Friday, 9 August 2013

Catch-22 (1970)

Captain Yossarian [Alan Arkin] has a problem ...

It’s World War 2, he’s stationed in Italy, he’s a bombardier flying high-risk missions in a B-25, and he’s seen too many of his friends die. Yossarian wants out! Another problem is that the base leader, Colonel Cathcart [Martin Balsam] keeps raising the amount of missions they have to fly before they are eligible for rotation, so it seems like he’ll never get out of there. He attempts to get Doc Daneeka [Jack Gilford] to examine his head, hoping the Doc will deem him medically unfit, too crazy for combat, and ground him. Sound simple? Not quite. There’s a catch! To be grounded, he has to convince the Doc that he’s crazy. To do that, he has to go to the Doc and ask to be grounded. But the Doc can’t ground him because asking to be grounded is proof of a man’s sanity; only a truly sane person knows they want to be out of combat. Catch-22!
I’m often asked what my favorite character and scene is. I can’t pick just one; there are so many:

DOBBS: [Over the radio]: “Help him! Help him!”
YOSSARIAN: “Help who?”
DOBBS: “Help the bombardier!”
YOSSARIAN: “I'm the bombardier, I'm all right.”
DOBBS: “Then help HIM, help HIM!”

The mess hall argument over who is paranoid:

MAJOR DANBY [Richard Benjamin]: “Weather conditions have improved tremendously over the mainland, so you won't have any trouble at all seeing the target. Of course, we mustn't forget, that means that they won't have any trouble at all seeing you.”

COLONEL CATHCART [Martin Balsam]: “Let’s see those thumbs-up!” 

Milo Minderbinder [Jon Voight] the greedy opportunist, taking everything for his self-serving ‘M & M Enterprises’ Syndicate:

Chaplain Tappman [Anthony Perkins], visiting Yossarian in hospital:

... followed by Nurse Cramer [Collin Wilcox Paxton], and Nurse Duckett [Paula Prentiss], breezing through the ward in a cacophony of chatter, unmindful of their bottle exchange:

... followed by that scream of despair from Yossarian:

Bob Newhart, as Major Major, who sets the rule that he is not to be disturbed when he is in his office; people are only permitted to see him when he is out:

Tappman explaining to Yossarian that Major Major won’t see anyone when he is in, but only when he isn’t there:

CATHCART’S RECEPTIONIST [John Brent]: “Take a seat ... FATHER!”

The exchange between Tappman and the sea-drenched Captain Orr [Bob Balaban]:

Colonel Cathcart leaning on Tappman to mind his own business and work to boost morale:

The men, the countdown, and General Dreedle’s WAC [Susanne Benton]:

General Dreedle [Orson Welles]: No moaning ... or else he’ll have you taken out and shot:

Hanging out and enjoying the sights in Italy:

Another mission and the perfect bombing pattern ... on the ocean:

Desperate measure from Yossarian:

Captain McWatt [Peter Bonerz], death by propellor:

The whorehouse exchange between Captain Nately [Art Garfunkel] and the old man [Marcel Dalio], hoping for success in defeat:

The self-inflicted bombing mission, run by Milo Minderbinder, as an M & M Enterprises operation:

The ultimatum from Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn [Buck Henry]: “Be our friend ... say nice things about us ... or we’ll court-martial you!”

Yossarian learning the news of Captain Orr and following his example:

Other memorable characters are Moodus [Austin Pendleton]; Aarfy Aardvark [Charles Grodin]; Hungry Joe [Seth Allen]; Towser [Norman Fell]; and Dobbs [Martin Sheen].
By turns hilarious and horrifying, Catch-22 is a brilliantly written, darkly-comic and thought-provoking satire on bureaucracy, immorality, selfishness, lack of empathy, and the human cost of war. There are significant differences between Joseph Heller’s source novel and Mike Nichols’ adaptation, but both versions work. Joseph Heller was himself a bomber pilot during World War II, making me wonder as I read the book and watched the movie how much was fiction based on fact.
Catch-22 is another of my favorite books and a great movie with numerous quoteable scenes that are fun to re-enact, good enough to coin a phrase that has endured.
Can you tell if you are crazy or not?

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