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  • English: Dolby Digital Mono
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    French, English - Hearing Impaired

    M*A*S*H - Season One (MASH)

    20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 590 mins . PG . PAL


    When Robert Altman’s anti-war film M*A*S*H (reviewed here) was a success back in 1970, a television series was eventually mooted after a script for a movie sequel was deemed to be crap. The 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M*A*S*H) based in Korea was retained as the setting, as were all of the central characters. The format, naturally enough, was changed from a two-hour film into a series of 24-minute episodes that would fit snuggly into a half-hour television time slot (with some of those lovely commercial breaks).

    The series finally came together in 1972 and ran for an impressive 11 seasons. The series actually lasted three times longer than the Korean War itself, but that didn’t seem to bother TV audiences who made it one of the most successful TV sitcoms ever, and it most certainly didn’t bother the studio executives.

    The success of the series can be traced to the award winning cast and writers. Actors such as Alan Alda (‘Hawkeye’ Pierce), Loretta Swit (‘Hotips’ Houlihan). Gary Burghoff (‘Radar’), and Larry Linville (Frank Burns), became household names thanks to M*A*S*H. It’s true that few of them went on to greater things, but their roles in M*A*S*H ensured they will not be forgotten. Very few of the original cast stuck around for all 11 seasons, but in this, the first, all the familiar characters are present, as they were for the first three seasons.

    The writing was consistently good (though some episodes are very ordinary - I Hate a Mystery for example. Awful!), but by the end of the show’s life its social conscience had begun to dominate, and the offbeat humour that had made the show such a success was less in evidence. Many social issues are addressed, including racism, naturally enough, though the show itself is rather sexist at times, with many large-breasted nurses seemingly quite keen to be taken advantage of. Now I am sure that life in a M.A.S.H. was hardly squeaky clean nor morally beyond reproach, but some of these nurses take their roles as care providers just a little too far. There are numerous points even in this first series, where it is obvious that war can be funny, and at the same time tragic and devastatingly effective in screwing up young lives. Just as there are laughs, there are some very sombre and thought-provoking moments.

    The characters were well cast, though this first series sees the actors defining their roles and trying to make them their own. Mostly, they succeed admirably. Alda quickly established his role as Captain “Hawkeye” Pierce and is one of the few actors who lasted all eleven seasons, eventually directing episodes as well. He is straight from the Grouch Marx school of comedy (and even impersonates him in the first series), but hey, we needed someone to take Groucho’s place! His initial side-kick, “Trapper” John, played by Wayne Rogers, is a natural compliment to Alda’s style, and was the first of two long-term side kicks. The only actor from the movie to reprise his role is Gary Burghoff as “Radar”. As said, the other actors quickly establish themselves in their roles, though in the pilot episode (included on the first disc), Father Mulcahy is played by a different actor.

    While some may roll their eyes, it’s hard to deny the popularity and longevity of M*A*S*H. At the time of writing this review it can still be seen daily in an afternoon slot, some 20 years after the last episode went to air. This release consists of all 24 episodes of the first series (including the ‘pilot’), and provides many hours of viewing.

    For the trivia buffs, things to know or watch for include; a couple of the fingers on Gary Burghoff's left hand are smaller than normal, and Timothy Brown who played ‘Spearchucker’, vanished in the middle of the first series when the writers discovered that there were no black surgeons in the Korean War. Oops!


    I am sorry to report that this is not the greatest quality video you will ever see, and the convenience and longevity of DVD over VHS may be its saving grace – that and the quality of the show itself.

    Naturally, being a ‘70s television show, it is a full frame image and therefore not 16:9 enhanced. Let’s look at the good first. There are eight episodes per disc and there are no signs of edge enhancement and few compression artefacts. There are dirty marks and scratches of varying degree in every episode, but at least no layer changes are in evidence. Grain is a constant.

    The overall image is not razor sharp, and colours are occasionally muted, though age would have a lot to do with this. There are few bold colours, but I guess you don’t really want that when you're in the jungle hiding from nasty people who want to shoot you! Black levels also look a bit faded at times, and shadow detail is not brilliant. In all, this is very similar to what you see on television in the afternoons. There has possibly been some effort put in to clean the prints up, but I suspect that wherever they have been stored all this time has not helped keep them in good condition.

    The video quality is generally acceptable though, and does seem to improve as the episodes progress.


    Sadly the audio is also a bit of a let down (apart from one brilliant option), even allowing that there is only a flat sounding Dolby Digital mono audio track on offer. It is seriously low fidelity, and while all dialogue can be heard, you will need to give the volume control a serious nudge. The audio sounds slightly muffled at times and quite ‘flat', most noticeably during the opening theme, the beautiful, Suicide is Painless. There is, of course, no separation or panning of sound, and nothing to be heard from the surround speakers. Thankfully, there are no sychronisation issues.

    I have pleasure in telling you that every episode includes the option to remove that annoying and most awful sounding laugh track that every American sitcom ever made seems to use. What a blessing and how distracting it becomes when you switch it back on. I want this option with every TV series on DVD and I want it from NOW!

    I am sure that subsequent series' will look and sound better as more money would have been available for filming. While the audio and video here are unspectacular, it can be attributed to the original source material.


    Not in this release, and although with 24 episodes on offer it might be a bit greedy to ask for more you’d think that, with 251 episodes, there has to be something worth including. With luck future series' may include some interviews or even commentaries perhaps.


    The facts speak for themselves. 11 seasons, 251 episodes, endless re-runs, numerous awards (including Emmys), undoubted popularity and even a couple of spin-offs. From the ashes of a rejected movie script, M*A*S*H went on to establish itself as one of the best-loved shows of all time. With its fine mix of comedy and drama, a memorable cast, and excellent pranks and gags, it has become a part of television history. Recommended.

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      And I quote...
    "Attention. The first of 11 series' of M*A*S*H is now on DVD. Might be wise to start saving your pennies for the rest…"
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
    • TV:
          TEAC CT-F803 80cm Super Flat Screen
    • Receiver:
          Pioneer VSX-D409
    • Speakers:
    • Centre Speaker:
    • Surrounds:
    • Subwoofer:
          Sherwood SP 210W
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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