M*A*S*H - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

USA, 1970

Director: Robert Altman

Production: Twentieth Century-Fox; color, 35mm, Panavision; running time: 116 minutes. Released 1970.

Producer: Ingo Preminger; screenplay: Ring Lardner, Jr., from the novel by Richard Hooker; photography: Harold E. Stine; editor: Danford Greene; art directors: Jack Martin Smith and Arthur Lonergan; music: Johnny Mandel.

Cast: Donald Sutherland ( Hawkeye ); Elliott Gould ( Trapper John ); Tom Skerritt ( Duke ); Gary Burghoff ( Radar O'Reilly ); Sally Kellerman ( Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan ); Robert Duvall ( Major Frank Burns ); John Shuck ( Painless Pole ); Roger Bowen ( Colonel Henry Blake ); René Auberjonois ( Dago Red ); Jo Ann Pflug ( Lieutenant Dish ).

Awards: Oscar for Best Screenplay—Material from another medium, 1970; Best Film, Cannes Film Festival, 1970.



Feineman, Neil, Persistence of Vision: The Films of Robert Altman , New York, 1976.

Kass, Judith M., Robert Altman: American Innovator , New York, 1978.

Sind, Lawrence H., Guts and Glory: Great American War Movies , Reading, Massachusetts, 1978.

Kolker, Robert Philip, A Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Kubrick, Coppola, Scorsese, Altman , Oxford, 1980; revised edition, 1988.

Bourget, Jean-Loup, Robert Altman , Paris, 1981.

Karp, Alan, The Films of Robert Altman , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1981.

Giannetti, Louis, Masters of the American Cinema , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1981.

Kagan, Norman, American Sceptic: Robert Altman's Genre-Commentary Films , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1982.

Wexman, Virginia Wright, and Gretchen Bisplinghoff, Robert Altman: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1984.

Plecki, Gerard, Robert Altman , Boston, 1985.

Wood, Robin, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan , New York, 1986.

Keyssar, Helene, Robert Altman's America , New York, 1991.

Cagin, Seth, Born to Be Wild: Hollywood and the Sixties Generation , Boca Raton, 1994.

O'Brien, Daniel, Robert Altman: Hollywood Survivor , New York, 1996.

Sterritt, David, editor, Robert Altman: Interviews , Jackson, 2000.


Trutta, G., in Harper's Bazaar (New York), March 1970.

Bartlett, Louise, in Films and Filming (London), March 1970.

Johnson, William, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1970.

Dawson, Jan, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1970.

Time (New York), 13 July 1970.

"What Directors Are Saying," in Action (Los Angeles), July-August and November-December 1970.

Gow, Gordon, in Films and Filming (London), August 1970.

Tavernier, Bertrand, "D. W. Griffith se porte bien, moi aussi, merci!," in Positif (Paris), October 1970.

Cutts, John, " MASH , McCloud , and McCabe ," in Films and Filming (London), November 1971.

Grisolia, M., "Entretien avec Robert Altman," in Cinéma (Paris), July-August 1972.

Baker, C. A., "The Theme of Structure in the Films of Robert Altman," in Journal of Popular Film (Washington, D.C.), Summer 1973.

Corliss, Richard, "Outlaws, Auteurs, and Actors," in Film Comment (New York), May-July 1974.


"Altman Seminar" in Dialogue on Film (Beverly Hills), February 1975.

Rosenbaum, Jonathan, "Improvisations and Interactions in Altmanville," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1975.

Wood, Robin, "Smart-Ass and Cutie-Pie: Notes Toward an Evaluation of Altman," in Movie (London), Autumn 1975.

"Altman Issue" of Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Fall 1975.

Pittman, Bruce, in Take One (Montreal), August 1976.

Pitiot, P., and H. Talvat, "Robert Altman de Mash à Nashville ," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), September-October 1976.

Jacobs, Diane, "Robert Altman," in Hollywood Renaissance , New York, 1977.

Michener, Charles, interview with Robert Altman, in Film Comment (New York), September-October 1978.

Desmarais, James J., in Magill's Survey of Cinema 3 , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.

Yacowar, Maurice, "Actors as Conventions in the Films of Robert Altman," in Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Fall 1980.

Olin, Joyce, "Ring Lardner, Jr.," in American Screenwriters , edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark, Detroit, 1984.

Freedman, C., "History, Fiction, Film, Television, Myth: The Ideology of M*A*S*H ," in The Southern Review (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), no. 1, 1990.

Freedman, C., " M*A*S*H och anti-antikommunismen," in Filmhaftet (Uppsala, Sweden), December 1990.

Tibbetts, John C., "Robert Altman: After 35 Years, Still the 'Action Painter' of American Cinema," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), vol. 20, no. 1, January 1992.

Breskin, David, "Robert Altman: The Rolling Stone Interview," in Rolling Stone , no. 628, 16 April 1992.

Norman, Barry, in Radio Times (London), vol. 279, no. 3649, 11 December 1993.

Buchsbaum, T., " M*A*S*H ," in Film Score Monthly (Los Angeles), no. 58, June 1995.

* * *

M*A*S*H , one of the most popular films of the early 1970s, achieved stardom for Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould, spawned a successful television series, and gave its innovative director, Robert Altman, his first financial and critical success.

In M*A*S*H —and to a greater extent in his later films—Altman abandons conventional Hollywood narrative techniques in favor of a very personal style characterized by overlapping dialogue, improvisational acting, elliptical editing, wide-screen Panavision compositions, telephoto shots (specifically shots through windows and past obstructing foreground objects), and the development of a large community and of major characters within a limited time and space. These techniques alter conventions of narrative structure in two ways. First, the improvisational acting, the multiple babble of overlapping dialogue, and the frequently voyeuristic telephoto shots (particularly the shots of explicit gore in the operating scenes) generate a sense of spontaneity and authenticity usually found in documentary, rather than narrative, films. Second, the large number of characters arranged within the wide Panavision frame, the compression of space caused by the telephoto lens, and the continuous barrage of overlapping dialogue, music and P.A. announcements on the soundtrack combine to create an aural and visual denseness that demands much more of a viewer's attention and active participation than does the shallow-focus cinematography, the separation of major characters from peripheral characters, and the one-speaker-at-a-time dialogue of conventional narrative.

When M*A*S*H appeared in 1970, audiences—caught up in the spirit of rebellion generated by the civil rights movement, the women's movement, the drug culture, the demonstrations against the Vietnam War, etc.—revelled in the film's iconoclastic humor, its joyous deflation of patriotism, religion, heroism, and other values cherished by the establishment. The film became an immediate box office success, earning over $36 million in domestic rentals by 1983. The critics also favored M*A*S*H , but while they praised its innovative techniques, some critics thought that the film's humor was too smug and the scenes involving the trip to Tokyo and the football game were flaws in the film's structure. Today critics feel that M*A*S*H is inferior to most of Altman's later films (none of which proved as successful at the box office), though the film is still highly regarded for its innovative narrative techniques and its effective humor.

—Clyde Kelly Dunagan

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