deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

This film is number 17 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies".

American Film Institute recognition

See also


  1. ^ The Entertainment Weekly Guide to the Greatest Movies Ever Made. New York: Warner Books. 1996. p. 49. 
  2. ^ 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."
  3. ^ 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."
  4. ^ Film Curator, (NCMA), the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina, quote attributed to Robert Altman
  5. ^ Robert Altman (director commentary) (2002-01-08). M*A*S*H (DVD). Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. 
  6. ^ "Enlisted: The Story of M*A*S*H" (making-of documentary), Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2001
  7. ^ Robert Altman (director commentary) (2002-01-08). M*A*S*H (DVD). Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Event occurs at 00:03:19. Retrieved 2007-05-15. 
  8. ^ 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..."
  9. ^ 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."
  10. ^ "Festival de Cannes: MASH". Retrieved 2009-04-10. 

External links

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