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