in about 100 words or less
US 116m, Colour
Director: Robert Altman; Cast: Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt, Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall
Perhaps more widely known from the hugely successful network television series which followed, M*A*S*H – the movie is based on the lesser-known Richard Hooker & W. C. Heinz novel of the same name. Set during the Korean War in an American mobile surgical unit, this is a dark satirical anti-establishment comedy which was also served as a critique of the Vietnam War which was still being fought at the time. Featuring a great ensemble cast of oddball characters, M*A*S*H is a wildly irreverent film which launch Altman’s directorial career in major motion pictures (Klaus Ming November 2012).
The beginning of Altman’s “glory years,” when he was actually viewed as successful in Hollywood and people wanted him to direct their movies. During that period (1970 through roughly 1976) he directed more than one movie a year. All of them are good, several of them are great, and one of them is my favorite movie of all time. (He continued to make great movies for the rest of his life, but somewhat less often.)
Midway through the shooting, Gould and Sutherland tried to get Altman fired because they couldn’t figure out what he was doing. They failed, obviously, and they both apologized when they saw the final product.This made them probably the last actors to complain about Altman (who was pretty much universally loved by actors). Gould made more movies with Altman, though I don’t think Sutherland ever did.
I’ve seen this cited as the first Hollywood movie to mock sincere religious belief (Frank Burns here is not the hypocritical character of the TV show — he’s obviously a very religious man).
The f-bomb near the end may have been a first in a Hollywood film, too. 🙂
I like the movie, but it’s not great. It was the perfect movie for that time, and it made the movies which followed it possible.
Altman hated the TV show, partly because they turned his movie into a sitcom and partly because he didn’t get any money from it (adding insult to injury, his teenage son got more money from the TV show than he ever did, because he (the son) wrote the lyrics for the theme song — even though the lyrics were never used on the show).
I knew the television show before the movie – probably like a lot of younger people (at the time) – i’ve since come to appreciate what the book and film where attempting to do.
The Frank Burns character is so much more effective in the film – and is certainly the most important difference in the network television show (which lacked much of the emotional depth of the film).
As for Altman’s work, I think McCabe & Mrs. Miller was artistically his best film (although The Player is still pretty much my favourite).
Speaking of McCabe (as I love to do 🙂 ), have you seen The Claim? It’s clearly Michael Winterbottom’s attempt to make his own McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Not a complete success, and unevenly cast (the actresses are far stronger than the actors), but it’s interesting to see a movie which is so completely an homage to another movie.