Benjamin's Reviews > MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors

MASH by Richard Hooker
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's review
Oct 24, 2011

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Read in October, 2011

I watch Robert Altman's adaptation of M*A*S*H about once a year, one of two perennial films I regularly revisit. I've never seen the TV show, which for many people is the touchstone for the humor and the characters. And, once upon a time, I read M*A*S*H in Maine because I was so thunderstruck by the idea that the characters could have whacky adventures in my own New England back yard.

The screenplay for the film is a bit of a contentious point, as Ring Lardner, Jr. was reportedly dissatisfied with Altman's interpretation of his work, bringing very little of his structure to the screen. He went on to win the Oscar for the screenplay, so how he feels about it now is likely fairly complex. Knowing this, I was surprised just how much of the film comes directly from scenes from the novel. What is thought of a very improvisational series of performances still has very close grounding in the original text, with events and dialogue coming directly from Hooker. The straplines and publicity quotes want to compare it to Catch-22 because of the madcap way with which people deal with the horrors of war is clearly a thematic through-line. However, M*A*S*H has much less literary pretension than Heller did, and lacks both structure and parody to achieve the same goals. It's entertaining, glib, and interestingly spare in its language.

The chapter I enjoyed the most was the last, as it contained the most material not filmed, and so the jokes were fresh and the antics undiscovered. I therefore assume that the preceding nine-tenths would be pleasantly enjoyable to almost anyone else largely unfamiliar with the adaptation, and coming to the madcappery for the first time.

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