Making a great debut film is something every young filmmaker aspires to. Thinking you're going to churn out something monumentally profound will only give you a headache and a blank piece of paper. Or blank word document if that's your preferred method.
Nobody remembers Finian's Rainbow or Who's That Knocking but they do remember The Godfather and Mean Streets. These films were not the first films these directors completed, but the ones people consider being their first real film as an artist. For Robert Altman, MASH was just that. The one people point to as being the first Altman film. Right off the bat, the overlapping dialogue is present. Along with that, the improvisation and slow zoom lens effect.
It's Korean War setting is something forced upon the director by the studio. Which is telling enough. This film plays a lot more as a contemporary war satire. Given that its doctors we are dealing with as opposed to soldiers, it makes the sense of irony and dark wit something to be cherished. From the pun-infused lyrics 'Suicide is painless', right down to the parody of DaVinci's Last Supper.
The film hit at just the right moment. After Hopper gave us two hippies searching for America, Altman gave us a bunch of surgeons relaying two army officials having sex over the loud speaker. Who could resist?
Known for being a quick shooter, Altman's style would soon clash with Warren Beatty's methods on McCabe and Mrs Miller. A film notoriously known for it's post production sound flaws. Nashville would come four movies later.