Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mike Nichols|
|Screenplay by||Buck Henry|
by Joseph Heller
|Music by||Richard Strauss|
|Edited by||Sam O'Steen|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
Catch-22 is a 1970 American satirical black comedy-drama war film adapted from the novel of the same name by Joseph Heller. In creating a black comedy revolving around the "lunatic characters" of Heller's satirical anti-war novel set at a fictional World War II Mediterranean base, director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Buck Henry (also in the cast) worked on the film script for two years, converting Heller's complex novel to the medium of film.
The cast included Alan Arkin, Bob Balaban, Martin Balsam, Richard Benjamin, Italian actress Olimpia Carlisi, French comedian Marcel Dalio, Art Garfunkel (his acting debut), Jack Gilford, Charles Grodin, Bob Newhart, Anthony Perkins, Paula Prentiss, Martin Sheen, Jon Voight, and Orson Welles.
Captain Yossarian (Alan Arkin), a U.S. Army Air Force B-25 bombardier, is stationed on the Mediterranean base on Pianosa during World War II. Along with his squadron members, Yossarian is committed to flying dangerous missions, and after watching friends die, he seeks a means of escape.
Futilely appealing to his commanding officer, Colonel Cathcart (Martin Balsam), who continually increases the number of missions required to rotate home before anyone can reach it, Yossarian learns that even a mental breakdown is no release when Doc Daneeka (Jack Gilford) explains the "Catch-22" the Army Air Corps employs. As explained, an airman "would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he'd have to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't, he was sane and had to." Another strange "catch" in the movie involves Major Major (Bob Newhart) who had recently gotten promoted by Brigadier General Dreedle, who didn't like the look of the name "Capt. Major" on the roll call. Capt. Major was promoted to Major Major and put in charge of a squadron, but Major didn't want to be bothered, so he told First Sgt. Towser (Norman Fell) that if someone wanted to talk to Major Major, the person had to wait in the waiting room until office hours were over, unless Major wasn't in his office. Then the visitor could go right in, but Major wouldn't be there.
Trapped by this convoluted logic, Yossarian watches as individuals in the squadron resort to unusual means to cope; Lt. Milo Minderbinder (Jon Voight) concocts elaborate black market schemes while crazed Captain "Aarfy" Aardvark (Charles Grodin) commits murder to silence a girl he raped. Lieutenant Nately (Art Garfunkel) falls for a prostitute, Major Danby (Richard Benjamin) delivers goofy pep talks before every bomb run and Captain Orr (Bob Balaban) keeps crash-landing. Meanwhile, Nurse Duckett (Paula Prentiss) occasionally beds Yossarian.
Yossarian survives an attempt on his life when an unknown assailant stabs him (in the novel it was "Nately's whore," and in the director's commentary Nichols says he regrets not making this clear in the film): the murder attempt is shown in the film's start and ending. Once recovered, Yossarian sets out to sea in a raft, paddling to Sweden, after he learns from the Chaplain and Major Danby that it is now the refuge for Captain Orr, whose repeated 'crash' landings had been a subterfuge for practicing and planning his own escape from the madness.
Main cast (as appearing in screen credits):
- Alan Arkin as Captain John Yossarian (Bombardier)
- Bob Balaban as Captain Orr (Bomber Pilot)
- Martin Balsam as Colonel Cathcart (Group Commander, 256th Bomb Group)
- Buck Henry as Lt. Colonel Korn (Group XO / Roman policeman)
- Richard Benjamin as Major Danby (Group Operations Officer)
- Susanne Benton as Dreedle's WAC
- Marcel Dalio as Old Man in Whorehouse
- Norman Fell as First Sgt. Towser (Major Major's Desk Clerk, later Acting Squadron Commander)
- Art Garfunkel (billed Arthur Garfunkel) as Lt. Nately (Pilot)
- Jack Gilford as Dr. "Doc" Daneeka (Group Flight Surgeon)
- Charles Grodin as Captain "Aarfy" Aardvark (Navigator)
- Bob Newhart as Captain/Major Major (Laundry Officer, later Squadron Commander)
- Austin Pendleton as Lt. Col. Moodus
- Anthony Perkins as Capt. Fr. A. T. Tappman (Chaplain)
- Paula Prentiss as Nurse Duckett (Army Medical Nurse Corps)
- Martin Sheen as 1st Lt. Dobbs (Pilot)
- Jon Voight as 1st Lt. Milo Minderbinder (Mess Officer)
- Orson Welles as Brigadier General Dreedle (Wing Commander)
The adaptation changed the book's plot. Several story arcs are left out, and many characters in the movie speak dialogue and experience events of other characters in the book. Despite the changes in the screenplay, Heller approved of the film, according to a commentary by Nichols and Steven Soderbergh included on a DVD release. According to Nichols, Heller was particularly impressed with a few scenes and bits of dialogue Henry created for the film, and said he wished he could have included them in the novel.
