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DVD Review: Battle Circus – Humphrey Bogart’s MASH

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Long before Robert Altman unleashed his classic anti-war adaptation of MASH way back in 1970, filmmaker Richard Brooks (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, In Cold Blood) teamed with the one and only Humphrey Bogart to bring us a similar story. In fact, I’m sure that it could be contested that the 1953 war drama Battle Circus may have partially served as the inspiration of Richard Hooker’s novel the better-known Altman film was based on. Interestingly, it only takes Bogie 90 minutes to accomplish what Alan Alda would later take eleven damn years to do in the TV series M*A*S*H.

But that’s neither here nor there, folks. Battle Circus finds a war-weary surgeon (Bogart) in the midst of all the action in Korea — eager to find some action of his own once a new nurse (June Allyson) comes to join the fun. Frankly, most of the movie consists of some fairly suggestive (for the time) banter between the two lead stars, as he pursues her and she backs down — eventually giving in to his charms. Brooks gives us some good dialogue in-between, with a particularly tense scene of Allyson trying to talk a wounded, panicked Korean soldier (the great Philip Ahn) out of relinquishing a live grenade to her whilst our hero attempts to save another human being’s life on the operating table thrown in for good measure.

Otherwise, it’s Hollywood business as usual in this somewhat routine drama, which suffers the most from what one might consider poor chemistry between the romantic leads (as a matter of fact, it’s kind of weird to watch these two flirting with one another). Co-starring in this wartime curiosity are Keenan Wynn, Robert Keith, William Campbell, a number of MGM bit players (many of whom would never go on to do anything of notable interest), and b-movie/television favorite Steve Forrest in a very tiny part as a sergeant. The ever-present Warner Archive Collection has dusted off this Bogie collector’s item and given it a fine DVD-R release, with a transfer that is realistically on-par with many other SD-DVD releases.

The only extra included here is a trailer, which is accessible from the main (and only) menu. Also of note here is a different menu design for the film from Warner, which has abandoned the usual generic “marquee” style background in favor of just giving us a plain ol’ image boasting the movie’s artwork itself.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.