Director Mike Nichols passed away at the age of 83. While he directed a lot a great films, The Graduate being the film most cited, I’ve always loved his 1970 adaptation of Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel Catch-22.
The story is a black comedy / anti-war story set in WWII. Alan Arkin stars as Yossarian a pilot stationed in the Mediterranean. He’s a part of a lunatic outfit. Arkin no longer wants to fly missions but Colonel Cathcart (Martin Balsam) who wants to be in an article in the Saturday Evening Post so he keeps raising the number of missions they have to go out on.
Normally after 25 missions they would be rotated out but Cathcart has raised this to 50. Arkin wants to be declared insane so he can’t fly anymore but there’s a catch. Something called Catch-22.
Yossarian: “Ok, let me see if I’ve got this straight. In order to be grounded, I’ve got to be crazy. And I must be crazy to keep flying. But if I ask to be grounded, that means I’m not crazy anymore, and I have to keep flying.”
Dr. ‘Doc’ Daneeka: “You got it, that’s Catch-22.”
There’s even more absurd insanity among the men. Lt. Milo Mindbender (Jon Voight) is running a black market operation and keeps selling all the men’s supplies, parachutes, food, etc just to make a profit. Major Major Major Major (Bob Newhart, his name is Major Major Major and he gets promoted to Major) doesn’t want to see anyone in his office, they can see him after he leaves (meaning they don’t actually see him), Capt. Nately (Art Garfunkel) wants to marry a prostitute and gets into a moral argument with an old Italian man who runs the brothel and Capt. Orr (Bob Balaban) keeps crashing his plane.
The film is more linear than the novel which was written in a non-chronological order but most of the absurdity is left in. The movie didn’t do well at the box office when it was released, Robert Altman’s MASH was more successful, but the film has gain a cult following over the years. Personally it’s a tough call between the two films but Catch-22 cracks me up.