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USA 1970
Directed by
Mike Nichols
121 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars


Director Mike Nichols' rendition of Joseph Heller’s hugely successful anti-war novel falls somewhere between Dr Strangelove (1964) and M*A*S*H* (which was released the same year as Nichols' film).  It was however not as successful as either, getting lost in Heller’s multi-faceted story of a man trying demonstrate his mental unfitness for duty as a bombadier but thereby proving his mental fitness for same (thus exemplifying the concept of "Catch-22"). It also swapped high-end photography by cinematographer David Watkin,and Nichols' carefully controlled mise-en-scène for some much-needed absurdist edge and guerilla style.

Nichols and co-scriptwriter Buck Henry (who appears here as Colonel Korn) were coming off the back of the mega-success of The Graduate (1967) and looking to repeat a Zeitgeist coup (although originally published in 1961, the book became one of the key texts of the anti-Vietnam generation) but Heller's text is above all a verbal conceit (and a limited one at that) and they do not manage to give it visual form. The result is a film that is essentially an illustration of something which, as is usually the case, is much more effective in the reader's imagination.

The cast, however, is terrific with Martin Balsam, Alan Arkin, Orson Welles amongst many others including Jon Voight who is outstanding in an early role as Milo Minderbinder, although in some cases (notably Richard Benjamin and Art Garfunkel) there’s a sense of being self-consciously aware of being in a big movie of a hip best-seller. They needn't have worried as the film bombed at the box office and for once, not unjustly so.




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