Still, I had two critical reactions to it.
The first is, I don't understand why MASH, the Altman film of the same year, became so much more popular over time, and resonated more in the culture. OK, I do know. Because, I guess, MASH, with it's rapid-fire dialogue, and characters mumbling and stepping on each other's lines, was so much more modern. In fact, it's hard to believe the two films were made in the same year. Also, maybe because MASH was more relatable to the Vietnam War, even if it wasn't about that war, it resonated more in the culture and left more of a lasting effect.
But imagine if, somehow, Catch-22 could have been given a sensibility as modern as the sensibility in MASH. If, instead of seeming like a movie made in the 50's, it seemed more like the movies that were just coming out at the time. I think that would have been incredible. The strength of the material in Catch-22 and a more modern sensibility would have carried the film farther, I think.
I was also disappointed that Mike Nichols let some of the characters other than Yosarian act as if they, too, understood that things around them didn't make sense. It sort of diminished the terror of the situation.
The chaplain, for example (played by Anthony Perkins!), in that first scene of his, acts as if he's more perplexed by the insanity around him than even Yosarian is. For me that lowers the stakes. If other characters can see the insanity, I'm more comforted by that, and less afraid. But if, as the viewer, I'm Yosarian, and I'm the only one who can see the insanity, that's more terrifying. It can still be comic, but it becomes, more terrifying as well.
There's also a fair amount of Vaudeville-style comic acting and clowning in the film, and I got a little tired of that. It felt as if Nichols and the actors didn't quite trust the material, or didn't quite know what to do with it. Or maybe they were just falling back on familiar conventions. But I think it took something away from the story.
Yes, these are relatively small complaints. But I also think about those scenes near the end of the film, when Yosarian wanders through Rome's back alleys in search of Nately's whore. He wanders past one scene of madness after another. Those are very powerful scenes. Catch-22 becomes a very different film at that point. Suddenly, there's real weight to it. I think that if, to that point, the film hadn't been as much of a 1950's, Vaudeville-style comedy, and had had a more modern sensibility and style, and Yosarian had been the only one to recognize the insanity around him, those final scenes might have had even more power and meaning.
(this posted was edited)