Hey, so I write for Cracked.com sometimes. Occasionally, I’ll come across an obscure story that doesn’t quite fit into a particular article I’m working on, but it will strike me as particularly interesting. Since stories like these often can’t be found anywhere but the shady recesses of the internet, I figured it would be worth it to take a few minutes to put the story out there where more people might be able to appreciate it.
M*A*S*H is well-known for spawning one of the most successful shows in TV history, but before it was beaming into your grandparents’ impossibly small and low-res TVs, it was a hugely successful and critically acclaimed war film. M*A*S*H the movie has pretty much everything censors and studio executives were afraid of at the time: excessive violence, subversive anti-war themes, nudity, and the first ever use of the word “fuck” in a studio film.
Keep in mind, M*A*S*H was released in 1970, only a couple years after the extremely shitty and conservative Hays Code was abandoned. Film studios and the newly created MPAA were still testing the waters as to what was “acceptable.” One thing that certainly was not acceptable at the time was characters dropping fuck-bombs, but M*A*S*H included one all the same.
But how did they get manage to get all that groundbreaking stuff in there, you ask?
Well, after the film got turned down by at least 15 directors, the studio got desperate and asked the relatively unknown TV director Robert Altman to look at the script. At the time, the studio was already dealing with three bloated, big-budget movies: Patton, Hello Dolly!, and Tora! Tora! Tora! All the executives seemed to be extremely busy with green-lighting any expensive movie with extreme punctuation they could find (exclamation marks ain’t free, ya know?), and Altman saw his chance to make the kind of fucked-up film he wanted to make.
Altman realized that if he stayed off the very busy movie executives’ radar, he could do whatever he pleased. He made sure to come in under-budget and stay off the studio lot so no eyebrows were raised, and then went hog wild. He started by basically throwing out the script and allowing actors to improvise their lines. Then he orchestrated some incredibly gory surgery scenes where blood was literally flying everywhere. Finally, he went back and edited the movie together in a completely unusual, un-linear fashion. All while making sure to include all the sex and nudity he wanted and a time where an actor improvised the word “fuck” in a piece of dialogue, just because he was told he wouldn’t be allowed to.
You don’t even want to know where this hand thing ends up.
The studio executives then sat down to watch the completed version of a movie they all but forgot about, and were understandably shocked. Monocles shattered in champagne glasses and top hats shot into the stratosphere. Outraged, they gave pages upon pages of notes and demanded multiple re-edits and re-shoots. But the filmmakers dug their heels in the ground and demanded that the studio first show a test audience the uncut film.
The studio eventually agreed when they realized the filmmakers wouldn’t budge. The screening was such a huge success that the paranoid studio executives thought Altman might have planted people in the audience to give a fake reaction. Realizing they had a crowd-pleaser on their hands, the studio executives allowed the film to be released unaltered, with all the fucks and titties the movie was meant to have.
M*A*S*H went on to win multiple awards and make the studio boatloads of money. Not to mention, paving the way for subsequent movies to include even more swearing, gore, and nudity. So next time you see one of those titty swear blood movies kids these days love, send Robert Altman a thank-you tweet for being a crafty motherfucker.