(out of 5)
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.
Directed by Robert Altman
Cinematography by Harold E. Stine
Produced by Ingo Preminger
Music by Johnny Mandel
Film Editing by Danford B. Greene