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M*A*S*H (1970)
Scripted by Hollywood veteran Ring Lardner, Jr. and directed by Robert Altman, this war comedy details the exploits of military doctors and nurses at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the Korean War. Between exceptionally gory hospital shifts and countless rounds of martinis, wisecracking surgeons Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and Trapper John McIntyre (Elliott Gould) make it their business to undercut the smug, moralistic pretensions of Bible-thumper Maj. Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) and Army true-believer Maj. "Hot Lips" Houlihan (Sally Kellerman). Abetted by such other hedonists as Duke Forrest (Tom Skerritt) and Painless Pole (John Schuck), as well as such (relative) innocents as Radar O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff), Hawkeye and Trapper John drive Burns and Houlihan crazy while engaging in such additional blasphemies as taking a medical trip to Japan to play golf, staging a mock Last Supper to cure Painless's momentary erectile dysfunction, and using any means necessary to win an inter-MASH football game. MASH creates a casual, chaotic atmosphere emphasizing the constant noise and activity of a surgical unit near battle lines; it marked the beginning of Altman's sustained formal experiments with widescreen photography, zoom lenses, and overlapping sound and dialogue, further enhancing the atmosphere with the improvisational ensemble acting for which Altman's films quickly became known. Although the on-screen war was not Vietnam, MASH's satiric target was obvious in 1970, and Vietnam War-weary and counter-culturally hip audiences responded to Altman's nose-thumbing attitude towards all kinds of authority and embraced the film's frankly tasteless yet evocative humor and its anti-war, anti-Establishment, anti-religion stance.

Perfect Couple (1979)
Robert Altman cooled his "innovative" jets to make the innocuous romantic comedy A Perfect Couple. Marta Heflin plays a member of a boisterous rock group. Paul Dooley is a bashful bachelor from a tradition-bound Greek family. Heflin and Dooley meet via a computer dating service, whereupon all the expected comedy setups avail themselves, though most of these setups are played as seriously as if this film were MacBeth. The best moments are the scenes with Heflin's musical group, though there are far too many of these. While Perfect Couple didn't make a dime, it still represents one of Altman's better "chamber" films.

Quintet (1979)
Perhaps the least seen but most talked about film of Robert Altman's career, Quintet is a somber science fiction tale that takes place after a nuclear holocaust has thrown the world into another Ice Age. A man named Essex (Paul Newman) and his pregnant wife Vivia (Brigitte Fossey) are wandering the desolate, frozen landscape and attempting to find Essex's brother, Francha (Tom Hill). They finally locate him in a frozen city, occupied by a number of apocalyptic survivors who who pass their time playing a mysterious game called "Quintet." No one is able to explain just how it is played, but Grigor (Fernando Rey) appears to act as the referee, and the stakes of the game are unusually high - losing means being thrown out into the snow and devoured by Rottweilers. Francha is soon killed, not as a casualty of Quintet per se, but for playing an assassination game on the side to relieve his own ennui. As 'collateral damage,', Vivia and the rest of Francha's family are soon extinguished as well. Essex is not happy with the way they've been rubbed out, but as he attempts to seek revenge, he is only drawn deeper into the lethal competition of Quintet.

Wedding (1978)
Robert Altman's over-frenetic satire on American marriage rituals and hypocrisy concerns the upper-crust marriage between Dino Corelli (Desi Arnaz Jr.) and Muffin Brenner (Amy Stryker). As the film begins, a senile bishop forgets the lines to the wedding ceremony and Nettie Sloan (the groom's grandmother) drops dead in an upstairs bedroom. Nettie's death is not disclosed to the two families who converge at the wedding reception. As the two sets of in-laws slam into each other, the bride and groom disappear in the ensuing whirlwind of chaos as both extended families vie for sexual favors and try to keep hidden never-discussed family secrets. Regina Corelli (Nina Van Pallandt) is revealed to be a drug addict, while Luigi, is endeavoring unsuccessfully to keep his Mafia connections under wraps. Meanwhile, the bride's family, although more down to earth, are revealed to be no better. Tulip Brenner (Carol Burnett) begins to flirt with one of the wedding guests, Mackenzie Goddard (Pat McCormick), while Snooks Brenner (Paul Dooley) acts like a lout and drinks heavily. And flying around the edges of the action like Tinkerbell is Buffy Brenner, the Brenners' youngest daughter, who is pregnant by the groom. As other characters bang into each other -- sexual degenerates, hard-nosed radicals, raw-boned emotional wrecks -- the wedding reception heads for its inevitable nuclear explosion.

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