It doesn’t surprise me that M*A*S*H became a successful and iconic television series. The movie version of the field hospital operating during the Korean war is much more of a collection of stories based around a few key characters rather than one, straight story that covers the 116 minutes running time. This has its positives and negatives, as some stories stand-out and work very well where other moments in the movie drop in quality – like a tv series.
The key to the success of the movie are the main characters. There are plenty of decent, well-written characters in the movie but as to be expected, Donald Sutherland’s Hawkeye and Elliott Gould’s Trapper steal the film. They are the driving force behind the many different stories that the movie comprises of, none more so than one involving a golf-trip and injured baby, a story that highlights how great these characters are and why a tv show is the better option for a movie designed this way.
It’s a comedy drama and there are some great comedy moments. They way that Hawkeye and Trapper deal with Robert Duvall’s Frank Burns makes for some great humour, as does the constant pranks played on Sally Kellerman’s “Hot Lips” O’Houlihan. It’s a cast made up of eclectic, fantastically varied characters that means that a lot of the movie works very well, with some great moments and stories.
Unfortunately, the issue with M*A*S*H is that there are moments that fall flat and begin to drag. A whole section with a dentist known as Painless, who is considering suicide, begins quite strongly and then falls into the bizarre, almost losing sight of what it is trying to do. This isn’t the only time the movie begins to drudge along, feeling quite aimless until the next, strong storyline begins. It leaves the movie feeling quite slow and bogged down when it should be much more quick-fire, with a higher gag-rate.
That being said, the movie tows the line between comedy and drama very well. The story mentioned before, with the small child hurt while the two key characters are trying to blag a golf trip, shifts from absurd comedy to cold drama. It’s used to highlight the comedy within war very well. None more so than when you see the surgery scenes, focusing on the conditions these surgeons were forced to work in.
This is not the only accomplishment of the movie. It was with the final twenty-minutes, consisting of a quite funny football match between different sections of the army, that I realise how good a M*A*S*H tv show would be. It has a cast of characters that are interesting enough to translate to the small screen and the movie works very well as an extended pilot, rather than a stand-alone feature.
Overall, M*A*S*H is best viewed as a template for a very successful tv show. It has great characters, played very well by a decent cast, and moments that are very funny. It is interspersed with great drama, delivered well in contrast with the comedy but the actual film itself suffers from being “hit-and-miss” with its story. As a pilot episode for a tv show, it’s great, as a stand-alone movie, it suffers.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)