Review: MASH (1970)


A thoroughly despicable picture from start to finish!

Screenplay By: Ring Lardner Jr.
Directed By: Robert Altman

I have heard the argument that MASH is a film about how men will do anything to cope with war and that we should be okay with that. I don’t agree with that argument for a second, at least as it relates to the film. MASH takes sides, it says, one way of coping is okay and any other way isn’t. If you are a prick and an asshole the camera will lovingly capture you, the director will show you off as a great hero. However, if you happen to try to cope with war through religion or through diving into the military lifestyle the camera will hate you, showing you in a bad light and constantly humiliating you. There are only two options in MASH, either you hang with the cool kids and are a despicable human being, or you go against the grain and are viewed as a piece of shit.

In case the above wasn’t clue enough, I hated MASH with every fiber of my being. I have this weird compunction where I want my black comedies to be funny, not a series of random events and shots that I could care less about. Throughout the entire run time of MASH I didn’t crack a single smile, nor did I laugh once. It wasn’t because of the subject matter, no, despite the serious nature of the world the characters inhabit, MASH is meant to be a dark comedy. But, it isn’t funny, not for a second.

I believe the lack of humor in MASH comes down to the characters, at least the leads, and how thoroughly despicable they are. I’m supposed to find it funny that Hawkeye, Trapper and Duke spend their entire existence tormenting everyone around them? I’m supposed to find it funny that you can only cope with war if you act like the the three leads? I didn’t find them funny, and as previously stated I didn’t find MASH funny in any way. The three of them are assholes, and the movie revels in this, trying to treat them as some sort of counter culture heroes. Being counter culture doesn’t mean you have to be an asshole and treat everyone around you like shit. Being an anti-hero doesn’t mean you have to be a prick to everyone you see.

The above creates a scenario where any time the movie tries for actual pathos I just didn’t care. I haven’t been given any characters to care about, a setting to care about, anything to care about. Because I have nothing to care about, why should I care about the lame attempts at emotion and pathos? Maybe other people did, but I need a reason to care, being presented with a soldier dying isn’t good enough for me in a movie, I need context and I need something, anything to care about.

I have realized through my ventures into his films that I’m not that big on Robert Altman. MASH is the worst I have seen from him, but the rest haven’t been any better than good. I realize this is a highly unpopular opinion, and it’s not that he isn’t talented or without skill. I find his style unappealing and I don’t feel any connection to his characters or to the worlds he tries to create. MASH being the worst I have seen from Altman to this point is the best example of my failure to connect with what he puts on the screen. But, MASH goes beyond a failure to connect, it reaches a level where I hated every second of it and the distance between myself and the movie only grew as the seconds ticked by.

Characters don’t have to be nice, but I don’t have much time for movies that try to glorify or present hideous characters as heroic. A movie like Very Bad Things acknowledges that its characters are terrible human beings, it doesn’t try to present them as anything but that. MASH is the opposite, its characters are terrible human beings, but Altman wants to present them as heroes, as people to revel with. Even though most people will disagree, avoid MASH at all costs, it is a terrible movie about reprehensible people and not worth the time required to watch the first scene, let alone the whole movie.





15 responses to “Review: MASH (1970)

  1. I totally agree, man. I’ve just seen it and it’s total crap. I second every single word you wrote. This is the most overrated movie of all times!

  2. You miss the point altogether. The film is dry comedy about the the Vietnam War (Korea was just a cover)and how silly sexually repressed people like Frank Burns and “Hotlips” need to grow up.
    They were having a shot at every thing. The set out to have a shot at everything…like religion, from naive priests Dago Red listening to Burns and Hotlips going at it.and the last supper. It is an anti-war film, that’s all.

    Oh! I never banjo pick and pig-squeal without a 9mm in each boot, how about you?

  3. Sara – It’s plenty overrated, but I’m not sure if I would say it’s the most overrated movie of all time.

    Stewart – I didn’t miss the point at all, it’s not a funny movie at all, and Altman doesn’t take shots at everything and everyone, he picks and chooses what and who to take shots at. It’s a terrible film, that’s all.


  5. You are so ignorant i felt as if i had to comment, first of all your wrong but anyway your writing style sucks, you said the word “all” three times in that last comment do use all a favor and learn how to use proper english

  6. Ah yes, the troll who criticizes the words used in a comment on a WordPress blog. I’m not going to bash you for that, instead I’ll reiterate my stance on comments such as yours. First, there is no wrong when it comes to film. It’s a subjective art and thus any opinion is valid as long as it’s backed up by well reasoned thoughts. And that brings us to your comment, where as I always say if you’re not going to bother bringing any actual meat to the discussion then don’t bother. Your comment was a waste of your time and mine, but feel free to return and add something useful to the discussion if you can manage that.

  7. Bill, I agree with you. Forget the idiots who love the film; they wouldn’t know good moviemaking if it bit them on the rear, and they must be pretty much like the dispicable morons in the film to like it so much. It wasn’t funny, sad or anything else; just disgusting. The TV show was so much better; the characters had depth and showed they cared about the patients and even each other, even when they didn’t always agree or get along. And unlike the movie , the TV show at least had plot lines.

  8. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them idiots Heather. Let them like what they like and we can like what we like, variety is the spice of cinema after all. I do agree, though, with the criticisms you levy against the film. As for the TV series, I honestly can’t recall much of what I did see from the reruns I caught when growing up, but there’s no way it can be as bad as the film, I have that remembrance at least.

  9. “It wasn’t funny, sad or anything else; just disgusting”
    Humourless Hot Lips Houlihan couldn’t have said it any better.

  10. She was pretty dead on in that quote, unintentionally so.

  11. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  12. Yeah, I have to agree, although the show was even worse. And Altman was overrated.

  13. You’re singing my song when it comes to Altman.

  14. Pingback: Top 100 Movie Review: #56 – MASH (1970) – The Top 100 Reviews

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