And so it did to Mike Nichols and Buck Henry, collaborators on The Graduate who conspired once again to make one of the greats of cinema. While Catch-22 has none of the cachet of other war movies (and we'll get to that...), it's by far one of the best out there, ranking with Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and Apocalypse Now as one of the greats.
If you've never read Joseph Heller's masterpiece of a novel, it'll take some explaining to make Catch-22 make sense to you. As the title suggests -- or rather, as the title inspired a phrase that entered into the American lexicon -- our hero Yossarian (Alan Arkin) is trapped by a paradox. As a bombardier who's ready to get out of the Mediterannean during WWII after doing his time, he implores the base doctor (Jack Gilford) to pronounce him insane so he can be shipped home. Since the rules state that insane men can't fly combat missions, he's home free, right? Unfortunately, there's a catch: any man who tries to get out of combat must not be insane, and therefore he has to fly.
That's just the beginning. Catch-22 spirals increasingly out of control, as over-the-top ridiculousness takes hold of the base and all of its crew. The terminus of this occurs when Milo Minderbinder (Jon Voight, perhaps the best part of the film) engineers the bombing of his base in order to get the Germans to buy warehouses full of chocolate-covered cotton that he has foolishly purchases (by trading the parachutes, morphine, and diesel engines lying around). Milo's "syndicate" speaks to the arrogance and greed of government -- not only in wartime, but in the everyday world.
While Catch-22 tends to flag around the 1:20 mark, it's nonetheless a great achievement for all involved. Why didn't the public eat it up? Presumably it has something to do with a little film called M*A*S*H, which debuted the same year. Audiences like phony funerals better than real ones, it seems.
Full of ancient film legends (like Orson Welles and Marcel Dalio) as well as newer ones (like Bob Newhart, Anthony Perkins, and Voight), this is a movie to be seen and treasured anew on the freshly-released DVD. On a commentary track, director Nichols banters with Steven Soderbergh (no, he had nothing to do with the film -- he was 7 years old when it was made) about the hazy, "trance-stricken" creation of the film.
Run time: 122 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 24th June 1970
Distributed by: Paramount Home Video
Production compaines: Paramount
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Fresh: 22 Rotten: 4
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Director: Mike Nichols
Screenwriter: Buck Henry
Starring: Alan Arkin as Captain John Yossarian, (Bombardier), Martin Balsam as Colonel Cathcart (CO, 256th Squadron), Richard Benjamin as Major Danby (Flight Operations Officer), Art Garfunkel as Captain Nately, Jack Gilford as Dr. "Doc" Daneeka, Buck Henry as Lt. Colonel Korn (XO / Roman policeman), Bob Newhart as Major Major, Anthony Perkins as Chaplain Capt. A.T. Tappman, Paula Prentiss as Nurse Duckett, Orson Welles as Brigadier General Dreedle