Sometimes your favorite actors don’t make a movie work. Hey, you can even add an acclaimed director to the mix as well and still not quite connect. Although, in this specific case I may be the minority. I’m in a wayback machine, because I’m talking about 1970’s MASH.
I’m not going to do the asterisk for the sake of typing and reading, but MASH is the film that spawned the massive sitcom. MASH, the sitcom, is an all-time big show. It’s series finale is the most-watched episode of television, ratings wise. With how fragmented things are, and with the rise of streaming, that’s a record that will never be beat.
Personally, I never got into MASH as a show. It wasn’t on Nick at Nite when I grew up, and what I have seen I haven’t really enjoyed. It’s fine, but not a show I have felt like investing in. However, sitting down for a movie is a different ask. Plus, the film version of MASH – which predates the show – is directed by Robert Altman and has a killer cast. Specifically, it has Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland.
Gould is one of my favorite actors. He’s absolutely amazing in Altman’s The Long Goodbye a few years later. Sutherland is also a really good actor. I saw him in Klute recently and felt like he deserved at the very least an Oscar nomination. These two in an Altman film? I was enthused.
Then, I watched it, and the movie is pretty middling. I did not like MASH. There’s a weird nihilism to it, and that may be a charitable interpretation. A lot of the characters are really awful, and women aren’t treated well. It’s a bit of a “down with the authority” situation, but handled in a way that is uncomfortable. I feel like Altman is just trying to chronicle the depravity of war and all that, but it’s not fun to watch.
Even worse, I feel like Gould and Sutherland were wasted. Neither of them is great in the movie. I don’t even know if Sutherland is good. Could the directing be at fault? Perhaps, and the script doesn’t benefit him. This is where my disappointment primarily lies. I know how good Gould and Sutherland can be. In fact, Altman got Gould’s all-time best performance out of him. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work here.
In the end, MASH is a reminder that just because you love an actor doesn’t mean you love all their choices. Sometimes talented people swing and miss. Of course, the Oscars gave MASH a Best Screenplay award, so you never know.