Eye For Film >> Movies >> MASH: Season 3 (1974) Film Review
MASH - Season 3 marks the end of an era for the original core cast: Trapper (Wayne Rogers) Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda), Hot Lips Houlihan (Loretta Swit), Frank Burns (Larry Linville) and Radar (Gary Burghoff) as the original Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake (McLean Stephenson) bid farewell during the course of its run.
Aside from this goodbye, however, there is an obvious development throughout the series - set during the Korean War in the Fifties - which sees it grow from what is largely a series of sketches into a deeper (and darker) comedic triumph.
The excellent OR (directed by Gene Reynolds, who had already chalked up war series successes with F-Troop and Hogan's Heroes) neatly dovetails the best of the comedy banter between Hawkeye, Trapper and the ineffectual and officious Frank Burns, while refusing to shy away from the horrors of a "patch 'em up so they can go back to the front" war.
Hawkeye and Trapper have all the best lines, but this is still a triumph of ensemble acting. The scripts are sharp and funny, barely missing a beat even when watched today.
Perhaps what helps to keep this season fresh is that the directors and writers aren't afraid to experiment with the conventions of story-telling. In one - A Full Rich Day - the perspective is in the form of reportage, as Hawkeye makes a tape recording for his father, while in others folk music (provided by Loudon Wainwright III) is used to illustrate the agonies of war and in still more they experiment with removing cast members from an episode, or taking just a couple of the cast elsewhere.
While the music interludes take on something of a schmaltzy quality now, it's good to see a comedy trying to test new ground and when they happen on a good idea - such as an episode centred on a picnic for the local orphans, which puts the conflict into a neat counterpoint (Bulletin Board) - it really shines out.
It's the one-liners, which are the driving force, running into one another in such quick succession that it's hard to keep up at times. They may be witty, but the agony of war is never lost and this series of 24 episodes deals with everything from self-inflicted wounds to theft of medical supplies.
The supporting cast, including Corporal Klinger (Jamie Farr) and Father Mulcahy (William Christopher) help to whip them along and among the guest stars is an early appearance from Harry Morgan, later to return as camp senior officer Sherman Potter, who stars as a crazy officer in The General Flipped At Dawn.
Occasionally some of the language dips into unintentional latent racism, particularly A Full Rich Day, which features a particularly awful Turkish stereotype, and throughout the series being English becomes synonymous with officious and useless.
Small grumbles aside, Season 3 - first aired 20 years ago - has aged very well and stands up against more recent offerings. One thing is certain, like Hawkeye and Trapper, it will leave you in stitches.Reviewed on: 05 Apr 2004