Saturday, March 03, 2007

DAY 3: No War is a Movie, but Some are TV Shows

March 3, 2007
20:05 hours.

“Yankee Doodle Doctor” - Airdate: October 22, 1972
PLOT: General Creighton sends filmmaker Lt. Bricker to the 4077, to make a documentary on MASH units. Hawkeye is cast as the star, but finds Bricker a phony, and volunteers to take over the production entirely.
-Hawkeye tells Frank that his screenwriting stinks.
-“Hawkeye Pierce, warts and all, is kind of the heartbeat of this place!”
-“We’re privileged to work with him!”

“Three hours ago, this man was in the battle. Two hours ago we operated on him. He’s got a 50/50 chance. We win some, we lose some. That’s what it’s all about. No promises. No guaranteed survival. No saints in surgical garb. Our willingness, our experience, our technique are not enough. Guns and bombs and antipersonnel mines have more power to take life than to preserve it. Not a very happy ending for a movie. But then no war is a movie.”

The plot of “Yankee Doodle Doctor” is all an excuse to show the film produced by the 4077 staff, and that story, is pretty weak. It tries hard, jumping through hoops to get a film crew to the camp, then getting rid of the obnoxious director Lt. Barker, and putting Pierce in charge of the doco. And I’ll buy M*A*S*H-logic a lot of the time, but why Barker would have to leave behind the equipment and crew he commands just because Pierce tried to sabotage his film, even the writers are at a loss to explain.

Barker’s an uninspired “Hollywood” stereotype, a pretentious blowhard who blathers about how important his movies are, and falsifies his documentary footage. This is too bad, because M*A*S*H gets so much mileage from great guest stars playing fun characters, and it makes me wonder why the entertainment industry constantly portrays themselves this way. Has anyone ever met a professional filmmaker like this? If so: name names!

Pierce’s direct address speech above is the reason the episode exists. Pierce is both grandstanding and being humble, trying to demystify medical realities, and pointing to the frustrating task of the wartime doctor. It’s not a generalized diatribe against war, but specific to the MASH experience, so Pierce is perfectly qualified to make it. In context of the short film, as the staff watches in the mess tent, it probably comes off as even preachier than it does to the audience at home. All things considered, he’s also underestimating the skills of the medical team – I’d say if you got sent to the 4077, you’ve got a better than 50/50 chance.

There are some interesting character moments in “Yankee Doodle Doctor” beyond just Hawk’s speechmaking.
-It opens with Hawkeye and Trapper having hit a new show record for consecutive hours in surgery (18!), and blowing off steam by… ballroom dancing in the tent for the sole purpose of irritating Frank. I find Pierce a whole lot funnier when he’s either reacting or behaving like a weirdo, than when he’s cracking wise: when Frank asks why they’re acting goofy, Hawkeye exclaims “We’re the CRAZY generation!”

-The “Yankee Doodle Doctor” short within “Yankee Doodle Doctor”, is cute and seems fairly realistic as the kind of home movie made by people who think they’re funny in real life, but don’t have any artistic experience. It’s basically a summer camp talent show comedy sketch where Pierce plays Groucho Marx as a MASH doctor, tending to a terrible and adorable wounded Radar, with the help of Trapper as a simian Harpo and Lt. Cutler playing it earnest and wooden. The highlight of this is what I assume to be a blooper, where Gary Burghoff starts laughing at Alan Alda cutting up and tries to hide it, but they stay in the scene and use it.

-Obnoxious impressions by Hawkeye: Jimmy Cagney, Porky Pig, an extended Groucho Marx in the film, and, uh, a dog.

-Gossips, be sure to check out the last tag scene, in which Hawkeye signs autographs and is surrounded by fans, while Trapper pouts in jealousy and understandable frustration. Witness Wayne Rogers’ pain!

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