Altman's idiosyncratic career received a dramatic boost when he took
Ring Lardner Jr
's script (already turned down by a dozen directors) and turned it into a box-office smash. Dealing with the crazily humorous activities of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital's staff amid the carnage of the Korean (read Vietnam) war, it shows Altman's stylistic signature in embryonic form: a large number of fast-talking eccentric characters, a series of revealing vignettes rather than a structured plot, comparisons of real life with media versions purveyed by the camp's radio, and semi-audible, overlapping dialogue. It's frantic, clever fun, but in comparison with later works such as Thieves Like Us and The Long Goodbye, its cynical stance often rings hollow; its targets - military decorum, religious platitudes and sexual hypocrisy - are too easy, and there's little of the director's muted, unsentimental humanism in evidence.