Comfortable and Furious

20th Century Duvall: Part 6-War

War: M*A*S*H (1970) & The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

I guess I’m no different to you in that there are some movies I don’t get. M*A*S*H is the perfect example, a flick that was a big box-office hit, garnered five Oscar nods and spawned a long-running TV show. It centers on the frat boy hijinks of a bunch of Korean War surgeons, but although I can see the black comedy I only find it sporadically amusing. For the most part it’s plotless, knockabout, indulgent and tiresome. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Are you kidding? M*A*S*H was awesome]

Duvall plays the disapproving Major Frank Burns, a teetotal, deeply unpopular guy and religious devotee. He thinks of his fellow officers as ‘Godless buffoons’ as they go about drinking, prank-playing and humping. In return, they see him as an incompetent ‘knuckle head’ always blaming others for his mistakes. Naturally, it’s only a matter of time before he’s targeted, his impromptu affair with the camp’s head nurse turning out to be a case of just what the surgeon ordered.

“God meant us to find each other,” he cries when she opens her blouse, but unbeknown to them their imminent lovemaking is about to be broadcast over the PA system. Yes, it’s nice to see a Christian killjoy exposed as a hypocrite, but why Burns is shortly afterward led off in a straitjacket by the military police remains a mystery.

Much better is The Eagle Has Landed. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Oh, I see…Jenny] Wearing an eye patch he no doubt nicked from Rooster Cogburn, this might be the first time Duvall had a go at a foreign accent. He plays Colonel Max Radl, a capable, honorable Nazi who (mein Gott!) even possesses a sense of humor.

Wounded on the Russian front and exempt from active duty, he is tasked in the closing years of WW2 with the little matter of abducting Churchill and bringing him back to Berlin. Straightaway he’s intrigued by the audaciousness of the mission, telling a subordinate: “A wink from a pretty girl at a party rarely results in climax, but a man is a fool not to push a suggestion as far as it will go.”

The dignified, Jung-reading Radl is as smart as a whip and the embodiment of Teutonic efficiency, knowing exactly when to hold his tongue and when to act on his own initiative. It’s hard not to warm to the guy as we sense he doesn’t like the Nazi regime and is only going through the motions when giving the Hitler salute.

He also knows the nature of the game (“I was measured for my casket months ago.”) Duvall inhabits the chain-smoking, leather-coated character with gusto and has a lot of good scenes, delightfully interacting with the likes of Donald Sutherland (a roguish IRA soldier with a twinkle in his eye), Donald Pleasence (a humorless, deskbound bureaucrat) and Michael Caine (a steely German paratrooper). Yes, this one might perpetuate the myth of a clean Wehrmacht, but it pushes all the right buttons as a war flick.

For the final Duvall, Click Here






2 responses to “20th Century Duvall: Part 6-War”

  1. John Welsh Avatar
    John Welsh

    The M*A*S*H screen story ran out of gas 3/4s of the way in and ended with a football game. A football game? Yeah. what the fuck did that have to do with the story? Ring Lardner Jr. (one of the Hollywood Ten) collected the Oscar for the screenplay he did not write. A screenplay that had little to do with Richard Hooker’s novel. The movie began Altman’s love affair with the goddamn zoom lens.

    I stood in line outside a Westwood Theater for three hours to see that thing. I just wish so much of the humor hadn’t been so mean spirited.

    1. Goat Avatar

      Well, both of you and Dave are brain dead. Maybe you should hug.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *