Never read the book, never saw the movie until it streamed on Amazon Prime Video. I figured it was about time. From 1970 it’s Catch-22. Details are from Wikipedia. Here is the cast.
- Alan Arkin as Captain John Yossarian (Bombardier)
- Bob Balaban as Captain Orr (Bomber Pilot)
- Martin Balsam as Colonel Cathcart (Group Commander, 256th Bomb Group)
- 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)
- Buck Henry as Lt. Colonel Korn (Group XO / Roman policeman)
- 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)
That’s a powerhouse roster of players, especially Art Garfunkel, recognizable by a select few of us who came of age during the 1960s.
I’m not going to recap the plot. From Wikipedia:
… it uses a distinctive non-chronological third-person omniscient narration, describing events from the points of view of different characters. The separate storylines are out of sequence so the timeline develops along with the plot.
Yeah, there’s no point. This movie is a sequence of beyond-the-pale comedy skits, funny even when people are dying. But, here’s the start. The sun rises above the beautiful island of Pianosa, set in the sparkling Mediterranean off the coast of Italy. But, as Wikipedia points out, Pianosa is nothing like this.
See the map from Google.
Yeah, it’s flat, and it’s about four square miles. Not enough real estate for what goes on in this movie. Historically, the Allies never used this as a military base. The Germans occupied it after Italy surrendered in 1943.
On 19 March 1944 French commandos landed on the island, and after a short firefight left taking away 40 prison guards as hostages. The following month an allied bomber attacked the island, killing six people.
That last line comes closest to describing this island’s association with the plot, which I now get to.
As the sun comes up we see B-25 bombers taking off on a raid on the Italian mainland. These bombers actually did these raids, but from the French island of Corsica, just east of Pianosa and much larger.
Anyhow, principal character Captain John Yossarian, bombardier for one of these planes, watches the flight take off without him. He is pensive.
He leaves the bombed-out structure pictured above and strolls away as bombers continue their roll toward takeoff. A G.I. grunt, who has been mindlessly raking dirt upon dirt, turns and knifes Yossarian in the back. I never figured out why.
Time shift. Yossarian confers with Dr. Daneeka. Yossarian wants the doctor to give him a chit excusing him from flying, alleging his is crazy. The good doctor explains the title of the movie by pointing out people who do not want to fly more deadly missions are in perfect command of their mental facilities and therefore not crazy. This is known as “catch-22.”
There is too much wacky for me to cite, so here are a few highlights. First, Lt. Milo Minderbinder and Colonel Cathcart nonchalantly discuss schemes to get rich bootlegging government supplies as they walk past the evidence of destruction wrought by the war.
As they continue their stroll a bomber streaming smoke comes in for a crash landing, barely missing them beside the runway.
They finish their talk, paying no attention to the crashed plane and the rescue vehicles arriving.
A recurring theme, an icon of the movie, is this conversation between Yossarian and his pilot during a mission:
“The bombardier, the bombardier,” Dobbs answered in a cry when Yossarian spoke. “He doesn’t answer, he doesn’t answer. Help the bombardier, help the bombardier.”
“I’m the bombardier,” Yossarian cried back at him. “I’m the bombardier. I’m all right. I’m all right.”
“Then help him, help him,” Dobbs begged. “Help him, help him.”
And Snowden lay dying in back.
Heller, Joseph. Catch-22: 50th Anniversary Edition (p. 57). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
I’m not going to attempt a deeper explanation. Yossarian has a dream. He’s swimming in the sea. A woman on a float takes off her thin covering and throws it to him, leaving her quite nude. He grabs the piece of fabric and sinks into the sea.
His flight has been sent to bomb an Italian coastal town that has no significance in the war. Yossarian learns of this as the flight enters the final run, and he releases his bombs, causing the remainder of the flight to release theirs. The bombs fall harmlessly (not considering the fish) into the sea. The entire flight is awarded a medal for heroism. Yossarian shows up at the awards ceremony nude except for his cap. He explains his uniform has not come back from the laundry.
A man stands waving from a float near the beach. A single-engine plane makes repeated passes as the man waves. Finally the plane flies so low the propeller lops off the upper half of the man, which half falls into the sea. Then the remainder of the man topples over. Then the pilot cuts the engine and plows the plane into the side of a mountain.
In town Yossarian comes across a crowd in the street standing around the body of a murdered woman. He races up to the the room above to find the murderer is a soldier.
The soldier tells Yossarian he had to murder the woman, because he had raped her, and he did not want her to go around telling people. We hear the sirens of the M.P. squad, but they come to arrest Yossarian for being off base without leave.
Yossarian discovers the crewman who was thought dead in a sea ditching is really alive. The man faked the accident and rowed to neutral Sweden in his survival raft. Yossarian, realizing this would be possible (not really) seizes a raft and heads for the beach in a dead run, passing by a full military assembly at the airstrip. He launches the raft and paddles away from the island.
And that is the end of the movie.
Author Joseph Heller flew “60 combat missions as a B-25 bombardier.”