the general flipped at dawn

"No talking in ranks!!"

I’m launching straight into season 3 with my reviews. Episode 11 goes out tonight, so I’m already ridiculously behind, but who knows? If I limit myself to two hours of sleep a night I might be caught up by Friday.

Guest starring in ‘The General Flipped at Dawn’, may we please have a warm hand for Harry Morgan?

Our own dear Harry continues the tradition of actors appearing in the show under one name, only to return as a different recurring, or even regular, character – as demonstrated by Edward Winter in the previous episode.

You can’t beat a bit of duel identity in this show. Even Hawkeye has taken to moonlighting in the public transport sector.

Morgan plays Major General Bartford Hamilton Steele and apparently has quite a name for himself in military circles. The ‘Steele’ name to be precise.

Frank: For your information, Captain, the entire Steele family is in the Encyclopedia Americana!
Henry: Oh, it’s a very famous Maryland family. Three brothers, all of’em generals, West Point grads. One of’em is a U.S. Senator, and one was the first volunteer to be bitten by a mosquito in the Panama Canal.

That’s quite impressive. The ‘Bartford’ and the ‘Hamilton’ part of the equation must be army-green with envy.

So Hamilton has taken over from General(s) Mitchell and/or Hammond as the bothersome Brass of the Week, and is setting about making waves in the cesspool of the 4077th with all the troublesome dynamism of a new department manager stirring up the human resources for the sake of a change, and he’s upsetting all the corn cob yachts in the process.

Nonetheless, the camp prepares to try and impress the General. Frank dusts the Swamp, Klinger is ordered to put on some trousers, and Henry appears to be Bryll-creaming his underarm hair. He forgets, however, to assemble the personnel. Fortunately he has Radar on hand to remind him how all this military stuff works, and our beloved cast line up. Even Frank and Margaret get yelled at by Steele.

The General’s shaky grip on reality begins to show early on. His trademark “No talking in ranks!” is screeched at Radar when the poor kid answers a question, and then he confirms our doubts over his mental state when he mistakes Klinger for his wife Marjorie.

Steele: Not now, Marjorie. I’m inspecting the troops.

As Hawkeye entertains Nurse Baker, Henry gives Steele the tour of the outfit. Comedy of Steele wanting to re-use tongue-depressors aside – a ludicrous suggestion as it would deprived Hawkeye of the opportunity to build a replica of the Washington Monument out of the things – it’s really lovely seeing these two gents walking side by side. You can almost entertain the illusion of Henry and Potter sharing command! Or the ghost of Henry giving Potter some ‘spiritual’ support in his new posting… Okay I’ll stop now.

I really like the subtlety with which Morgan brings out the General’s insanity. Just as his racism is indicated with one small line about Hannibal (which wouldn’t even seem particularly out of place in the era, but is performed with just enough of leaning to suggest its significance), these early rumblings of madness are delivered in perfect deadpan.

His speech to Hawkeye, believing him to be a journalist, is done with the most perfect military authority, despite the subject matter:

Steele: General Bartford Hamilton Steele. That’s three E’s, not all in a row. For the record, you can say that I predict an early end to the war if it doesn’t rain and we get all wet. Make a good story for you. See me later.  I’ve got some 8x10 glossies in my portfolio…You going Stateside soon, Mr. Pierce?.. When you get home, would you call my wife?.. Tell her I’m sending a Jeep for her birthday. It’ll be in a large crate marked “kitchen utensils.” Don’t mention that in your article. You might also tell Mrs. Steele the dried prunes are working out fine. Best thing since the Gatling gun.

The funny thing is, even the General’s attempts to move the MASH closer to the front in order to save fuel and money doesn’t even seem that ridiculous in the context of military bureaucracy. As Frank points out, “History shows that most great military minds border on the eccentric.”

Indeed, even his stone-faced indifference to the sniper is the sort of thing that could be considered bravery, especially given said sniper’s apparent inability to hit the broad side of a Jeep. It’s probably a good thing Hawkeye manages to piss Steele off, because otherwise I can imagine Henry would have been forced to heed the General’s orders and move the unit into a danger zone. Nice one Hawk! Try and smile - it’s all for a good cause.

The lunacy of General Steele reminds me rather of the American equivalent of ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’s General Melchett, albeit with the fortunate benefit of being removed from the unit once ICORP realise he’s short of a few marbles. Incidentally, I would highly recommend ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ as viewing material for ‘MASH’ fans if you aren’t already familiar. You can never have enough biting wartime humour.

Captain Blackadder: Our battles are directed, sir?
General Melchett: Well, of course they are, Blackadder, directed according to the Grand Plan.
Captain Blackadder: Would that be the plan to continue with total slaughter until everyone’s dead except Field Marshal Haig, Lady Haig and their tortoise, Alan?
General Melchett: Great Scott! Even you know it!

It’s worth mentioning that Steele’s travelling all-singing all-dancing racism showcase is based on a true story from Everett Greenbaum’s own experiences in the Navy (thanks go to asinfreedom for that little snippet of info). I also feel it is worth noting the tiny but oh-so-significant detail in the writing at the end: When the boys impersonate the General in the final scene, the lyrics to the song are altered slightly in order to omit the racial slur used by Steele – because Hawkeye has made a point in several episodes that he dislikes such language and as such wouldn’t use it even in satire.

PS: Keep polishing those boots, Frank. Steele won’t be the last officer to get a promotion through going crazy, you know. ;)