M*A*S*H (1970): Robert Altman’s irreverent film adaptation of Richard Hooker’s novel is a spoof on the futility of war that was set in Korea but coming as it did while our troops were fully engaged in Southeast Asia, its anti-establishment subtext is really about the confusion and cultural clashes during the Vietnam War.
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Set in the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital somewhere near the stagnant Korean War front lines, the plot ambles along following several zany yet competent doctors “Hawkeye” Pierce (Donald Sutherland), “Trapper” John McIntyre (Elliott Gould) and “Duke” Forest (Tom Skerritt) as they try to adapt their markedly undisciplined lifestyles to the rigid protocols of the US military–saving lives along the way.
Featuring notable performances by Robert Duvall as the bumbling and overly-sanctimonious Frank Burns and Sally Kellerman as a career military nurse “Hot Lips” O’Houlihan who cannot get out of the way of her own sexuality, this dark comedy is as good as it gets in the genre of biting satire.
The hilarious antics and memorable characters including “Spearchucker” Jones (called so because he, ahem, used to throw the javelin), Father Francis “Dago Red” Mulcahy, “Painless Pole” Waldowski (the “best equipped” dentist in the army) and Cpl. “Radar” O’Reilly prompted the creation of the hit TV series two years later. But unlike the often preachy, sometimes over-the-top self-righteous décor of the TV show, M*A*S*H the movie is much more subtle and thus effective in its social commentary.
Most important, it’s darned funny.