1970 / Director. Robert Altman.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
When I talk to people about M*A*S*H I am constantly amazed at how many of them never knew that there was a movie. It's not unusual for members of my video store to ask me about war films and seek my recommendations. The moment M*A*S*H is mentioned most of them immediately think of the TV series. Of course that series made television history but in my opinion is nowhere near as potent and endearing as Robert Altman's 1970 classic. Set during the Korean war the film follows the exploits of a Mobile Army Service Hospital and it's staff. Lead by two surgeons, Hawkeye (Donald Sutherland) and Trapper (Elliot Gould), the group of unruly personnel seek amusement from what is an otherwise demoralizing job. While the film remains a powerful statement about the psychological price of war it is even more powerful now when viewed within the context of time. Upon its release M*A*S*H was a bold and confronting film. Its bloody, graphic and unapologetic nature was shocking to most moviegoers. The nature of the comedy was controversial with themes of suicide, religion and sexuality laying foundation to the film's humour. The performances are all exceptional and the characters themselves are so brilliantly written and realized. Of course they were all adapted from the original novel but without people like Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Tom Skerritt, Robert Duvall and Sally Kellerman bringing them to life the film could have so easily missed the mark. The other power of the film is it's cinematography. Altman shot most of the movie from huge distances with an extreme zoom. Perhaps the average moviegoer wouldn't even notice this method but what it lends the film is a sense of isolation. We're outsiders looking in and can't fully appreciate the nature of war from afar. M*A*S*H was Robert Altman's first feature film and the production was famously tense. Sutherland and Gould saw Altman as an amatuer and campaigned to have him fired... how misguided they were. Not only did Altman deliver a powerful and long lasting classic but he also forged one of the most respectable careers in Hollywood. If you've never seen M*A*S*H then hurry to it. Even if you hated the TV series, you ought to see this.