Battle Circus (1953)



Director:     Richard Brooks. 

Starring:     Humphrey Bogart (Maj. Jed Webbe),  June Allyson (Lt. Ruth McGara),  Keenan Wynn (Sgt. Orvil Statt),  Robert Keith (Lt. Col. Hilary Walters),  William Campbell (Capt. John 'Rusty' Rustford),  Perry Sheehan (Lt. Laurence),  Patricia Tiernan (Lt. Rose Ashland),  Adele Longmire (Lt. Jane Franklin),  Jonathan Cott (Adjutant),  Ann Morrison (Lt. Edith Edwards),  Helen Winston (Lt. Graciano),  Sarah Selby (Capt. Dobbs). 

doctor and nurse in a romance set against rough conditions of treating patients during the Korean War  (starring Humphrey Bogart, June Allyson)


Spoiler Warning:  below sis a summary of the entire film. 

MASH 8666 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.

"This is a story about the indomitable human spirit.  It takes place in Korea."

A helicopter lands bringing two wounded soldiers to the MASH hospital.  Major Jed Webbe is the doctor on duty.  Sgt. Orvil Statt drives up in his jeep.  With him is Lt. Ruth McGara and two other nurses.  She checks on some soldiers.  In the sky above there is a dogfight between two airplanes.  Jed grabs Ruth and he goes with her underneath the ambulance to protect the both of them from getting wounded or killed. 

Jed gets a call telling him to move the MASH unit north to be closer to the action.  And he has to move right now.  One of the soldiers says that Lt. Col. Walters isn't going to like them moving at night.   Major Webbe isn't concerned.  Webbe takes the helicopter out to investigate the area to find a suitable hospital site.  The helicopter pilot gets a call to pick up a casualty.  There is danger in the area because of enemy rifle fire. As the copter approaches the area a bullet hits the helicopter.  The gunfire has a rhythm of bursting popcorn. There are now three casualties to be evacuated.  Jed has to stay behind because there is no room for him. 

Ruth goes to take a shower, but the water truck has just left.  She watches as the men take down the tents and pack them in the back of trucks.  She rushes over to the nurses' tent saying that she thinks the war is over because they are taking down the tents.  Others who have been with the unit longer tell her that all they are doing is moving the hospital.  The women start packing up their things.  Ruth asks another nurse what is this Major Webbe really like, because out of nowhere he just attacked her when she wasn't doing anything wrong.  Then he tells her to do this and don't do that, blah, blah, blah. 

Major Webbe is brought back in the helicopter.  Everybody is ready to roll when Webbe climbs into Sgt. Statt's jeep.   On the way the jeep stops and Webbe gets out to tell everyone they are taking a ten minute break.  One of the nurses seems very sweet on Webbe and she expresses her concerns for his welfare.  Suddenly, rifle fire hits the boards on the back of the truck holding the nurses.  Webbe jumps into the back of the truck and takes Ruth down to the floor.  The convoy starts moving out immediately. 

Jed and Ruth talk for awhile.  He asks her what she's doing in Korea anyway?  She wanted to get into the war.  He puts his arm around her and pulls her closer to him.  Ruth takes exception to this and tells him she knows when a man is trying to make a pass at her.  She tells him he's "sneaky". 

In the daylight the work starts on putting the tents back up.  Men start stringing wires through the camp.  Generators are started up.  Insecticides are sprayed on the puddles of water. 

Col. Walters picks up Webbe in his jeep and scolds him for moving out at night.  A little later he says it looks like Webbe may have been right to have moved out.  At lunch Webbe sits down across from Ruth.  When the other nurse leaves, he tells her that he has great plans for the relationship starting up between him and Ruth. Ruth tells him that she's not here for that.  She just wants to be the best nurse she can be.  She leaves the table. 

Korean refugees come through the hospital area and are given some medical treatment.  An old man carries a boy that has been hit by shrapnel in the abdomen.  Ruth is about to give up on the child, but Sgt. Statt tells her that if Major Webbe was here he would have treated the boy.  So Ruth gives the boy to the sergeant and tells him to go get the boy x-rayed. 

Major Webbe gives the order to prepare the boy for chest surgery.  Then he tells Ruth to stay right here with him so they can win the war together. 

Col. Walters thinks the boy has been in surgery for an awfully long time, so he goes and checks on the progress of the surgery.  He looks at the x-ray and tells Webbe that the boy never had a chance.  Webbe says he does now.  The boy has no pulse, so Webbe starts massaging his heart and has adrenalin injected into the boy's body.  The boy gets his pulse back and survives. 

In the evening, Webbe brings a glass of beer to Ruth. She congratulates Webbe on the success of the surgery.  He sits in the driver's seat of the jeep next to Ruth and sidles over to her, putting his arm around her again.  Ruth says he's simply got to stop sneaking up on her.  As she talks and talks he moves in for a kiss.  She gets out of the jeep and says if she goes for a man it means she's going all the way to marriage.  Webbe pretends that he has been unnerved by her rejection and suddenly takes off in the jeep.  She just smiles at his performance. 

It is really raining hard.  He goes into the shower room where Ruth is.  She screams and Webbe runs out.  He trips and falls into a mud puddle.  Ruth comes out and helps him get up.  They both go back into the shower room.  Now she runs out and stumbles into a mud puddle.  Webbe rushes out and falls into the same puddle.  They both start laughing and Webbe kisses Ruth a couple more times.   

