Monday, July 20, 2009

Episode 117 - Movie Tonight

Season 5, Episode 117: Movie Tonight
Original Air Date: 2/22/77
Written by: Gene Reynolds, Don Reo, Allan Katz, Jay Folb

Directed by: Burt Metcalfe

Without any wounded to take care of, the 4077th is bored and cranky. A simple session of cleaning up the O.R. leads to each of the staff yelling at one another. Col. Potter gets so frustrated he walks out on all of them.

But Father Mulcahy, coming from Seoul, brings some good news: a movie that Potter requested and he is clearly very excited about. He's so excited, in fact, he announces that his "all-time favorite movie" will be shown after dinner.

The crankiness continues through dinner--everyone's in such a bad mood, no one's talking, so dinner is a tension-filled event. But Potter comes in and announces the night's movie is the classic Henry Fonda picture My Darling Clementine. This--and Potter's enthusiasm--seems to cheer everyone up.

Later, the movie starts, to the cheers and applause of the audience. Unfortunately, just a few minutes into the picture, the film goes off the reel and the screen goes dark.

As Klinger fixes the film, Col. Potter organizes a community sing-along, and after some cajoling they all sing "The Tennessee Waltz."

The film starts again, and runs for another few minutes, when--at a crucial scene--it goes out again. The crowd starts to get really annoyed, when Father Mulcahy--via piano--breaks into "Gee Mom, I Want To Go Home", causing everyone to sing along, and add their own specific sets of lyrics.

Radar then does some impressions, followed by everyone doing impressions of Father Mulcahy (Radar doing the best job), ending with Hot Lips singing a song all on her own, getting so wrapped up in the performance she doesn't even stop after the movie starts up again.

During the film's climactic shoot-out, everyone gets in on the act, play-pretending shooting each other, with them all falling over in mock agony. It leads to everyone laying on the floor as the movie rolls on.

The mood is broken when a jeep arrives carrying wounded, snapping everyone into action.

Fun Facts: Hawkeye and B.J. have an argument about a shirt Hawkeye bought for B.J.--one sleeve is longer than the other. Hawkeye says that nonsense, and puts it on as proof. Unfortunately, one sleeve is indeed longer than the other. One of the show's all-time great props, Hawkeye shifts his shoulders like Quasimodo to make the sleeves even out, a great bit of physical comedy.

The scene of everyone adding their own lyrics to the "Gee Mom" song brushes up against being completely improbable--how do Hot Lips, Radar, the Nurses, et al, manage to come up with perfectly-fitting lyrics so fast? (Ironically, the most realistic addition is from Frank, who clearly was sitting in his seat quietly trying to come up with something, and breaks into the song long after everyone else has stopped)

The episode's final scene features everyone in O.R., quietly singing "My Darling Clementine" in perfect harmony--a nice, mellow ending, and a great way to wrap-up an episode partly about the transformative power of movies and their ability to bring a group of people together, if only for a short while.

Favorite Line: Col. Potter: "Now this movie's a classic--it has the three things that make a movie great: horses, cowboys, and horses."


What the Parrot Saw said...

I am looking at my S5 DVD case and "Movie Tonight" is listed as a "fan favorite." All well and good (or as Henry might say, "be that as it may,") but to offer a digressing opinion...

Worst.Episode.Ever. (apologies to the Simpsons' Comic Book Guy).

It's not so much that the camp is bored and (thus) tempers are fraying; this was often fertile ground for some great episodes (indeed M*A*S*H explored ennui far better than say, Seinfeld because the ennui was often depicted to be as stressful as the war itself).

And even now, the Fr. Mulcahy sound-alike contest is not half-bad (who can resist Morgan's cracked-voice "Jocularity! Jocularity!"??).

It's that damned sing-along! Seriously, are we to believe that that the crew is effortlessly (and off the cuff) coming up with lampoons of "Gee, Mom"?

Did Sherm draw lots in advance to determine who would sing? Did I-CORP fly in Irving Berlin in order to drill the unit for their musical cues (befitting a Broadway musical)?

Have hated it for years, and one wonders what was left off the cutting room floor of this episode? Let's imagine...

Fade in:
Potter: "... now our print of My Darling Clementine may break. It's my third war, and probably the same print I saw in a foxhole back in WW1... [CUE LAUGHTER]
"Thus, I have instructed Fr. Mulcahy to play that song we all love: "Gee, Mom." Everyone is to sing along...
But! (holds up an index finger): "They are to insert lyrics that specifically represent their attitudes and situations. This will boost morale."

Potter: (smiling) "Tell Kilnger, too... [CUE LAUGHTER]
Radar: (puzzled): "Gee, Colonel; at home, guys in the glee club got into trouble for doing this... I mean, so I heard..."
Potter: "That's an order! We WILL SING!! And… (sotto voce, winking):"Please tell Burns to be witty. Or to try to, anyway." [CUE LAUGHTER]

Did Hawkeye and BJ rehearse their lyrics prior?

