Like *MASH*, but so *not MASH*
Suppose you had to build MASH around one character - probably Hawkeye - get rid of all the others, and use only the regular bit players for bit parts. You'd have a much less interesting show. Everybody is there to serve one character and conflicts are only exercises in promoting one point of view.
The setup for Battle Circus is oddly - very oddly - like MASH. It takes place in Korea, filmed even while that conflict was still going on. A MASH unit - the 8666th - is the context. We seem them perform surgery, innoculate Korean refugees, and even "bug out" (though they don't use the term).
Humphrey Bogart is a little like Hawkeye. And I mean a little. He's got a little bit of the womanizing instinct, a little bit of the dark humor, and just a little bit of character. Bogart is out of his element here, not shedding any light on his character or situation. His standard bristly, collected self leaves nothing we can get excited about. If all the characters are simply adjuncts to Bogart, and Bogart himself remains cool and collected at all times, there's no real source of tension. The best to hope for is a good documentary.
Bogart isn't truly alone. The film puts forward June Allyson as a love interest. At first, she's not interested, then she is. There appears to be obstacles for them, but then they seem to be nothing. I feel like this was tacked on for your standard increase-the-audience-appeal reasons, not because there was a story there. Yet, I have a hard time pointing at anything else as the story either.
As I watch, I keep hearing lines going by that bring up the thought "they'd never have used that on MASH". There's nothing interesting about either the script or the way it is filmed. The movie has all the appeal of a training video. At one point, Bogart is massaging the heart of a Korean youngster to save his life. The characters remark that it's a unique experience with all the energy of describing what they had for breakfast.
So, what then about the idea of taking this like a faux documentary? It could have been an effective one, especially with the anticlimactic ending, yet clearly that wasn't what the filmmakers were looking for. There are only a handful of interesting details, and honestly I keep thinking of MASH again (more the series here), which did a much better job.
What does Korea really look like? Is it like Alabama, like in Battle Circus? Or is like Southern California like in MASH (both the movie and the series)?
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