If you are a younger M*A*S*H* fan, like myself, who barely remembers when the series was still in production, you might not have known right away that the TV series was an off-shoot of a very successful movie of the same name (1972). In turn, the movie was created as a result of a book (again, of the same name) written by a Korean War veteran. Of course, he was a surgeon in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. So, there is a question of which is better: the acclaimed movie with Donald Sutherland in the role of Hawkeye Pierce, or the award winning TV juggernaut starring Alan Alda as Hawkeye? My answer, they both have their merits and it is difficult to truly compare the two.
The movie, which debuted to rave reviews in 1972, goes many places that the TV show was not allowed to go. In the movie, the dentist nicknamed "painless" wants to commit suicide due to a sudden occurrence of impotence with one of the nurses. Trapper John (again, the role of Trapper was played by another actor in the TV series - Wayne Rogers) and Hawkeye go out of their way to help their friend the dentist. They pretend that they are going to assist in his suicide, but really just give him a sedative. While "painless" is out like a light, Hawkeye and Trapper put him in a well-decorated tent (which supposedly represents heaven) and have a nurse "help" him. In other words, they get the nurse to do what the other nurse was unable to do at the time (I'm trying to say this in the most polite way I know how). The next day, "painless" is happy to be among the living and almost forgets about wanting to commit suicide. Incidentally, the very recognizable theme from both the movie and TV show is named "Suicide Is Painless." What many TV show fans might not know is that the movie theme song has words.
As for the TV show, the only person who stayed on for the TV show was Gary Burghoff, who played Corporal Radar O'Reilly in both the movie and the TV show. The character of Radar is darker, more menacing in the movie, whereas he is more childlike in the TV show. In a sense, it mirrors how the characters developed throughout the TV series. Obviously, they had to clean up the material for television. At the same time, they wanted the TV series to be more than a comedy.
Throughout the TV show, the characters are developed much more than they ever could have been in the movie. Over the eleven years of the TV show, Radar grows up, Hawkeye becomes more empathetic and less of a womanizer, and Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan, the head nurse, becomes less rigid. In the later TV episodes, which have often been criticized as being too preachy, the characters are much more rounded than the slapstick first episodes. In the end, the TV show has a lot more heart than the movie could ever produce. What the movie alluded to in 1972, the TV show built on. The TV show took the wonderful characters of the hit movie and created something special as they grew and developed.
As was stated earlier, the TV show was criticized in the later years for being too anti-war. My response to this is, who is PRO-war? Personally, I support what is currently going on in Iraq, but war should never be a first option. It should always be a last resort. Even as someone who gets angry when I hear people doubting the current mission in Iraq, there is no way in which I've ever been offended by an episode of M*A*S*H* (and I do believe that I've seen every episode). Considering the era and the political views of Mike Farrell and Alan Alda, I'm actually surprised. They truly depicted the horrors of war in a way that wasn't preachy. In fact, if anything, they probably underplayed the true conditions. It is nice to know that thanks to the book, the hit movie, and the epic TV series that lasted three times longer than the actual war itself, the "forgotten war" will never be truly forgotten.