Most of the doctors who worked in Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals during the Korean War were very young, perhaps too young, to be doing what they were doing. They performed the definitive surgery on all the major casualties incurred by the 8th Army, the Republic of Korea Army, the Commonwealth Division and other United Nations forces. Helped by blood, antibiotics, helicopters, the tactical peculiarities of the Korean War and the youth and accompanying resiliency of their patients, they achieved the best results up to that time in the history of military surgery.
The surgeons in the MASH hospitals were exposed to extremes of hard work, leisure, tension, boredom, heat, cold, satisfaction and frustration that most of them had never faced before. Their reaction, individually and collectively, was to cope with the situation and get the job done. The various stresses, however, produced behavior in many of them that, superficially at least, seemed inconsistent with their earlier, civilian behavior patterns. A few flipped their lids, but most of them just raised hell, in a variety of ways and degrees. This is a story of some of the ways and degrees. It's also a story of some of the work.
The characters in this book are composites of people I knew, met casually, worked with, or heard about. No one in the book bears more than a coincidental resemblance to an actual person.
—Richard Hooker, M A S H: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, 1968
The publisher sent the novel to Ring Lardner, Jr. in the hope that he'd write a jacket blurb. He did.
"Not since Catch 22 has the struggle to maintain sanity in the rampant insanity of war been told in such outrageously funny terms."
He also worked to get it made into a movie. He wrote the screenplay adaptation and as screenplay adaptations go it's about as faithful to the source material a one as comes to mind. That's why I couldn't be definite earlier in the week as to what in the movie is in the book and what isn't. The football game and the ringer are there. The Congressman's son and pictures of an officer and a girl in a bed are there. The impotent dentist and the black capsule are there. Ho-Jon goes into the army. He turns up later in the operating room and then action above and beyond the call of duty is taken. He is not evacuated. They operate again to take a shell fragment out of the left pulmonary artery. They do something amusing and sacrilegious to raise money to send him to school at a small college in Maine. The last sentence in the chapter about him: Soon after, Hawkeye Pierce's old fraternity, assured by Hawkeye that Ho-Jon's prep school education had included martini mixing and crapshooting, pledged him.
The movie villains, being movie villains, have more prominent roles. Frank Burns is not depicted as being religious and is merely reassigned to a stateside hospital the day after attacking Hawkeye over some comments made about a nurse. The nurse is later told by her exasperated commanding officer to resign her [expletive deleted] commission while dressed for showering. As far as I can tell there's no mention of a bet. The provocation? Read the book and tell me what you think.
From the novel:
It took a femme fatale, however, to restore peace, more or less, to the 4077th MASH. She was major Margaret Houlihan, new Chief Nurse, and one June morning she emerged, not out of a scallop shell like Botticelli's Venus, but out of a helicopter. She was tallish, willowish, blondish, fortyish. She had a nice figure. In fact, she was a nice-looking forty-year-old female.
..."Major," Hawkeye said, "this is a team effort. I'm responsible for my team. It consists of doctors, nurses and enlisted men. We've been working as a unit for six months with little change in personnel. I'm satisfied with them."
"Well," she said, "Captain Burns isn't at all satisfied."
"Mother," said Hawkeye Pierce, "Captain Burns is a jerk, and if you don't know it by now you..."
Major Houlihan arose. "I wonder," she asked, "how anyone like you reaches a position of responsibility in the Army Medical Corps."
"Honey," answered Hawkeye, "if I knew the answer to that I sure as hell wouldn't be here."
"Very well, Captain," Major Houlihan said. "It appears that we are not going to get along. Nevertheless, I want you to know that I will attempt to cooperate with you in every possible way."
"Major," Hawkeye said, smiling, "I appreciate that, so would you consider another cup of coffee?"
Reluctantly she sat down again and resumed the talk. She was still terribly upset so Hawkeye tried to explain a few things.
"Major," he said, "You're watching both shifts. Watch them with an eye to which shift does the most work with the least fuss. Watch them with an eye to how many people work happily or unhappily."
"I observed last night that both nurses and enlisted men addressed you as 'Hawkeye'."
"That's my name."
"Such familiarity is highly improper," declaimed Major Houlihan, "and inconsistent with maximum efficiency in an organization such as this."
"Well, Major," said Hawkeye as he got up and left, "I'm gonna have a couple of shots of Scotch and go to bed. Obviously you're a female version of the Regular Army Clown. Stay away from me and my gang and we'll get along fine. See you around campus."
...and so it goes.
Movie History: The era of the production code at the big Hollywood studios came conclusively to an end with the release of Blow-Up on December 18, 1966. The full mainstreaming of graphic violence and the anti-hero as hero followed only 8 months later when Bonnie and Clyde was released on August 13, 1967. I've maintained here and elsewhere in the past that Bonnie and Clyde is, like The Jazz Singer, an important marker in movie history. MASH is an important post-Bonnie and Clyde service comedy. Mr. Roberts and No Time For Sergeants are important pre-Bonnie and Clyde service comedies.
Movie Lists: The new AFI list includes 47 (I think) movies on my list of 103 movies. The first two Godfather movies make up one entry on my list and Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy makes up another. Of the movies on my list definitely eligible for the AFI list the top missing favorite is the 1932 pre-code Ernst Lubitsch comedy, Trouble In Paradise. My favorite movie is not eligible for the AFI list. It is Les Quatre Cents Coups, released in the United States in 1959 as The 400 Blows. Damned literalists. It should have been called Raising Hell.
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