I'm at a loss to know what the makers of this movie were trying to
achieve. The two main characters, Hawkeye and Trapper John, are
possibly the two most obnoxious characters ever committed to celluloid,
smug, bullying, misogynistic, devious and self centred. That would be
fine if Altman had intended to show these ugly traits as being part of
human nature brought to the surface by war, but he seems, perversely,
to show such qualities as admirable.
The atmosphere resembles that of a school playground with bullying
towards non-conformists being much in evidence. Conformity here is of
course alcoholism, gambling and womanising. Again, this would be fine
if the film makers intended this moral inversion and reversion to
adolescence as being a bad side effect of war, in a sort of Lord of the
Flies way, but the impression is that the lawless pack are the good
guys while anyone who represents order is to be humiliated simply
because this is "fun". Doing things by the book is such a drag, maaan.
Robert Duvall is the first to be mocked, simply because he happens to
be praying. He is later punched by Trapper on a thin excuse and for
which Trapper receives no punishment. Next he and "hot lips" have their
passion broadcast for the amusement of all. The slender justification
for this is that he is married, although almost everyone else is
ignoring their wedding vows. Duvall is soon goaded into a fight and
unjustly carted off in a strait jacket. Hot Lips receives a great deal
of ritual humiliation simply because she is not popular. And the
repulsive part is we are meant to be laughing AT her not feeling any
sympathy for her. She soon has her dignity removed by having the
curtain pulled away while she is showering, again to the amusement of a
cheering mob. Her desperate plea for justice is treated like a joke by
the commander (and the director).
All of this is shocking, but is presented as light entertainment. At no
point to we get the impression that the descent into the baying mob
mindset is a bad thing. Next the dentist who has concerns over his
sexuality tells this to the 'hero' Hawkeye (the priest having heard
this in the confession virtually breaks his vows in his eagerness to
let Hawkeye know about it). Hawkeye then blabs this sensitive info to
everyone who jeer at the dentist and laugh at his intention to commit
suicide. He is "cured" of his gayness by a mock last supper (with heavy
influence of Da Vinci), mock funeral and then a sexy girl. Hey presto
all is alright. Hawkeye and Trapper continue their obnoxious antics in
Japan where they treat some nurses with contempt, then gas and make
compromising photos of a commander who dared to question them.
At this point the audience is expecting the pair to receive their well
deserved comeuppance. Alas, this never comes. Instead the movie lurches
into a long football match, which includes a black player called "spear
chucker", and which they win by cheating. Perhaps this is meant to be
some allegory of war? Since we are shown several images of the opposing
team sitting on the bench sharing a joint, I guess the intended message
is that the best option in war is to sit on the sidelines and take
This football sequence also points up the inconsistency in the writing.
Hot Lips, having previously opposed the playing of football, suddenly
becomes the chief cheerleader. No explanation is given. She is still
treated to derogatory comments, and ends up meekly sitting at a poker
table obediently watching the men play cards. The Stepford Wives has
nothing on Mash.
The writing has this inconsistency throughout. Rambling sequences.
General sloppiness. Characters who disappear. Duvall goes early on.
Then the young boy he was teaching is taken off "for a few days" by a
doctor who notices the boy's high heart rate. We never know what
happens to him. The dentist disappears after his moment.
This is not a well made film and a waste of the talent of all involved.