Sunday, May 29, 2005


I loved M*A*S*H, the TV show, and yet had never seen the movie. Not So Angry Husband, who's seen everything M*A*S*H (movie, TV show, specials) at least a couple of times, and I realized that AMC was playing the movie tonight. Since I hadn't seen it before, we decided we'd watch.

About 15 minutes into the movie, I was struck by what utter assholes Hawkeye and Trapper are. Whereas they play lovable scamps and practical jokers on the TV show, they are horrid jackasses in the movie. Most offensive is the entire movie's treatment of women. Some examples:

Yes, Hot Lips has a bug up her ass. She did on the TV show as well. But here, as soon as she rebuffs Hawkeye and doesn't fall for his schtick, he labels her a bitch. All of the men harass her to no end. Even the way they talk about her behind her back, it's beyond degrading. It's like every (successful) sexual harassment lawsuit I've ever read about.

In another crazy and somewhat nonsensical plot, they convince a nurse to either have sex with or give a blowjob to (I couldn't tell which they were implying) a soldier/dentist. The nurse doesn't want to, but then she lifts the sheet covering the dentist and discovers his ginormous schlong (as a chorus of angels sings in the background). The next scene in which we see her, she's got a tremendous grin plastered across her face. I couldn't stop rolling my eyes--I thought my retinas were going to detatch.

I don't think I need to state that I'm not a prude. But this movie, it's pissing me off. On top of that: it's not that funny at all. Is it supposed to be a comedy? Even a dark comedy? I think I laughed once (at Father Mulcahy--always a fan of his character).


Blogger liz said...

Ya kinda have to remember the era this comes from. If you watch the re-runs of the tv show, they are just as annoyingly sexist.

Also, Mel Brooks also thought the big schlong thing was funny (see Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, History of the World Part I (the last not being funny at all, but there ya go.))

So, no. Now it's not funny. But it really was then.

10:24 PM, May 29, 2005  
Blogger SuzanH said...

I think the show was a lot funnier than the movie--used to watch it all the time.

I've only seen parts of the movie, and like you was struck by how icky it was.

10:31 PM, May 29, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liz has a fair point on the, well, schlong. The show may have been a little less sensitive on gender issues than a similar show would be today, but I don't think it's anywhere near the same level of degradation. Alan Alda's Hawkeye would respect the nurses in the morning. Duke was basically using sex as power.

It's interesting in hindsight to see how progressive thinking didn't all happen at once. In this case, you have a bunch of guys making a film that is absolutely irreverent toward the military, and they manage to make a few pleas for racial tolerance along the way. But they're sexist as hell and even a little homophobic.

I thought it was a little funnier than APL, but I'd share the objections. One of the best reviews at IMDB puts it best -- once they've humiliated Burns and Hot Lips, there's no reason to go on humiliating Hot Lips.

It certainly doesn't stand up over time as well as some other films, but I think it's worth seeing precisely *because* it's such a product of its time. You simply couldn't make a film like it today. You couldn't get away with the sexism, sure. But you'd also be run out of the country for being so "unpatriotic."


10:48 PM, May 29, 2005  
Blogger Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

Liz, I'll grant you that the men on the TV show were sexist, but not in the way the guys in the movie were. The guys in the movie generally seemed to despise women. Women are basically only good for a lay--that's it. In the TV show, Hawkeye's a womanizer, to be sure. But there's no underlying anger toward women there. It's that anger that really put me off when watching the movie.

You raise another interesting point: I think all those Mel Brooks movies are hilarious. And they certainly have the big schlong thing going for them. So I can't figure out why the Brooks movies don't bother me, whereas M*A*S*H did. Maybe it's because all of the women in M*A*S*H were merely objects, whereas Brooks infuses his women with some semblance of personality. Or maybe I'm talking out of my ass right now.

10:49 PM, May 29, 2005  
Blogger Phantom Scribbler said...

I would agree that we'd find the show less funny now than it seemed back in the day. But the movie never seemed funny to me. It was a very personality driven show -- much less fun without the warmth of the TV cast.

Congratulations on turning 5000, APL! You don't look a day over 3500 ;-)

11:16 PM, May 29, 2005  
Blogger KibitzingShiksa said...

We put on a play version during college, and when I rented the movie to get an idea of characters I was disgusted as well.. I only gave it about twenty minutes before shutting it off. I always thought the TV show was cute, though.

10:13 AM, May 30, 2005  
Blogger Jody said...

