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Fox Home Entertainment presents
"Look, all I know is what they taught me at command school. There are certain rules about a war. Rule number one is: Young men die. And rule number two is: Doctors can't change rule number one."
DVD ReviewThe first thing that struck me as I sat down to watch M*A*S*H: Season One is that it is amazing that the episodes were originally filmed in 1972. That seems so long ago and so ancient for television. Most shows of that era barely hold up now and, in most cases, only as cult items. M*A*S*H seems as good or better than most of what has been on TV in the intervening years.
One factor is the consistently adult content that was perhaps more possible thanks to the groundbreaking nature of the drama/comedy dichotomy of the series;another is the serious attempt to remain true to the irreverent tone of the original book and Robert Altman's movie. The characters are cheating on their wives, swilling homemade gin and generally contemptuous of Army discipline with a few notable comedic exceptions. The humor here has a sharp, cruel edge at times.
Another of the compelling aspects of M*A*S*H on television were the unique storytelling devices often used. Sometimes a show would have multiple storylines crammed into one episode and in others the entire half hour revolved around one small event. In the first season, letters by Hawkeye to his father twice served as the vehicle to display various freeform vignettes of character set pieces. In another, the broadcast of the Army-Navy game is the backdrop of a camp crisis and a pair of longjohns making the rounds serves as the thread that knits a fine episode together.
Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce is the star of this show right from the start. Alda is a unique performer with crisp comic timing and excellent physical comedy. Radar O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff) is much different than his character becomes in later years. Here he is seen dating nurses and drinking the homebrewed alcohol. Later, he regains his "virginity" and goes no further than Grape Nehi. McLean Stevenson succeeds as the commanding officer Henry Blake as he never was able to do in any other role. With a lovely mixture of bumbling and efficiency, Henry rides herd on the 4077th's loonies with a loose hand. The other familiar characters, Trapper John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers), Major Frank Burns (Larry Linville), Major Margaret Hoolihan (Loretta Swit), and Private Max Klinger (Jamie Farr) provided well-remembered bits that color the mosaic that has made M*A*S*H one of the most beloved shows on television.
There is a jumbled quality to the airing of the episodes. Obviously much behind-the-scenes work involved finalizing the characters. Some appear and disappear throughout the year with no explanation and some elements, if not clearly out of sequence, seem oddly ordered. I guess nobody thought that they were making what would become a treasure of televsion history and that someone would eventually have all 24 episodes of the first season on disc for ready comparison. Silly them.
The anti-war sentiment is as strong today as it was then. Few shows ever went so far in delivering a message each week in prime time as M*A*S*H did. Sometimes, it was a little heavy-handed, especially in later years. Unfortunately, we cannot experience the breakthrough freshness that this first season represented. However, the pleasure here in reminiscing with old friends counteracts that. The tone is much less cloying than later seasons, when replacements for Henry and Trapper appear and the show changes to a kinder, gentler M*A*S*H.
"At this particular army mobile surgical hospital, we're not concerned with the ultimate reconstruction of the patient. We only care about getting the kid our of here alive enough for someone else to put on the fine touches." - Hawkeye
This introductory episode sets the basis for the main characters of the show. It begins with a long surgery session marked by conflict between Hawkeye and Frank. Hawkeye receives a letter from his college that the young Korean boy who works in their tent can attend college in Maine, if the money can be raised. Hawkeye hits on the marvelous idea of raffling off a date with the lovely nurse, Lt. Dish. This pilot episode features George Morgan as Father Mulcahy, the only actor who did not continue his character on the series.
I see this pilot, I'd say, "Let's make a series." Three ambulances.
To Market, To Market
Charlie: I don't know how you guys are gonna pull this off without anybody getting wise.
Trapper: That makes two of us.
Hawkeye: Three of us.
Henry loves his beautiful antique desk, although there is no ready explanation how such a piece of furniture made it to Korea. Hawkeye and Trapper have discovered the unit is severely short of hydrocortisone because of hijacking and black-marketing. Trying to make a deal, they find that Charlie Lee (Jack Soo), the main man of the black market in Seoul, will trade only for the desk. One of the fascinating aspects of this episode is the way the conventional sitcom plot devices fit just as nicely in the M*A*S*H formula as inventive ones.
