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A look at MASH’s golden years as the film reaches 50

It was 50 years ago today that a cultural phenomenon was launched when the MASH film premiered in New York.

A black comedy, it would become a box office hit all over the world and generate a longtime television series of the same name plus other series that have kept the name MASH on TV for 15 years.

The series is still a regular on satellite and cable channels to date.

Based on MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors by surgeon Richard Hooker (real name Hornberger), the film was directed by Roger Altman from a screenplay by Ring Lardner Junior, a previously blacklisted “Hollywood Ten” screenwriter who won the Oscar for Best Screenplay adapted for MASH.

The film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and garnered five Oscar nominations in all, and having been produced for $ 3 million, it generated over $ 80 million at the box office. He is regularly voted among the best comedy films of all time.

What is it really about?

GIVEN the strong opinions against the war of Altman and Lardner Jnr, those who claim that the film speaks of the Vietnam War as much as Korea has a strength.

He described life in the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital as chaotic and occasionally insane but with humor that went from very dark to downright farcical.

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The film created all the main characters that continued in the television series, with surgeons Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John arriving in 4077 and bringing their anarchist sense of humor along with their brilliant surgery.


By 1970 standards it wasn’t, but the treatment of head nurse Margaret “Hotlips” Houlihan was nothing short of misogynistic, her love was broadcast on the camp radio and her body was exposed by a collapsing shower wall. Such scenes would probably not have been made in a traditional film today.

How did the TV series arrive?

After the film was hugely popular at the box office, and with the mood in the United States rebelling firmly against the Vietnam War, producer Larry Gelbart purchased the rights and the series began airing in 1972. It aired until 1983 when his latest episode attracted a record 125m audience. There were spin-offs but neither Trapper John MD nor AfterMash did good business while W * A * L * T * E * R * never managed to get through the pilot episode.


DONALD Sutherland in the film was probably the best known of the main actors who starred in The Dirty Dozen.

Also in 1970 he played Oddball in Kelly’s Heroes and the following year he starred alongside Jane Fonda in Klute, starting a wonderful career that continues in his eighties.

Elliott Gould, Sally Kellerman and the great Robert Duvall have all been successful, but only one of the protagonists of the film went regularly to the television series: Gary Burghoff, who played Radar O’Reilly for seven seasons and won an Emmy for the his acting.

On the small screen, MASH ran for another 10 years since the Korean War itself. The series featured Alan Alda (Hawkeye), Wayne Rogers (Trapper), Loretta Swit (Houlihan), McLean Stevenson (Blake), Larry Linville (Burns), Mike Farrell (Hunnicutt), Jamie Farr (Klinger), William Christopher (Mulcahy) and David Ogden Stiers (Winchester).


The film had an uncredited extra in the role of a soldier – Sylvester Stallone. The words of the Suicide Is Painless musical theme were written by Altman’s son Michael. Neither the film nor the television series was shot in Korea. Klinger was only scripted for one episode.

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