(1970, Directed by Robert Altman, Written by Ring Lardner Jr., based on the novel by Richard Hooker)
I know – technically M.A.S.H is a film about war, not sports. However, as George Orwell said, “Sport is war without the shooting,” and in many ways M.A.S.H is the war film that doesn’t show the shooting but what happens after people have been shot and have to be put back together again. It is in that context that the remarkable ending of the film – an American football, or gridiron, match between two M.A.S.H (mobile army surgical hospital) units – is entirely appropriate, showing how sports, precisely because they imitate combat so closely, is the perfect escape from it.
So good is the football match in M.A.S.H that it is almost like a film within a film, superbly summing up all the key elements of this magnificent movie: the teamwork; the necessity for discipline and maverick individuality; and even the drug-taking. (The scene showing two giant blonde footballers sharing a joint is the definitive proof that M.A.S.H is a Vietnam war movie masquerading as a Korean police-action movie: there wasn’t such good shit in Korea.)
Much of the credit for the authenticity of the American football match must be attributed to the inclusion of a genuine former football player, Fred Williamson, as the immortally monickered “Spearchucker Jones.” Some critics and websites (including Wikipedia) credit him for directing the football scenes, but surely that is going too far. While his technical expertise and personal experience of the game must have contributed greatly, the whole freewheeling, spear-chucking energy of the American football sequence at the end of M.A.S.H is undoubtedly pure and unadulterated Altman.