Sunday, 27 April 2014

MASH (1970) 70's Marathon 9#

Directed by: Robert Altman
Comedy, War
116 Minutes

At the beginning of the 1970’s Robert Altman brought to the screen Richard Hookers novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors- a story set in a ‘Mobile Army Surgery Hospital’, during the Korean War. To those who do not know of the book, the premise of this appears to sets the stage for a gritty drama, but instead we get a roll-on-the-floor comedy full of pranks and laughs. M*A*S*H today is considered one of the great comedies, and one of the best films from the 70’s for its hilarity, and satirising war (and also with subtext of the Vietnam War). It still maintains its comedic elements, and it is easy to see why.

One thing that makes it so funny is how subtle it is at times. In the world of comedy, we have the great slapstick of Buster Keaton, Woody Allen’s hilarious monologues and Mel Brooks’ absurdity: here there seems to be a different tone that sets it aside other comedies. The setting of the film in this army hospital is a darkly lit giving the impression of a melancholy place; but the characters get up to silly pranks, such as one terrific scene, where they place the microphone in a bedroom, recording one of the characters having sex. The microphone blasts the music aloud for the whole camp to hear, when the joke “Hot Lips” comes to life. This scene was hilarious, and in no way does the film show signs of being dated.

Poster for the film. Click to enlarge.
The humour is easy to understand, and as a whole, you can see how it satirises the role of those in the war, such as when a nurse says about an injured Korean, “He’s a prisoner of War”. One of the doctors says in response “So are you my dear, you just don’t know it yet”. The subtlety, but truth of the joke works so well.

The films characters themselves are hilarious. We hardly ever see them doing their job, but instead see them goofing around, and eventually in a ball game. The music of the opening also makes itself remembered when used again in the film (no spoilers).  Robert Altman makes a very different kind of comedy with themes of anti-war and anti-establishment, which made itself quickly known. M*A*S*H went on to inspire a spin-off TV series in 1972, and is one of the classic comedy movies the 1970’s have to offer.




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