I just recently finished watching the TV show M*A*S*H for the first time, so I figured I should probably go back and watch the film, which I’d never seen, either.
I’m sure the order of viewing—TV show and then film, or vice versa—probably has something to do with how much you’ll love the film. For me, fresh off Alan Alda’s Hawkeye and with Wayne Roger’s Trapper John still only a very recent memory, it took a bit of adjusting to get used to Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould as Hawkeye and Trapper John, respectively.
The differences in how these actors played their characters is a good comparison of the film vs. the TV show in general.
While the show is a fast-paced, tightly-scripted dance between characters that was equally as comfortable being a laugh-out-loud comedy of the highest caliber as it was a drama with profound insights, the film is a straight-up black comedy with dark undertones.
At first, the movie felt disjointed and unconnected. Rather than a cohesive story line, Robert Altman opted for a series of vignettes that give us glimpses into Hawkeye Pierce’s tenure as a M*A*S*H surgeon—only a few of which have anything to do with surgery, as Hawkeye and company seem far more concerned with getting laid than almost anything else.
Within the first few minutes, I wasn’t sure whether I’d like this film at all—or, if I’m to be quite frank, if it was worth watching at all. Maybe I’d be better off choosing something else on which to spend two precious evening hours?
But I stuck with it, and in the end, I’m glad I did. Where the TV show used cutting dialogue as commentary on the senselessness of the Korean conflict, here, the disjointed form serves the same function, leaving the viewer slightly askew, as the Korean War left the world.