This epsiode doesn't quite jell and gets two ambulances.
Requiem for a Lightweight
Father Mulcahy: I trained a number of boys to box back home.
Hawkeye: You got any advice for Trapper?
Father Mulcahy: Prayer...
A new nurse, Margie Cutler (Marcia Strassman) makes a big impression on the surgeons but Major Hoolihan gets her transferred to another unit. When Hawkeye and Trapper appeal to Henry, he agrees to intervene if one of them will represent the unit in a boxing tournament against General Clayton's huge fighter. Trapper straps on the gloves as "Kid Doctor" and looks to survive three rounds with the help of an anesthesiologist. This is a very funny episode for Trapper as he gets off some great wisecracks both in competition for Nurse Cutler's attention and as he shows his stuff in the ring.
This is one of Trapper's best and it taps the M*A*S*H spirit for three and a half ambulances.
Chief Surgeon, Who?
"I guess you can say that medicine has been my life. I always wanted to be a doctor—Just ask any little girl I grew up with." - Hawkeye
More bickering in the operating room forces Henry to select a chief surgeon, but Majors Burns and Hoolihan are shocked to learn that Hawkeye is the choice. They complain to General Clayton who arrives just in time for the celebration of Hawkeye's coronation. Thinking that Pierce is not diligent enough, the General enters the operating theater with the 4077th's surgeons. This episode is the first to use the M*A*S*H deus ex machina. When the situation just gets too out of control and there just doesn't seem to be any way that the doctors can get out of whatever jam they are in... it emerges what fantastic and irreplaceable surgeons they are.
A few good bits, but the show is beginning to jell and gets two and a half ambulances for effort.
Spearchucker: We're all the same. Get it?
Young Hi: Excuse it. Not same. You need shave.
The doctors encounter a Sergeant (Paul Jenkins) who has a servant known as a "moose," who turns out to be a young woman named Young Hi (Virginia Lee), whom he purchased from her family. Not surprisingly, this offends the propriety of the surgeons and they conspire to liberate the young woman. There is a ham-handed quality to the message of this episode with shots of a disgruntled Spearchucker Jones (Timothy Brown), the black surgeon who shares their tent. As the first message episode, this one is salvaged by the charm of Lee's performance as Young Hi and the amusing situation Hawkeye finds himself in after winning the moose from the Sergeant in a fixed poker game.
Cute but a little clunky, this one is two and a half amublances.
Yankee Doodle Doctor
"These are the saints in surgical garb. Dedicated surgeons, all volunteers. Every red-blooded American knows, if he is wounded, he will be in the strong, capable hands of a Yankee Doodle Doctor." - Frank Burns
An anti-war message is the heart of this episode as General Clayton decides that the 4077th should be the subject of a propaganda film about the heroic doctors. Dissatisfied by the results, Hawkeye destroys the film and makes his own version to show the General. Great bits with Radar as a wacky patient and Hawkeye and Trapper taking off on Groucho and Harpo Marx along with a potent look at the what the heroic doctors are really doing in Korea.
The first of many really great episodes that rise above the medium and gets five full ambulances.
Bananas, Crackers and Nuts
"If I don't get away from this place for a while, I'm gonna start picking flowers off the wallpaper. I had a dream last night that I was asleep and I dreamt it while I was awake!" - Hawkeye
Following a grueling several days of surgery, Hawkeye and Trapper visit Henry to get a pass for R&R in Tokyo. Unfortunately for them, Henry is on his way for some recreation himself and not only will not address their request but has left Frank Burns in charge. In an attempt to convince Frank to grant the leave, Hawkeye seems to crack up. But, rather then give them the pass, Major Hoolihan calls an old friend, psychiatrist Capt. Sherman (Stuart Margolin), to examine the surgeon. Hawkeye decides to have a little fun with the visiting psychiatrist but is taken seriously and gets slated to be sent to Tokyo for observation. Alda is in prime form in this episode with his deadpan humor.
Great shrink slapstick gets three and a half ambulances.
