Saturday, March 17, 2012
MASH (6) vs. Kelly's Heroes (11)
MASH is a satirical/dark comedy set in the Korean War. It was released in 1970 and is obviously satirizing the Vietnam War. Most of the action takes place in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital and the stars are a trio of very talented doctors who are very reluctant conscripted warriors. Hawkeye (Donald Sutherland), Duke (Tom Skerritt), and Trapper John (Elliot Gould) rock the boat on arrival with their insubordinate attitudes, womanizing, and drinking. They take on the regular Army in the guise of fundamentalist Maj. Burns (Robert Duval) and career rule-follower “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Sally Kellerman). The film is episodic and concludes with a football game reminiscent of “The Longest Yard”.
“Kelly’s Heroes” came out the same year as MASH. It is an action comedy set in the closing stages of WWII. Kelly (Clint Eastwood) finds out about a bank behind enemy lines with millions of dollars worth of gold bars. He recruits a squad led by “Big Joe” (Telly Savalas). They need armored support so they hook up with three Shermans crewed by hippies led by “Oddball” (Donald Sutherland). Things don’t go smoothly, naturally. Maj. Gen. Colt (Carroll O’Connor) thinks the mission is a breakthrough and gets involved. The squad reaches the town with the bank and have to deal with a garrison and three Tiger tanks.
FIRST HALF: ACTING
MASH has an outstanding cast. Sutherland and Gould were at their counter-culture peaks. Kellerman got a Best Supporting Actress nod. The rest of the supporting cast is strong. The episodic nature allows several actors to make an impression. Surprisingly, the best actor (Duval) is not given much screen time.
“Kelly’s Heroes” has the distinction of being one of the best casted war movies of all time. Each of the main roles is given to an actor who you can argue was perfect for the role. Who would have made a better Kelly than Eastwood? Who better to play the scheming “Crapgame” than Don Rickles? The list goes on. The acting seems effortless because they are basically playing themselves (or at least their screen personas).
Halftime score: MASH - 47 Kelly’s Heroes - 47
SECOND HALF: HUMOR
MASH is ranked #7 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Comedies list. It was nominated for Best Picture and won for Best Adapted Screenplay. It won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical. It has a few laugh out loud moments like “Hot Lips” as a cheerleader, but most of the humor is in the dialogue. Hawkeye and Trapper John have sharp tongues. When Burns is provoked into attacking Hawkeye, Trapper warns “Watch out for your goodies, Hawkeye. The man’s a sex maniac. I don’t think Hot Lips satisfied him.” The humor is very anti-army and some of it is mean-spirited. Not surprising for a movie aimed at the Vietnam War.
“Kelly’s Heroes” is more of a standard action movie set in war than a comedy. It has its humorous moments, but it has too much violence and death to leave you with a smile on your face. The humor is provided mainly by Oddball with his anachronistic hippie pronouncements. “Don’t hit me with those negative waves.” To give you an idea of the ratio of action to comedy just examine Rickles’ performance. He never breaks into a stand-up routine like Williams does in “Good Morning, Vietnam”. Not once does he call anyone a hockey puck.
Second half score: MASH – 42 KH – 30
I am a big fan of "Kelly’s Heroes" and certainly do not mind when a fictional war movie throws in humor (see “Inglorious Basterds”). But the fact is that the humor is secondary to the action. There are few laugh out loud moments and one minefield scene that is the opposite of humorous. The body count is very high. The blend of humor and action is a good one and you could argue it is a better movie than MASH, but you can not argue it is a better comedy. MASH uses comedy to satirize the military and war. It is bitingly effective. Similar to KH, it has dark moments, but noone of consequence dies. It blends realistic surgery with humor effectively and would not exist without the humor, unlike KH.
FINAL SCORE: MASH - 89 KH - 77