The pacing of the novel Catch-22 is frenetic, its tenor intellectual, and its tone largely absurdist, interspersed with brief moments of gritty, almost horrific, realism. The novel did not follow a normal chronological progression; rather, it was told as a series of different and often (seemingly, until later) unrelated events, most from the point of view of the central character Yossarian. The film simplified the plot to largely follow events in chronological order, with only one event shown in Yossarian's flashbacks.
In a long, continuous shot, in the scene where Captain Major accepts his rank as Major, becoming Major Major Major Major, the portrait in his office inexplicably changes from President Roosevelt, to Prime Minister Churchill, then to Premier Stalin.
Paramount assigned a $17 million budget to the production and planned to film key flying scenes for six weeks, but the aerial sequences required six months of camera work, resulting in the bombers flying about 1,500 hours. They appear on screen for approximately 10 minutes.
Catch-22 is renowned for its role in saving the B-25 Mitchell aircraft from possible extinction. The film's budget accommodated 17 flyable B-25 Mitchells, and one hulk was acquired in Mexico, and flown with landing gear down to the Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico filming location. The aircraft was burned and destroyed in the landing crash scene. The wreck was then buried in the ground by the runway, where it remains.
For the film, prop upper turrets were installed, and to represent different models, several aircraft had turrets installed behind the wings representing early (B-25C/D type) aircraft. Initially, the camera ships also had mock turrets installed, but problems with buffeting necessitated their removal.
Many of the "Tallman Air Force fleet" went on to careers in films and television, before being sold as surplus. Fifteen of the 18 bombers remain intact, including one displayed at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.
Capt. Robert M. Robb, a Fire Captain from Malibu was chosen because of his precise expertise and knowledge to "Chief" all scenes that involved Pyrotechnics, aircraft crash landings, and "Dog fights". Note that Mr. Robb was a Major with the US Air Force, a Chief Warrant Officer with the Air National Guard where he was a "Flight Line Fire Fighter", he rescued many pilots from crashed aircraft and taught the procedures to others. A Fire Captain who worked out of Las Flores, Malibu Colony and Zuma Beach Fire Stations. He rescued many from traffic accidents on Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu Canyon, Topanga Canyon-A valiant, courageous and well liked man among men, a charming, well mannered, enchanting and loved man with women.
Death on the set
Catch-22 was not regarded as a great success with the contemporary public or critics, earning less money and acclaim than MASH, another war-themed black comedy from the same year. In addition, the film appeared as Americans were becoming resentful of the bitter and ugly experience of the Vietnam War, leading to a general declined interest in war movies, with the notable exceptions of MASH and Patton. Critic Lucia Bozzola wrote "Paramount spent a great deal of money on Catch-22, but it wound up getting trumped by another 1970 antiwar farce: Robert Altman's MASH." Film historians and reviewers Jack Harwick and Ed Schnepf characterized it as deeply flawed, noting that Henry's screenplay was disjointed and that the only redeeming features were the limited aerial sequences. Despite the film's commercial and critical failures, it was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography and retained a cult following. A modern reassessment has made the film a "cult" favorite; it presently holds an 85% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 26 reviews.
Adaptations in other media
There have been other films with "Catch-22" in their names, including the documentary Catch-22 (2007) and the short films Catch 22: The New Contract (2009) and Catch22 (2010), but they have been unrelated to either the book or film adaptation.
In popular culture
- The Simon & Garfunkel song "The Only Living Boy in New York" was written by Paul Simon about his experience being left alone when Art Garfunkel went to Mexico to make the film.
- The anti-war song “Survivor Guilt” by punk rock band Rise Against features samples of dialog from the movie at, specifically, the discussion between Nately and the old man about the fall of great countries and potential fall of the USA, and their argument about the phrase “It’s better to live on your feet than die on your knees.” The same excerpts from the film were previously used by lead singer Tim McIlrath, in the song, "Burden" with his former band, Baxter.
Catch-22 was re-released to DVD by Paramount Home Video on May 21, 2013: a previous version was released on May 11, 2004.
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- Thompson, Scott A. "Hollywood Mitchells." Air Classics, Vol. 16, No. 9, September 1980.
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