It's set during the Korean War, in a mobile army surgical hospital. But no one seeing "M*A*S*H" in 1970 confused the film for anything but a caustic comment on the Vietnam War; this is one of the counterculture movies that exploded into the mainstream at the end of the '60s. Director Robert Altman had labored for years in television and sporadic feature work when this smash-hit comedy made his name (and allowed him to create an astonishing string of offbeat pictures, culminating in the masterpiece "Nashville"). Altman's style of cruel humor, overlapping dialogue, and densely textured visuals brought the material to life in an all-new kind of war movie (or, more precisely, antiwar movie). Audiences had never seen anything like it: vaudeville routines played against spurting blood, fueled with open ridicule of authority. The cast is led by Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland, as the outrageous surgeons Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John McIntyre, with Robert Duvall as the uptight Major Burns and Sally Kellerman in an Oscar-nominated role as nurse "Hot Lips" Houlihan. The film's huge success spawned the long-running TV series, a considerably softer take on the material; of the film's cast, only Gary Burghoff repeated his role on the small screen, as the slightly clairvoyant Radar O'Reilly. "--Robert Horton"
Wouldn't you know there was as much chaos and conflict behind the scenes of M*A*S*H
as in front of the lens? Enlisted: The Story of M*A*S*H
, a meaty original documentary that pulls together most of the stars and many of the filmmakers for all new interviews, paints a crazy portrait of the confusion and studio politics that almost shut the production down. The shorter AMC Backstory
is mostly redundant, but it challenges screenwriter Ring Lardner's claim that he respected the improvisations of Altman and his cast; according to this documentary, he hated them. M*A*S*H: History Through the Lens
contrasts the film's anarchy with the real-life experiences of doctors and nurses from Korean War MASH units. Though a stirring director, Robert Altman is less than inspiring on the commentary track and his sporadic insights largely echo the documentaries. --Sean Axmaker