"Dear John from Reno..." - Henry
A helicopter pilot has troubles at home and spends time in the hospital with an injury. Hawkeye tries to convince Henry to send him home even though the injury is not really serious enough. Henry says that he can't do it and soon "accidents" start to happen to him including an exploding toilet. This one is quite funny from the character of "Cowboy" (Billy Green Bush) to the reading of a letter from home to him over the radio by Hawkeye and Trapper.
One of Henry's best. Three and a half ambulances.
Henry, Please Come Home
"Hey, I think I heard a bugle... It is a bugle. I think we're in the army." - Hawkeye
Henry is recognized for running the most efficient M.A.S.H. unit in the command and is promoted to a plush assignment in Tokyo. Major Burns assumes command of the 4077th and soon Hawkeye and Trapper's lives are complete misery, beyond the usual misery. The first of many shows where Frank tried to take the top job and the exasperation of Trapper and Hawkeye in the regular Army keeps the wisecracks flowing.
Two and a half ambulances for this one.
I Hate a Mystery
Hawkeye: Ah, the symphony begins. The sultry saxophone splashes of melody. A subtle drum brush for counterpoint. The plunking of cool harp strings. And now, the silver vibes of the gentle swizzle stick.... And now, the silver vibes of the gentle swizzle stick.... Ho-Jon?
Ho-Jon: Stizzle swick not here.
Hawkeye: Who stole my stizzle swick?
A problem of theft at the camp and suddenly all clues seem to point to Hawkeye. In desperation, Hawkeye sets a trap for the real thief and, in an inspired bit, dons a mock deerstalker cap a la Sherlock Holmes and interrogates the potential suspects. A little predictable but still pretty funny, especially the cosummate ensemble acting in the meeting scenes about the problem.
No mystery here. Two and a half ambulances.
"The only think I know about beer is that I--I can't hold it." - Frank Burns
Hawkeye and Trapper tap Frank for some blood to give a prisoner of war patient and the North Korean shows what seems to be symptoms of hepatitus. To be sure that Frank is not infected they must scheme on ways to get various samples from Frank and have them tested for disease. Contains some funny bits of the pair tricking Frank into providing them various bodily fluids. Interesting how in 1972, M*A*S*H was able to get away with Frank urinating in a small tent, just off screen and later All in the Family had such controversy over the flushing sound of Archie's upstairs toilet. Lt. Dish returns for this show after disappearing for several episodes and Nurse Cutler is nowhere to be seen.
Frank goes wee-wee all the way home and this one gets three ambulances.
"If jokes seem sacrilegious in the operating room, it is a necessary defense against what we get at this end of the draft board." - Hawkeye
Christmas is coming and during a lull, Hawkeye writes home to his father describing some of the antics of day to day life at the unit. Radar is shown to be mailing a jeep home piece by piece; Henry gives a lecture on marital sex; Trapper doctors for the locals and other inspired hi-jinks are described. Corporal Klinger makes one of his first appearances in a dustup with Major Burns that ends up with Klinger threatening to blow up a grenade in revenge. Really enjoyable as attempts to create a basic plot is eschewed and the show plays like a linked together sketch show to great effect. The episode ends with one of the most memorable bits in the run of the show.
Thanks Dad for a top show. Five full ambulances!
Hawkeye: I told you to stop peeking in the nurse's shower.
Radar: Well, everyone needs a hobby.
Nurse Cutler returns and leads a take on Lysistrata, except that, instead of refusing sex to stop the war, the nurses refuse intimacy unless someone "dates" a lonely nurse named Edwina Ferguson (Arlene Golonka). In a very humorous scene, the men of the camp draw straws to see who is the one who will do the deed and Hawkeye is the winner. One of the problems with Edwina is the fact that she is such a klutz and any man takes his chances in being around her for long. There is some great physical comedy and some very poignant moments.
Not very sexy, but still deserves three ambulances.
"Ah-h-h-h-h... Bach" - Radar
Radar is in a depression over the loss of his girlfriend from Iowa, Linda Sue, who tells him in a "Dear John" recording that she has decided to marry Elroy Fimple instead, and Hawkeye and Trapper are unable to find him a date among the nurses. But Radar is soon smitten with a new nurse and Hawkeye gives him pointers on how to impress her. Having found out that Lt. Lousie Anderson (Kelly Jean Peters) is the intellectual type, Radar must be brought up to speed on literature and classical music. Majors Burns and Hoolihan are opposed to the relationship between officers and enlisted and do what they can to prevent a tryst. This is Radar's first big episode and is very funny. All the actors are finding their place in the ensemble.
