M*A*S*H (1970), a Hollywood “New Wave” Black Comedy

MASH (1970) directed by Robert Altman is a dark comedy film that exploits the daily life of surgeons and staffs at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. The story follows two unorthodox surgeons, Captain “Hawkeye” Pierce and Captain “Duke” Forrest as they arrive at the complex, steal cars, chase women and stir up the camp.

The film opens with a helicopter shot of air lifted casualties heading to the MASH, along with the song “Suicide is Painless” playing as the background music. This setting immediately establishes a main objective of the movie, which is a critique of war.  Strangely a tense but at the same time humorous feeling (that of a dark comedy) emerges as you watch the film carry on.  For example, the depiction of the operating rooms in the MASH, as doctors and nurses chatters lively while the patients seemingly already dead but are still being operated on.

The film narration is unlike many prior films in the Hollywood production, there is no significant plot to follow to the story. Instead, the movie feels like a compilation of episodes as Captain “Hawkeye” and “Duke” meets a new surgeon in the camp named Captain “Trapper”,  New chief nurse Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan visits the camp and embarks a sex scandal with Lt. Colonel Henry Blake, A dentist named “Painless Pole” Waldowski attempts to suicide and gets cured, and simply just a whole lot of behind the door situations that occurs in a MASH. All in all, crude satirical jokes and sexual scenes are abundant in this Hollywood “New Wave” period work.

Conclusively, as a dark comedy, the movie does not fail to deliver the contradiction of the reality and the non sense that goes on in the film. As a political satire of war, it also delivers sharp pinpointed perspective throughout certain parts of the movie. A scene which is quite memorable in the movie, perhaps best satirizes the war, is when Major “Hot Lip” expressed her frustration with how a degenerative person like Captain “Hawkeye” was able to reach such a position in the army while a solider sitting at an adjacent table simply responded “He was drafted.”

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About reganwu

Media History 146 Student @ QC
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4 Responses to M*A*S*H (1970), a Hollywood “New Wave” Black Comedy

  1. reganwu says:

    I feel like I ended my post too abruptly, I would like to point out that this movie is in fact a satire of the ongoing Vietnam war in the 1970s. It is this historical relevance that gave this work high regards in the history of films, in addition to the comical exploration of the sexes (another “New Wave” element).

  2. reganwu says:

    In addition, I have made a name error, as usual with these old movies with ancient accents, its hard to get a clue who is who if you don’t pay attention. Major “Hot Lips” had a sex scandal (moaning got broadcast over the camp radio) with Major Frank Burns, and not Lt Colonel Henry Blake. Lt Colonel Henry Blake is the one who runs the MASH camp, and had a football bet with General Hammond’s evac team.

  3. Juan Monroy says:

    Very good. The Dark Comedy aspect of it certainly challenges the way Hollywood would have addressed an ongoing war, which is clear from the opening moments of the film.

    What sources did you use?

  4. reganwu says:

    I wasn’t able to edit before, but here are my sources:

    “MASH”. Cinema Image Gallery. Web. 27 Feb. 2011.

    “The Entertainment Weekly Guide to the Greatest Movies Ever Made”. New York: Warner Books. 1996. p. 49.

    “MASH (film).” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. .

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