CATCH-22 (1970)






Director:      Mike Nichols.   

Starring:       Alan Arkin (Capt. Yossarian), Martin Balsam (Col. Cathcart), Richard Benjamin (Maj. Danby), Art Garfunkel (Capt. Nately), Jack Gilford (Doc Daneeka), Bob Newhart (Maj. Major), Anthony Perkins (Chaplain Tappman), Paula Prentiss (Nurse Duckett), Martin Sheen (Lt. Dobbs), Jon Voight (Milo Minderbinder), Orson Welles (Gen. Dreedle), Seth Allen (Hungry Joe), Bob Balaban (Capt. Orr), Susanne Benton (Gen. Dreedle's WAC), Peter Bonerz (Capt. McWatt), Norman Fell (Sgt. Towser), Charles Grodin (Aardvark), Buck Henry (Lt. Col. Korn), Austin Pendleton (Col. Moodus), Gina Rovere (Nately's Whore), Olimpia Carlisi (Luciana).

Director: Mike Nichols.

A comedy that catches the disillusionment of the air crews in the air battles over Europe.


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.  Curse words used. 

An airplane engine starts, followed by other engines starting.  One after another the bombers line up along the airfield.  Captain Yossarian watches as the plane take off.  With him are Col. Cathcart and Lt. Col. Korn, who tells him that all he has to do is tell the folks back home what great guys his superior officers are and that he genuinely likes and admires them.  He either does that or he gets court-martialed for desertion.  He wonders what the men will think of him, if he chooses to go home.  The colonels tell him that the guys will hardly notice that he is even gone.  They have a war to win.  Yossarian agrees to the deal. 

Yossarian leaves the headquarters office and walks down closer to the runway.  A fellow is there raking the ground.  Yossarian passes by him without notice, but the fellow pulls out a long knife and sticks it into Yossarian's left side.  The captain lays down on the ground.  Yossarian dreams that someone is yelling at him to help the man!  Help him!  Yossarian doesn't know what the guy is talking about. 

The captain is put in the back of an ambulance.  He calls out for a man named Snowden, but Snowden is already dead.  One medic asks why the captain is calling out for a dead man?  The other medic says that that's just Captain Yossarian.  "He's crazy!"

Flashback.  Yossarian says he hates Col. Cathcart.    He maintains that the officers in headquarters are trying to kill him.  Lt. Dobbs tells Yossarian that he ought to have his head examined.  So Yossarian goes to see the doctor.  He gets no help from Doc Daneeka because he says that Yossarian's head is okay.  The captain pleads with him to ground him so he doesn't have to fly.  Yossarian explains that he doesn't want to fly any more because it's too dangerous to do so.  He argues that he already did his 35 missions, but now they raised the number of required missions to 50. 

The doctor says his hands are really tied.  Anyone who comes up to him and says that he wants to be grounded, is actually sane because that is a sensible request to make.  So the doc can't ground the man. Yossarian wants to see if he has this straight:  "In order to be grounded, I've got to be crazy.  And I must be crazy to keep flying.  But if I ask to be grounded, that means I'm not crazy anymore, and I have to keep flying."  Yes.  That's what's referred to as Catch-22. 

The bombers are ready to start taking off again.  Col. Cathcart asks if they are already to go?   From the cockpit one man after another gives an thumbs up sign, but when they come to Yossarian he just gives them the middle finger. 

Col. Cathcart comes down from the control tower and sees Lt. Milo Minderbinder holding an egg.  The lieutenant explains that the egg is fresh.  He got it from the island of Malta where there are lots of chickens.  Milo says he can sell  each egg for a 2 cents profit.  The accumulated profit can be used to buy other products that will be sold at a profit.  This cycle keeps going and what he calls the "syndicate" gets wealthy.  Col. Cathcart lets Milo off his regular duties so Milo can put his scheme into full operation.  He says to the colonel that he wants to give the men the finest cuisine in the whole world.  Milo shows the colonel an example of a share in M & M Enterprises.  And what will be good for the syndicate will be good for the entire country.  Milo says that he is going to get a lot of cotton from Egypt.  How will he do it?  He will sell them the silk from the parachutes!

