Sony has released the original soundtrack to Robert Altman's 1970 anti-war comedy M*A*S*H as a burn-to-order title. The original vinyl version of the soundtrack, issued in conjunction with the film, was considered quite unique at the time because the bulk of the tracks consisted of dialogue from the film as opposed to composer Johnny Mandel's score. A criticism was that the original release only provided a truncated vocal version of the main theme, which is actually titled Suicide is Painless. In 1995, a remastered CD of the soundtrack was released with the full version of the song along with some bonus tracks and it is this version that has just been reissued by Sony. With the exception of the brilliant title theme, most of Mandel's amusing score is only heard in snippets, with the dialogue from the film still providing the basis for the content. It's rather odd to remember that in the pre-home video era, listening to dialogue from a film such as this was a rare treat. The success of the subsequent TV series has led many people to forget that there initially was an Oscar-nominated film that inspired the show. Thus, you can relive the zany wisecracks of the original Hawkeye and Trapper John (Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould) interacting with Hot Lips (Sally Kellerman), Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) and Radar (Gary Burghoff, the only cast member carried over from the film to the TV series). A third lead in the film was Duke Forrest, played by Tom Skerritt, but the character was not imported to the TV show, though he is present on the album.
With the dialogue compromising the bulk of the soundtrack, you can at least revel in Suicide is Painless in its uncut glory. The song was deemed too controversial for TV so an instrumental version was used on the series. The brilliance of the lyrics resonate even today, as the gentle, seemingly benign folk song extols the joys of offing oneself. Shockingly, the lyrics were written by Robert Altman's 14 year-old son, though he did not receive a screen but is said to have made a fortune in royalties over the decades.
The M*A*S*H soundtrack is certainly an oddity, coming at a time when albums derived from hit films consisted entirely of music. However, if Altman broke the rules with his off-the-wall anti-Establishment gags, it seems only suitable that the soundtrack did the same. It's a great deal of fun to return to the days when audio snippets of your favorite films were as close as you could get to experiencing them, at least until cut-up, watered down versions would be released to television.