The nurses are going to go to the club, but Ruth is going to wait for Major Webbe.  The nurse who likes Webbe tells her she wouldn't wait for Webbe if she was Ruth, because he has stood up women before.  She even says the Major may be married.  One of the nurses has become a friend to Ruth and she realizes that Ruth is in love with the Major.  Webbe uses the jeep to take Ruth to the club.  There they dance together.  She starts asking him personal questions and then asks the big question:  Is he married?  Webbe says no, but he doesn't like talking about his family.  He gets angry and Ruth and he part company. 

The hospital is beset with really high winds.  The Major tells Sgt. Statt to make a wind break using the trucks placed in a line.  Webbe tries to get in contact with Capt. John 'Rusty' Rustford, the helicopter pilot, to tell him not to try to bring the whole blood they need right now because the winds are too strong.  But he learns that Rusty has already started his return flight.  Webbe decides to drive the jeep down the road aways so Rusty can see his ljeep ights.  Rusty is running low on fuel when he spots the jeep lights.  They go and Rusty follows them  

When the guys at camp hear the sounds of the helicopter, they light up cans of fuel to show Rusty where he is to land his helicopter.   Rusty lands with no damage to his copter.  Col Walters wants Webbe in the operating room, even though he has been up since early morning.  Then he says he will find the major himself.  Ruth figures she knows where he is and she goes to the club to get him.  Webbe is a bit drunk.  Ruth tells him he has to go to the hospital.  Just then Col. Walters comes in and sees Webbe is drunk, so he confines him to his quarters. 

Col. Walters tells Webbe that he can either transfer to another unit or stay here and not touch another drop of liquor.  Ruth comes in later to Walters to ask for a transfer.  She says she's the cause of the Major getting drunk.  it was she who made the Major so unhappy.  The Colonel gives her some advise.  Instead of always retreating, maybe she ought to try advancing.

So Ruth comes over to Webbe's place and picks him up in the jeep.  She stops the jeep and starts becoming forward with the Major. And now it's Webbe that steps back from Ruth.  At this time, all the nurses have to report to the surgery room.  Webbe also has to go. 

The sounds of battle can be heard and the recently wounded are being brought in.  A bunch of POWs are also brought in.  One of them has a hand grenade on him.  The man with the grenade is put on a stretcher and is to be x-rayed, but the machinery scares him.  He rolls off the table and takes his grenade out and threatens to pull the pin.  Ruth is very scared but she goes slowly up to the man telling him over and over that no one is going to hurt him and motions for him to give her the grenade.  The POW finally gives it to her and then collapses in a heap. 

A patient in surgery dies on Webbe and Walters.  Webbe leaves the operating room and Ruth comes after him to reassure him that there was nothing he could have done to save the soldier.  Ruth starts really crying and makes Webbe so concerned about her that he brings some hot water over in a bucket so she can soak her feet in it.  They both calm down and then they kiss.  They then find a semi-private place and sit close to each other. 

Word comes that the hospital has to be moved south or it will be in enemy territory.  The front lines are being moved. 

The hospital starts getting hit by artillery shells.  Walters gets hit by shrapnel in the foot and goes down.  They are going to evacuate him, but Walters tries to walk away in order to stay put.  Walters falls, of course, and they put him back on the stretcher and take him out.  They take him to the hospital train only to find the the train and the railway station are destroyed.  Sgt. Statt figures he can put something together.  They are going to put the hospital truck on track wheels to get the truck on its way to safety. 

Ruth helps get all the wounded onto vehicles to leave the area.  A combat officer rolls up in a jeep and tells Webbe that about a thousand of the enemy will be coming this way very soon.  He tells Webbe if the can't get the tents out quickly, he will have to burn them.  The tents have gasoline poured on them and then they are lit.   Ruth is knocked out from the concussion of a shell explosion.  They put her in the back of a truck.  She soon recovers. 

The trucks move out.  They stop at the destroyed railway station to check on Sgt. Statt's progress  They are going to put all the nurses on the back of the truck on railroad wheels with Walters.  Ruth hangs back because she doesn't want to leave Webbe.  The Major goes over to talk with her and says they will get back together because he wants to get back to her. 

The trucks pull out again but have to be rerouted on to an unknown path because the fighting is going to descend on the main road.  Using the unknown path, the trucks are stopped again.  This path they are on is closed up ahead.  So now they have to drive the trucks down the mountainside to get to another path.  All the men are taken off the trucks.  The trucks start going down the mountainside. One of the jeeps turns over and one of the ambulances is roughed up badly.  They carry the wounded down the mountainside to be put back on the trucks. 

The nurses are back at work already when the convoy catches up with them.  Ruth runs up the hill to find Webbe.  He sees her and jumps out of the jeep.  Now they walk down the hillside together side by side holding each other. 


Good film.  The film deals mostly with the mobile hospitals used during the Korean War.  It concentrates on one mobile hospital (MASH ) unit.  It covers the main problems faced by a MASH unit: enemy artillery fire; POWs; tearing down, moving and putting up the tents again and again; lack of supplies or delayed deliveries; possibly being overrun by the enemy; long working hours trying to save lives; etc.  One interesting thing is that they had a club set up in tents where the men and women could go to relax and enjoy themselves.  

There is a love story between Major Webbe (Humphrey Bogart) and nurse Ruth (June Allyson) which is cute.  Bogart was especially good in his roll as the cynical doctor tamed by Ruth, the cocked-eyed optimist. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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