Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #74

74. M*A*S*H (1970)

Director Robert Altman knew what went into a good movie: a superb ensemble cast, a story that could reach a certain audience and a screenplay with an intelligent wit and conversational style. In this film, based on the novel by Richard Hooker (who was a trauma surgeon during the Korean War), the story is about a fictional US Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (or MASH) stationed in Korea. The doctors (the main trio played by Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould and Tom Skerritt) are disenchanted with the military because of the death they see swirling around them, so they pass their time with crazy antics and extremely non-military activities. Despite their wacky tendancies, they are phenomenal surgeons (most of them). The conflicts arise out of their anti-war sentiments and how they anger some of the more reserved members of the hospital, including Major Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) and Major Margaret Hoolihan (perfectly played by Sally Kellerman). The latter gains the nickname "Hot Lips" after some of the antics of the others cause the two Majors to lose their inhibitions and engage in a night of passion. The screenplay is very sharp, funny and full of jabs at war and governments (both foreign and domestic). That aspect should not surprise people since the screenwriter, Ring Lardner Jr., was among the Hollywood 10, the writers who were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era in the 1950's. It is a classic dark comedy that has become part of Americana (in part thanks to the successful TV series based on the film that ran on CBS from 1972-1983, and is constantly in syndication).

Next Post: #73

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