MASH probably meant a lot more to people in 1970 when the Vietnam War was going in full swing and people were coming back in body bags. The purpose of the movie seems to treat to any kind of military decorum with utter contempt and Bugs Bunny style screwball comedy. Bugs Bunny is incredibly cruel to Elmer Fudd, but that is because Elmer Fudd wants to hurt Bugs Bunny. In the same way, Hawkeye Pierce, played by Donald Sutherland, and Trapper John McIntire, played by Elliot Gould, in the face of the horrors of war and their forced enlistment, have turned into little psychopaths devoid of compassion and only interested in their own amusement. This only becomes funny when contrasted with the utter griminess of their camp and the utter grimness of the surgical operating room in time of warfare. These men face horrors every day so they lash out in funny ways, but have become otherwise emotionally detached from everything else.
Roger Ebert gave the movie 4 stars and it has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The contrast of humor with wartime horror makes the film unique and pretty amazing that they could pull this off. Donald Sutherland adds a lot to the movie because he portrays Hawkeye Pierce as completely indifferent and a little sadistic, but still likable as the anti-hero.
The difference between MASH the movie and M*A*S*H the TV show is that the TV characters have a heart. There is no way the movie version of these characters would have passed muster on television. It is the television show that feels more dramatic.
The movie left me with the impression that it is the Easy Rider of war movies. In either film the characters have no regard for the rules, whether those rules be of society or the military. In both cases the characters yearn to be free but the situation they are in prevents that.
Despite the uniqueness of this movie, it only comes off as passable entertainment. The movie is more interested in chaos than it is in plot. The last 20 minutes involves a football game that seems out of place, but this does add to the screwball factor. It feels like they couldn't figure out how to end the movie.
Rating: * * *