A Case of Catch-22

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”You mean there’s a catch?”

“Sure there’s a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.    (Joseph Heller, Catch-22) Continue reading

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The Americanization of Emily (1964) Arthur Hiller

“The first dead American on Omaha Beach will be a sailor!”

    Six years before Catch-22 and M*A*S*H were released in theaters, The Americanization of Emily appeared almost out of nowhere. Vietnam was still low on the boiling plate of the American conscience, however, this film does hold the distinction of being the first anti-war film of the Vietnam era. Sweet Julie Andrews, only a few months earlier had burst on to the screen in the Disney film, Mary Poppins (1964). Five months after the release of Emily, she would be forever anointed in the public’s mind as Miss Goody Two Shoes with more sugar than a Cuban cane field, after the release of The Sound of Music (1965). Yet, in between those two films, slipping under the public’s radar, Andrews appeared in this dark biting anti-war satire.

   James Garner is Lt. Commander Charlie Madison whose official position is acting as an aide for Admiral William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas). More importantly Madison’s unofficial position is being a “dog robber,” an aide who will obtain whatever the Admiral wants, legally…or not so legally, and Charlie’s the best.  Charlie’s bartering arsenal includes a large supply of Hershey bars, stockings, bourbon and clothes to get what he needs. Stationed in England just prior to the D-Day invasion, Charlie can “buy” anything his commanding officer desires including steak, wine and women.  Everyone knows good ol’ Charlie and likes him. If Charlie needs a favor, a box or two of Hershey’s chocolates or maybe a couple of pairs of nylons will help secure it. Remember, this is England, heavily rationed during the war.

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M*A*S*H (1970) Robert Altman

In January 1970, I was back from Vietnam only five months or so. A four month stint followed in the states at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and now I was on leave before heading off to Germany to complete my three years of service.  While home, I was catching up with family, friends and movies, lots of movies! While everyone else was working during the day, I spent many hours in Manhattan (I lived in Brooklyn at the time) in the dark of a movie theater or two or three.  One of the films I caught was M*A*S*H.

From the opening scene with choppers carrying the bloody wounded bodies of soldiers, while on the soundtrack came the soft mellow sound of a song with the odd title, “Suicide is Painless,” you quickly realized  you were in for something different.  Here was a satirical, unhinged bloody (for the times), offensive, anti-war comedy.  The film not only mocked military procedures and war but religion takes a bit of a beating too. Like “Dr. Strangelove,” some six years earlier the film laughs at the absurdities of war and the bureaucracy behind it. Egotism, incompetence and piousness all take a shellacking.

The films two anti-heroes are Hawkeye Piece and Trapper John McIntyre played respectively by Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould. They are superstar surgeons stationed in a M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit only a few miles from the frontline in Korea. A third surgeon, Duke Forrest (Tom Skerritt) is also part this tight renegade group. From the beginning the surgeons establish themselves as outside the rules of military behavior. Even when they are not in surgery, they operate on a separate playing field; rank and prodigal are ignored, they speak to everyone on a first name basis. During one surgical operation Duke tells the chaplain, Father Mulcahy, aka Dago Red (Rene Auberjonois), to stop praying over a dead soldier and assist him in saving the life of the patient he is working on saying, “I’m sorry, Dago, but this man is still alive and that other man is dead, and that’s a fact.” Continue reading