People weaned on later M*A*S*H might be surprised by this Radar! Pretty funny. Three ambulances.
"Sign the original of each form, sir, and initial the carbon copies. Or, if you want, you can sign the carbon copies and initial the originals. And then sign this form signifying that you signed what you should've initialed." - Radar
In a classic bit of military humor, Hawkeye signs as Captain Tuttle to handle a back door requisition for the local orphanage and the situation soon gets out of control. They are forced by circumstances to forge a service record for Tuttle and everybody claims to know and be Tuttle's best friend, much to the surprise and amusement of the fellow who created the inimitable "phantom." This one is simply classic comedy.
There's a rumor that Tuttle got one of M*A*S*H's many Emmies.... Three and a half ambulances.
Colonel Brighton : Casualties are part of the game. If it costs you a few good men to take a hill, that's the price you gotta pay. I mean, some real estate doesn't come cheap.
Hawkeye: Well, to be honest, we're not too hot for your business. Taking care of your outfit is a bit like making a house call at Custer's Last Stand.
A gung ho Colonel, "Buzz" Brighton (Leslie Nielsen), gets the treatment when he spends a few days at the 4077th. As the leader of a unit that has a much higher proportion of casualties to ground gained than most other Army units, Hawkeye and Trapper decide to take him out of the game. An escalating series of strange incidents trick Buzz into thinking that he is losing his grip on reality. More subtle than the usual broad anti-war statement, this episode targets those officers who are more concerned with personal glory than the lives of their men. The misdirection the surgeons apply to Buzz's head is hilarious and involves Frank, Hot Lips and Henry.
One good deed deserves another; also three and a half ambulances here.
Sometimes You Hear the Bullet
"There was a young blond kid in our outfit. One day I looked over and half of him was gone. You know what he said? He said, 'I never heard no bullet.'" - Tommy Gillis
M*A*S*H often combined comedy and drama to make its points. This episode starts out with a nicely contrived slapstick sequence involving Frank, Hot Lips and a back injury but ends up much heavier on the drama in parallel stories of an old friend of Hawkeye's, Tommy (James Callahan), who comes to visit and a young Marine (Ron Howard) who looks too young to be fighting a war. Thre are some powerful and poignant moments in this episode that points toward a growing confidence in the quality of the show. This one is one of the best of the series as the comedy of Frank's application for the Purple Heart is blended with the pathos of the other two story lines.
Strong writing and acting throughout and five full ambulances.
Dear Dad... Again
"Dear Dad. Sorry that I haven't written sooner, but you know how the work piles up around here. Korea's pretty much the same story. The fighting goes on—the hatred, the violence—the senseless brutality, men behaving like animals... then, of course, there's the war." - Hawkeye
It worked once and it works again. The device of Hawkeye narrating a letter home to his father while we bounce around among the crazy vignettes makes for high comedy. Busy in the operating room, Hawkeye comments on the extra pair of hands around the unit in Dr. Adam Casey, who is every bit as good a surgeon as himself. There are goofy one-line gags, Hawkeye waltzes through chow hall stark naked, Klinger puts in an appearance in a wedding dress and more. Yet another classic.
Like Klinger, tasteful without being gaudy, four full ambulances.
The Longjohn Flap
"You lost my beautiful double-weave, semi-woolen, sensuously soft longjohns to an astigmatic missing link with four tens!" - Hawkeye
Korea was known for its incredibly cold winters and in this episode the unit is lacking the proper cold weather gear due to a supply foul up. Hawkeye is suffering less than the other because he is wearing a pair of long underwear he got from his father. When Trapper finds out, he suddenly has a cold and guilts Hawkeye into lending him the woolies. Then Trapper loses them in a poker game and off they go around the camp. This is another excellent episode and is emblematic of that time when M*A*S*H was the best show on TV, week in and week out.
Soft as a baby's bottom, this episode gets four ambulances.
The Army-Navy Game
Father Mulcahy: How about one for the Gipper?
Henry: Father, Notre Dame is not playing.
Father Mulcahy: Then what's all the excitement about?
