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'Cause suicide is painless,
It brings on many changes,
And I can take or leave it if I please
"This isn't a hospital, it's an insane asylum! And it's your fault!"—Hot Lips O'Houlihan
MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors was written in 1968 by Richard Hooker, and became the Robert Altman-directed feature film M*A*S*H in 1970. A few years later, the quite well-known television series debuted.
In the midst of the Korean War, the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital is tasked with fixing up the wounded. Two Army Surgeons, "Hawkeye" Pierce and "Duke" Forrest arrive on the scene with fellow surgeon "Trapper" John McIntyre. Defying all conventions, they decide to "fix up" the mood in the hospital with their brand of black humor. The plot of the film is made up of various episodes dealing with their escapades in the Hospital.
- Adaptation Distillation: The film took the novel's main themes, stripped out the uglier parts, and came up with this.
- Attending Your Own Funeral: The unit dentist, "Painless Pole", wanted to commit suicide, so they set up a mock funeral for him so he could take cyanide and die in a casket. The cyanide pills were fake, and the only dying he did was in the Shakespearean sense.
- Berserk Button: "Would you say that she was a moaner, Frank?"
- Big Game
- Bigger Is Better in Bed: "Painless Pole" is the "best-equipped" dentist in the army. After Lt. Dish spends the night with him, she is still in a daze the next morning.
- Blackmail: When Col. Merrill breaks in on Hawkeye, Trapper, and Me Lay performing unauthorized surgery on an American-Japanese infant, they anesthetize him and take compromising photos of him in bed with a prostitute to keep him from talking.
- Break the Haughty: Hawkeye, Trapper and Duke do this to Hotlips.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: The final PA announcement at the end of the film, doubling as the credits.
- Catch Phrase: As in the book, Hawkeye's is "finest kind". Save for one or two occasions, this really didn't carry over to the TV show.
- Also, that little whistle that Hawkeye keeps doing. (Which showed up again in Fantastic Mr. Fox.)
- Composite Character: Frank Burns from the movie is a cross between the Frank Burns from the novel (in which he's a Captain instead of a Major) and another character from the novel named Major Jonathan Hobson, a religious zealot who lived in the Swamp with Hawkeye and Duke before they got him thrown out for praying too much.
- Cool Shades: Hawkeye wears tinted glasses along with a Nice Hat.
- Creator Backlash: Despite winning the film's only Academy Award, screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr. later disowned the film since quite little of his script was used in the final film.
- On the DVD commentary for the film, Robert Altman said it upset him that Lardner hated the film so much - the reason the film had the feel that it did, as opposed to the racist, sexist, homophobic book, was because of his script. Essentially, Altman claimed the final film was a distillation of Lardner's script.
- Credits Gag: The film ends with the camp P.A. announcer telling us that "tonight's movie has been M*A*S*H", and reading off the names of the cast.
- Dueling Movies: Released the same year as that other anti-war satire, Catch-22.
- Embarrassing Nickname: Hot Lips, Spearchucker, Dago Red, Ugly John...
- Then there's Trapper John, who acquired that nickname after being caught "finding fulfillment" with a coed in the ladies' restroom of a Boston & Maine railroad car, and the young woman in question accusing him of having "trapped" her.
- "Painless Pole" could be taken to refer to Capt. Waldowski's status as a dentist and his ethnicity. Or it could be taken to refer to something else entirely.
- Expy: Apart from a few mentions of them being in Korea, the sets, costumes and props are clearly meant to evoke The Vietnam War which was ongoing at the time. This was intentional.
- Faux Symbolism / Last Supper Steal: Painless's "last supper" looks very much like DaVinci's original.
- Harpo Does Something Funny: Pretty much the whole film was improvised; the screenplay was just a template.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fans are often surprised to see Odo as Father "Dago Red" Mulcahy. Private Boone is Harold. Also, the infelicitously-named "Spearchucker" will survive the war, but meet his doom in a titty bar in Mexico.
- Initialism Title
- Invulnerable Knuckles: Averted. When Trapper punches Frank Burns in the face, he appears to be in as much if not more pain than Burns.
- Kick the Dog: Frank Burns brings the young Private Boone to tears by telling him that his bringing the wrong needle caused a patient's death even though the patient died before Boone could've brought it.
- The Loins Sleep Tonight: What convinces Painless Pole that he's a "latent homosexual".
- Meaningful Background Event: While the gang are divvying up their winnings from the football game, we see a jeep rolling past the tent bearing a dead soldier covered in a white sheet. This was originally part of a (deleted) subplot involving Ho-Jon getting wounded in action and then dying in surgery.
- Mistaken for Servant: Due to Hawkeye using his rank insignia to pin a busted zipper on his bags in the opening scene, Duke assumes that he's the driver to get him to the 4077th. Hawkeye doesn't bother to correct him until they have arrived and are eating and Col Blake asks about the 'stolen jeep.'
- Noodle Incident: More of a Noodle Insult. One of the opposing players in the football game calls a (black) M*A*S*H player a "coon", trying to invite an attack to get him thrown out of the game. Spearchucker tells him the name of the guy's sister and tells him "Use it!". The guy walks up to the line, and we don't hear anything but the normal background noise of the game, but the opponent suddenly lunges at the M*A*S*H player and chases him all over the field.
- Office Golf: Hawkeye and Trapper play an impromptu game of this in Col. Merrill's office.
- OOC Is Serious Business: When Painless states that "Poker is only a game", the priest knows how seriously depressed Painless is.
- Precision F-Strike: During the football game, Painless Pole tells an opposing player, "All right, bud, your fuckin' head is comin' right off!" The line (an ad-lib by actor John Schuck) was the first use of the F-word in a major American studio film.
- Random Events Plot
- Running Gag: The camp's bumbling P.A. announcer.
- Shoe Shine, Mister?: Snippets of the song "Tokyo Shoe Shine Boy" are played at various times. The song is also on the movie soundtrack. In the film it is sung in Japanese, except for the words "Tokyo Shoe Shine Boy" in English.
- Suicide Is Painless: The theme song is the Trope Namer. It Makes Sense in Context.
- Throw It In: During the opening credits a medic stumbles and falls on his ass while carrying a wounded soldier from the chopper pad. This was a real, unscripted accident during filming.
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Hawkeye and Trapper, through and through.