Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
USA, 1970. Aspen Productions, Ingo Preminger Productions, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr., based on the novel by Richard Hooker. Cinematography by Harold E. Stine. Produced by Ingo Preminger. Music by Johnny Mandel. Production Design by Arthur Lonergan, Jack Martin Smith, Michael Friedman. Film Editing by Danford B. Greene. Academy Awards 1970. Cannes Film Festival 1970. Golden Globe Awards 1970. New York Film Critics Awards 1970.
For war movies, we have comedies, horrific dramas, science-fiction and Apocalypse Now, which pretty much defies all the above interpretations. What else can be made to exemplify the ridiculous nature of national combat except an absurdist comedy? And who better to make a genre-inverting, multi-layered film with a totally outrageous tone of humour than Robert Altman? This fantastic film, laced with acerbic commentary about the American military, claims to take place in Korea but obviously means to be a comment on the war in Vietnam (that or none of the actors thought to cut their hair). Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerritt and Elliott Gould are all brilliant as military doctors who run the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital and spend more of their time clowning around, drinking martinis and trying to bag beautiful babes than actually trying to aid the war effort. Sally Kellerman enters the scene as a stern, involuntary participant to the boys’ hijinks, though even she eventually learns their rhythms (and also gives the performance of her career). The last third, where the soldiers engage in a huge, professional football game, is when you know you’ve gone right through the looking glass into surreal movie territory. It’s wonderful, and still so damn funny after all these years. Two popular television shows followed.