Tuesday November 15, 2022

M*A*S*H Note: Allen Jenkins and Pat O'Brien, Together Again

Delivering the POB line before they duck back inside—a la “Laugh-In.” 

The other night I watched the Season 3, Episode 2 episode of “M*A*S*H” called “Rainbow Bridge,” original air date Sept. 17, 1974—or nine days after Pres. Ford pardoned former Pres. Nixon. It's the one where the Chinese let the MASH 4077th unit know they have nine wounded Americans they can't care for and could someone please pick them up at the titular Rainbow Bridge, which, our heroes find out, is 30 miles within enemy territory and only 20 miles from the Chinese border. Inevitably, Frank and Hot Lips are against going, Hawkeye and Trapper think (as doctors) they should go, and Henry has trouble making a command decision but finally comes down on the Hawkeye/Trapper side. It's still a tense mid-bridge meeting, made more so because Hot Lips convinces Frank to go along, then convinces him to bring her little pistol for protection, even though “no guns” was one of the stipulations, and even though the Chinese have plenty of them. Plus the pistol is little. It's hardly protection at all. But that turns out to be its saving grace, since, once it's discovered, once Frank in a sense unholsters it, it's good for a laugh and breaks the ice and allows the wounded to be transfered.

Throughout the episode, a lot is made of the racism of the “bad doctors” so it's a little disappointing that the Chinese man in charge on the bridge, Dr. Lin Tam, is played by Mako, who is, of course, Japanese. Nothing against Mako, he does a fine-enough job. I don't even believe you should make actors stay behind geographic lines, as some do today, particularly when racial matters are involved. But Hollywood almost never seems to land on the proper country when Asian actors are involved.

Anyway, that's not why I'm writing about the episode. I'm writing about the episode because of three jokes. 

This is the first one. Frank is doing triage but, being Frank, keeps messing it up. Or he's doing it according to U.S. Army regulations rather than Hippocratic ones: U.S. first, Allies second, enemy last. On the bus, Hawkeye countermands him—putting a Chinese POW with a chest wound at the front of the pack. And we get this exchange:

  • Frank: What you're doing is mutiny! I'm in command of this bus!
  • Hawkeye (to Father Mulcahey as they exit): “Mutiny on the Bus.” It was a B movie. They couldn't afford a bounty. Allen Jenkins played the bus driver. 

Five years ago, I wouldn't have gotten that final joke, but Allen Jenkins was a perennial Warner Bros. supporting player of the 1930s. You could see him in comedies and gangster movies, and in gangster comedies, but he was always supporting. A movie with Allen Jenkins in the lead would indeed be “B.” Mostly I was tickled to hear his name.

Later, Hawkeye says this, referencing another 1930s Warner Bros. regular:

  • I think Ralph Bellamy said it best when he said, “If I can't get the girl, at least give me more money.” 

Finally, before they leave for Rainbow Bridge, Father Mulcahey offers a fine benediction. Which leads to this exchange:

  • Hawkeye: He's really very good, isn't he?
  • Trapper: Tops.
  • Hawkeye: I feel guilty. We tried to get Pat O'Brien.

The writer of the episode is Laurence Marks, who is mostly known for writing “M*A*S*H” episodes. He wrote 21 of them between 1972 and 1978. He was aided and abetted by Larry Gelbart. Not sure who decided to make the episode a Warner Bros. homage but I'm glad they did. After the last several years of movie-watching, it feels like something gift-wrapped especially for me.

Posted at 02:20 PM on Tuesday November 15, 2022 in category TV  
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