Hawkeye (mock-anguish): "Beej! you're coming in too soon on 'and nurses through the night' !"
BJ (distracted): "Sorry, Hawk. I just keep thinking about Peg. And Nurse Donovan. And Peg. Are you sure this is meant to lift our spirits?"
Hawkeye: "Yes! Yes! (jumps onto his cot)
Haven’t we sung with the Colonel here at the swamp? I love breaking into song!"
BJ: "Noooo you don't! You love breaking into Groucho Marx."
Hawkeye (strokes imaginary cigar): "'now that's the silliest thing I evah hard'"

Imagine if every episode had been this trite! I suspect that we would be discussing a different MASH (or rather, not discussing it all).
If M*A*S*H had to have a musical episode, why not have Loudon Wainwright reprise his wonderful Capt. Spaulding character? A 25 minute version of "Oh, Tokyo!" would not have strained my credulity half as much.

To wit: "Movie Tonight" was the sole sighting of a shark within miles of the 4077th.
But it came close enough. Bearing fangs!

Alright, done venting… thanks for the indulgence. :-)

What the Parrot Saw said...

One last comment: admittedly, this is one part of a scene, not an entire 'musical episode.' And as you point out, Rob! the final scene is tasteful and rather touching.

But one thing this series never did was insult the viewer's intelligence or go for the lowest common denominator in terms of laughs or cheap sentiment. This was the very rare exception.

Russell said...

Well....this is one of my all-time favorites. I always just figured that this wasn't the first time these people had sung this song. And Margaret's (and Frank's, as Rob points out) seemed believably "off the cuff." The nurses, when they come in, don't actually sing...they let ONE of them (Nurse Bigelow, I believe) do the lead and the others follow up.

Anyway, I like this episode for the camaraderie and general friendliness that the outfit has, and that the movie re-instills in them; they can fight and bicker, but they are all basically friends, doing the best they can. I have always liked this one. In fact, I tracked down "My Darling Clementine" several years later when videocassettes came out and watched the actual movie because of this episode. It *is* a great movie.

What the Parrot Saw said...

I have to admit: the possibility that the camps has sung these lyrics prior(and as such is an in-joke) is plausible. I had never thought of this angle before.

Perhaps when I see it re-runs, I'll be more charitable next time. :-)

Shawn / kryptonkylie said...

I think that we have to remember that movie theaters used to have sing-a-long (the 'following the bouncing ball' kind) cartoons before the feature presentation.

I'm not sure that they were still being shown at the time period of M*A*S*H, but it does lend a certain air of authenticity, as audiences would have been accustomed to singing together when they went to see a movie.

Steve Spatucci said...

There was something special about this episode - I think the fun of seeing everyone sing in turn made up for the strain on reality that might have come from the ease with which everyone performed their parts.

My father was in the navy - he wound up joining just as WWII ended, and so he was out at sea during a weird time - recent peacetime in the mid- to late-40's. He would always talk about how they had one movie on their ship - an Errol Flynn movie swashbuckling movie - and they saw it so many times that they would turn the sound down and perform the movie perfectly, adding all kinds of inside jokes and references to the ship's crew, shooting imaginary arrows at each other, and generally using the movie as a backdrop to their hijinks. Not surprisingly, this was one of his favorite episodes of M*A*S*H.

What the Parrot Saw said...

I'm glad I revisited this thread, as I thought I was a little harsh... I'm still not that sold on the singalong, but it makes much more sense in context.

Great comments, here! :-)

wiestika said...

I think the sing along was good. Its really not all that difficult to come up with something if you know the tune, which they all would have I'm sure. Either way, good episode, but then, most of MASH was just plain awesome imho!

Lynette said...

I always felt Hawkeye and BJ's duet in "Gee, Mom" was a bit unbelievable, but the rest were clearly supposed to be thinking them up on the spot. Creating a short rhyming verse to a familiar tune isn't that difficult.

The next time you watch that scene, don't watch the singers. Watch what else is going on as the camera moves around the Mess Tent. Various cast members are waving or standing when they have ideas, silently claiming the next verse without interrupting the current one. We don't see much of this clearly, but there are a few glimpses to get the idea across.

Watch Klinger specifically. He gets an idea, tries to catch enough eyes to take the next verse, but (since he's seated behind nearly everyone at the projector) isn't noticed. He succeeds on his second attempt, by which time he is frantically pointing at himself and even bouncing on his stool a little.

Being of a younger generation, I only know from reading that various types of sing-alongs were more common to the pre-TV generations. This would not be unfamiliar territory to the characters.

Robert Gross said...

Ehhhh, I take the song with the same suspension of disbelief as I take the many, many, many, many, many continuity and anachronism gaffes.

I love how Frank's verse is not only out of place because it's half a day late, but also because it's the only one that is clearly *not* meant good-naturedly.

mark said...

Anachronism: The movie projector used in this episode (and several others) was a Bell & Howell lightweight, with a built-in speaker - a type that wasn't even made until the 1960s! Before that, B&H 16 mm projectors were of the "blimp" type, with 2 access doors facing the operator. Most had speakers in a separate matching case about the size of the projector.

BTW I love Potter's suggestion to Burns about leftover food that's still edible.

Cyberchaps said...

So I served in two wars. Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm sure that if I had been with the medical community I might have enjoyed a night like this at least once. Doc are more easy going than Army regulars. As it was - the camaraderie in theatre was low and the stress was high. Watching this makes me nostalgic for what might have been and guilty that I did not make a greater contribution to the possibilities of it. General order number one pretty much cancelled out any possibility of socialization in the combat zone. Just a long dry count down to the day of departure. Casualties were higher in previous conflicts but so was camaraderie.

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