Originally released on January 25, 1970, director Robert Altman’s “MASH” is an antiwar black comedy set in the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. It was adapted from Richard Hooker’s “MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors” by Ring Lardner, Jr. and though it was set in South Korea, the film’s sardonic and irreverent tone was really a commentary about the then-ongoing Vietnam War. “MASH” was both a commercial and critical success; it earned five Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Film Editing) and won one (Best Adapted Screenplay). It also spun off three television situation comedies – “M*A*S*H,” “Trapper John, MD,” and “AfterMASH.”
Starring Donald Southerland as Capt. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, Elliott Gould as Capt. “Trapper John” McIntyre, Tom Skerritt as Capt. Duke Forrest, Sally Kellerman as Maj. Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan, and Robert Duvall as Maj. Frank Burns, “MASH” is an episodic look at life at the 4077th MASH from the point of view of Army doctors and nurses – mostly draftees – in 1951 Korea. Although its narrative is hardly linear, the film follows the misadventures and assorted hijinks of Hawkeye, Trapper, and Duke as they perform “meatball surgery” on wounded soldiers and carouse during their infrequent off-duty breaks.
Colonel Blake: Hawkeye Pierce? I got a TWX from headquarters about you… says you stole a jeep.
Hawkeye Pierce: No sir, no, I didn’t steal it. No, it’s right outside.
Of the three incarnations of “M*A*S*H,” Altman’s film is perhaps the more sardonic and dark version. Because “MASH” is a feature film intended for adult audiences, Altman had more leeway than the TV series’ adapters to depict both the horrors of war and the somewhat raunchy and alcohol-laced off-duty escapades of young, bored, lonely, and often horny doctors and nurses in a hellish locale in Asia.
As in all his subsequent films, Altman uses multiple storylines, a large ensemble cast, innovative cinematography (including the use of zoom lenses), and carefully choreographed sequences that veer from the bloody operation room to a climactic football match between the 4077th MASH and the 325th Evac Hospital. Other vignettes include:
- Hawkeye and Duke’s arrival at the 4077th, in which he “liberates” a jeep and antagonizes yet another Regular Army guy (Bobby Troup)
- Frank Burns’ mean spirited dig at a young orderly (Bud Cort), in which he blames the sensitive private for a patient’s death and incurs the wrath of Trapper John
- The “Suicide is Painless” sequence, in which Hawkeye, worried that Capt. Walter Kosciusko ‘Painless Pole’ Waldowski (John Schuck), the unit’s dentist, is suicidal over impotence and other “issues,” convinces Lt. Dish (Jo Anne Pflug) to have sex with the despondent man
- The “shower scene” where the surgeons attempt to settle a bet regarding the question of whether or not Margaret Houlihan is a “natural blonde”
- Hawkeye and Trapper John’s escapades in Tokyo, in which they turn an Army hospital practically upside down (figuratively) in their efforts to save a Congressman’s GI wounded son
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has released “MASH” on DVD in at least three editions. The 2004 edition included in the “M*A*S*H Complete Series and Movie” bundle is a one-disc version. This DVD presents the original version of Altman’s comedy-drama in its entirety. (20th Century Fox, in a bid to raise the struggling TV series’ popularity, released a heavily edited version of “MASH” in 1973 which excised the shower scene and an ad-libbed line by actor John Schuck which includes the first use of the F-word in a Hollywood movie.)
The DVD also includes a few interesting extras, including a director’s commentary track by Robert Altman, an episode of AMC’s behind-the-scenes documentary series “AMC Backstory,” a photo gallery, and 20th Century Fox’s promotional theatrical trailer.
- Codec: MPEG-2
- Encoding format: 16:9
- Resolution: 480i (NTSC)
- Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
- Original aspect ratio: 2.35:1
- English: Dolby Digital 2.0
- English: Dolby Digital Mono
- French: Dolby Digital Mono
- English, Spanish
- DVD Single disc (1 DVD)
- Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
- Rated: R (Restricted)
- Studio: 20th Century Fox
- DVD Release Date: September 7, 2004
- Run Time: 116 minutes