It's the day of the big Army-Navy college football game and the 4077th gets very little cooperation when an unexploded bomb lands right in the middle of camp. Ultimately, Hawkeye and Trapper are called on to perform a very special operation with some very sketchy instructions. Nice bit of suspense mixed in with the comedy in this episode with the cowardly bravery of the doctors right up front. Can this streak of impossibly good shows ever end?
Touchdown for the team! Five ambulances!
Trapper: See you at the movies later?
Hawkeye: What's playing?
Trapper: Bride of the Gorilla and Bonzo Goes to College
Hawkeye: I think I'll wait for the books to come out.
After Hawkeye lists all of Frank's faults as a surgeon, one of his own patients has problems in post-op that he just can't identify. He becomes obsessed with the difficulty of facing up to his own fallability, which is not helped by the sympathy of his friends and Frank's enjoyment of the situation. This episode doesn't quite live up to the standards of the previous ones in that Hawkeye's condemnation of Frank is a little over the top and there is an underlying cruelty to the whole story that dampens the humor instead of reinforcing it. Not Hawk's finest hour.
This self-indulgent episode (a hint of later Haweye excesses) gets a stiff two ambulances.
Major Fred C. Dobbs
"Three of the basic human emotions are greed, fear and greed." - Hawkeye
This episode starts the same as the previous week with Frank and Hawkeye at odds in the OR. To teach Frank a lesson about taking out his mistakes on the nurses, the surgeons put his arm in a cast with a hook at the end. This time, Frank has had enough and convinces Margaret to transfer to another unit with him. Hawkeye and Trapper quickly find out that they have gone too far when Henry assigns them to double duty. So after finding out that Radar has been prospecting for gold around the camp, the pair decide to convince Frank that there's gold in them thar minefields so that he won't transfer out. This episode is very similar in its mining of the "hate Frank" humor to the previous week and, although it has some good schadenfreude moments, it bears the same marks of cruelty.
This one turns out to be mostly pyrite and gets two ambulances.
Henry: A cease-fire? General, are you sure?
General Clayton: I've just been on the phone with CINCOMPAC. Is that good enough for you?
Henry: He got it from CINCOMPAC.
Hawkeye: I don't care if he got it from NINCOMPOOP! The shooting's over!
Things get loopier around the camp when a ceasefire is rumored. Trapper is the only one who doesn't believe it as everyone else goes overboard in the hope that it is true. One just knows it's not true, but to see a group of people so wanting to be away from the miseries of war is terribly poignant. There are several good sketches and the sequence of General Clayton's visit to the camp is priceless. Of course, it was lucky for us that they didn't go because we wouldn't have season two.
A funny, sad story gets a sentimental four ambulances.
"I started out to be an architect. But I couldn't handle the math" - Trapper
A USO Show comes to the camp and this episode weaves several story lines and demonstrates how M*A*S*H could cram so much into a little more than 20 minutes of commercial television. Henry is waiting for his baby to be born back in the States, Hawkeye is struggling with a series of strange mishaps and Trapper is involved in a difficult operation. Meanwhile, the show goes on.
So well written, it should be a seminar. Three and a half ambulances.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Although the 1.33:1 image occasionally looks somewhat dated, the picture is very sharp, certainly better than what we see on syndicated TV. M*A*S*H was always more visually complex than most sitcoms of the era with its extensive use of exteriors and, as with many television transfers of more than 25 years ago, the limitations of the era's technology is often revealed. But nothing can dampen the enjoyment of such a crisp presentation of a treasured classic series.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The soundtrack is straightforward mono and is merely sufficient. There were random muffled sections and the only drawback of the track without a laugh track is that it suffers from some loss of brightness in the reprocessing. The series is largely dialogue, and one could not help but notice occasions where a remix might have added some ambient aspects and placement in the stereo spectrum to expand the experience. Perhaps in the Special Collector's Limited Edition....
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 240 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: Amaray Double
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsAfter years of watching M*A*S*H reruns, it was interesting to note how many favorite episodes came from the very first season. It is very enjoyable to view the birth of this groundbreaking television show in an excellent quality DVD. The M*A*S*H: Season One (Collector's Edition) is highly recommmended as some of the finest entertainment that prime time ever produced.
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