Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan


DIRECTED by Robert Altman
PRODUCED by Leon Ericksen & Ingo Preminger
SCREENPLAY by Ring Lardner, Jr
BASED ON THE NOVEL by Richard Hooker
ORIGINAL MUSIC by Johnny Mandel (also song “Suicide Is Painless”)
ART DIRECTION by Arthur Lonergan & Jack Martin Smith

“Attention, attention … Tonight’s movie is M*A*S*H. Follow the zany antics of our combat surgeons as they cut and stitch their way along the front lines, operating as bombs and bullets burst around them, snatching laughs and love between amputations and penicillin. Starring Donald Sutherland as “Hawkeye” Pierce …”

I’m going to get sacrilegious here. I hated M*A*S*H the TV show. The reason is simple: I loved the movie so much that I was totally unable to accept the TV stars taking the place of the characters I adored. I mean, Alan Alda as Hawkeye? He seems to be a nice guy, but he’s no Donald Sutherland.

“Attention. You’ll howl with laughter as Major Burns and “Hot-lips” Houlihan group in … ah, grope in the dark tent.”

And Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) was driven away in a strait jacket, fer chrissake, what was he doing back, impersonated by Larry Linville? Hotlips was driven almost to a nervous breakdown.

“See ‘The Last Supper’ recreated by the boys of the 4077th M*A*S*H unit, see ‘Painless Polish’ Wal … Waldow … see Painless take the black pill. Correction, black capsule. Watch ‘Dago Red’ bless a stolen jeep. Whistle and stomp as Sally Kellerman’s public … uh, pubic hair is revealed in the most famous shower scene since Sicko. Check that, Psycho.”

Oh, shut up. These new TV characters were too freakin’ nice, too! Sure, in the movie the original cast was capable of doing good things; in fact, they did a lot of good things. But they could be mean as shit, too. The sense of the stress these people were under was enormous. Their ability to joke while the blood was literally gushing over them was something entirely new to me.

“Thrill to the zaniest football game ever put on film. Watch Radar pop out of nowhere and tell Colonel Blake what he’s about to say. Golf along with the Pros from Dover. Listen to ‘My Blue Heaven’ in Japanese.”

… goddam idiot PA system. Anyway … also missing was Robert Altman’s trademark overlapping dialogue, as if he’s merely listening in. And what the heck was a laugh track doing in a tent? I could never accept the laugh track. M*A*S*H is the best anti-war movie ever made. It is full of sly comments about those wacky G.I. movies of the ’50s, when everybody was a veteran. The TV series is like a Classic Comix version of MacBeth. It’s like a copy of the Mona Lisa in Crayon.

“Attention. Respected skiffy author and movie critic John Varley says M*A*S*H is simply the best anti-war movie ever made. All non-commissioned officers will report for short-arm inspection at oh-eight-hundred hours. That is all.”

Goddam army.