My dad can quote chapter and verse of the TV show, and I still watch it on the Hallmark channel some, just to retreat to childhood comforts. (It also fills the void left by West Wing moving to midnight.) So I'm primed to point out that M*A*S*H the TV show suffers some of the movie's women problems in the first season -- because the first season just started running again on Hallmark. Also, the presence of the black doctor/anasthesiologist in the first season highlights the race problem that emerged on the TV show over time. And of course, we're not even talking about how irritated the popularity of the show can make some/a lot of Korean-Americans.

More importantly, I wonder how much of our fondness for the TV show reflects a fondness for the later seasons. I'm assuming most of us (because of our ages) remember the later seasons best--in fact, I still have my TV Guide from the finale. Because it's obvious, in a great way to watch on DVD, that M*A*S*H on TV more or less mirrors (a) changes in feminist thought over the course of the 1970s; and (b) Alan Alda's own particular political commitments over that decade (as he's put it when approached on progressive issues now, "I gave at the office,"). Frankly, it got better and better on women as the seasons progressed, and really peaked with Wendy Nakamura's episode confronting Hawkeye about why he never flirted with her or treated her as a sexual being (which was interesting on race, sexual attractiveness, and a couple other things, too). But the sanctimony and in-your-face politics are such a relic: no TV show could get away with that degree of liberalism now. (Come to think of it, I think quite a few critics WERE impatient with Alda's overt political influence by the end of the show.)

Also, unlike in movies, television actors build up a lot of power/pull over the writers and producers over the years (writers cycle in and out, actors remain), so the push to "make me more likeable" and "give me good story lines" becomes pretty important to the creative process. Arguably, it's one reason why TV shows tend to decline creatively over time: the actors' desires to be liked overcome the writers' commitment to good story-telling. (Also its hard to keep telling good stories with the same characters.) I would argue that's another reason why Hotlips gets better story lines over the years: Loretta Swit had power that Sally Kellerman did not. And the TV writers had to come up with 11 seasons' worth of stories. Didn't even Loni Anderson's character on WKRP in Cincinnati get smarter and more respected over time?

Hmmm, it's obvious that I spend way too much time thinking about television. I blame it on Star Trek and Buffy: they were both shows designed to get viewers thinking too much about the creative process. Although in both of those cases, the process revolved around questions of "why has this started to suck so much, and what did they DO to Spike anyway?!"

10:23 AM, May 30, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like Jody's points that the characters can be developed better over time in a TV show. One of my arguments against elitist critics who disliked Friends was that all of those characters evolved in ways seemed natural and not contrived. They grew up.

(Funny that I mention Friends, since its spinoff seems to be faring only slightly better than AfterM*A*S*H. Joey is the better of those two shows, but that's not saying much.)

I have mixed feelings on the post-Radar years of M*A*S*H. The finale was terrific, and they did a few experimental, provocative episodes like the haunting Dreams. But even to my somewhat progressive eyes and ears, it became a bit too much of an Alda showcase. And I might argue that it was more sexist in later years -- I'm thinking in particular of the way Hawkeye often imposed himself of Margaret and got in a yelling match with her until he got her to break down and admit that something was bothering her. Perhaps it worked, but there was always something a little condescending about it to me.

Besides, Five O'Clock Charlie from the early years is still one of the best sitcom episodes ever. That was the pinnacle of the irreverent Army-bashing, and Frank let his racist tendencies show before getting his well-deserved come-uppance.

12:16 PM, May 30, 2005  
Blogger Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

That last anonymous post was written by NSAH, who forgot to sign his post. (Although I have to laugh at the modifier "somewhat" before "progressive"....)

Jody, I like the reasoning in your post re: the nature of on-going television programs (I'm still grieving over what the writers have done to destroy "ER," a former obsession of mine). ... although I'd passionately argue that Jennifer on WKRP was always smart; it just took a while for people to see past her exterior. :-)

12:27 PM, May 30, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a constant MASH TV watcher, I've seen a lot of reruns over the years, so I was at first interested (wow, Sutherland and Gould) but quickly repulsed by the show---I don't think I ever saw the 1970 original, even though I (at the time anyway) was devoted to Robert Altman. Where I switched off was the football game with the "spearchucker" shtick. Perhaps the TV show took the material some place the original novelist, or Ring Lardner Jr (wrote the screenplay) never intended---but it was a really funny and humane place. The movie, though---not very good Altman either. Was 1970 just too weird a time for anyone to observe in any kind of balanced way? I remember it as so...

1:36 PM, May 31, 2005  

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