In the air Yossarian asks:  "Where the hell's my parachute?"  In place of the parachute is a single share in M & M Enterprises.  Yossarian starts telling Capt. Nately that they have to turn the formation around and go back.  Why?  "Some bastard stole my chute."  Officer navigator Aardvark comes over to Yossarian to calm him down.  The man explains that the parachutes went to Milo for Egyptian cotton.  Yossarian has a panic attack saying that the Germans are shooting at him. 

The navigator says he thinks they are over their target, so Yossarian rushes as fast as he can to drop all the bombs from the plane.  He then yells for the pilot to turn right!  After that he says:  Climb!  Climb!

Captain Orr's plane is hit, starts descending and then explodes.  Yossarian receives a wound in his right leg.  He passes out thinking about it.   Yossarian again dreams that the pilot is shouting for him to help him.  Who?  The bombardier.  Yossarian says he's the bombardier and he's okay.  The pilotssays then help him!  Help him!  Yossarian turns around and sees one of the young men of the flight crew very badly wounded.  It's the new gunner Snowden!  There's a huge hole in the side of the bomber.  Yossarian opens up Snowden's pants' leg and blood literally spurts out.  He starts to take off his flight jacket to put it over Snowden, but he hears a woman calling him to hurry and come over here. 

He sees himself swimming to try to get to Nurse Duckett who takes off her nurse's uniform and throws it out to Yossarian leaving her totally naked (brief nudity). 

Yossarian wakes up in the hospital.  Chaplain Tappman is there asking him how he is?  He's okay except for this piece of shrapnel in his leg.  Yossarian asks the chaplain to speak to his squadron commander Major Duluth and tell him that Yossarian doesn't want to fly any more.  He starts really whining, saying:  "He's trying to kill us all." 

Yossarian screams, scaring Captain Major (in billeting and laundry) into dropping his load of wash right onto the jeep containing Lt. Col. Korn and Colonel Cathcart.  Cathcart tells the captain that Major Duluth is dead, shot down over Perugia in the afternoon.  This means that Captain Major will be the new squadron commander.  He's the only major they have.  The captain tries to explain that major is his last name, not his rank and he doesn't know a thing about being a squadron commander.  Cathcart says that's close enough for them and he's now a major and squadron commander.

Major Major now tells his sergeant that he doesn't like this new job.  And people are looking at him wondering how the hell did a man who has never flown in a plane become a squadron commander?  He tells Sgt. Towser that there are too many people who want to speak with him  and he can't have this.  Chaplain Tappman will just have to wait.  The major goes out a back window to avoid the chaplain.  He informs the sergeant that from now on ". . . I don't want anyone coming in to see me while I'm in my office."   He adds that visitors can only come in to see him when he is not in his office.  It's just that he won't be there.  This way he can completely avoid people who want something from him.  After the major is gone, the sergeant tells the chaplain that he can now go into see the major.  When the chaplain goes in, of course, he finds the office empty. 

The chaplain tells Yossarian about the fact that no one can really ever see Major Major.  You can only see him in his office, but when you do get the go ahead to go into his office, the major is not there.  Lt. Col. Korn stops his jeep and tells the padre to come over to him.  He gives the chaplain a ride to Col. Cathcart's office, balling him out for talking with Yossarian who is always up to trouble. 

Dropped off at the colonel's office the chaplain runs into Milo, who can get him everything underneath the sun, except for the blanket that the padre asks for.  In the colonel's office the chaplain meets the waiting Captain Orr who was just recently pulled from the sea.  In fact, he is still dripping wet. 

The chaplain is sent into the colonel's office where the colonel is currently sitting on the toilet.  The chaplain feels uncomfortable in this situation but keeps on talking.  What the colonel wants from the chaplain is to start giving little snappy prayers for the air crews before they take off on each mission.  He wants to get a camera crew in to take photos of the chaplain and himself with the men.  He wants The Saturday Evening Post to do the story on him.  The chaplain now tells the colonel that the men are upset about the the number of required missions being raised.  The colonel says it's none of the chaplain's business and it's none of the air crews' business either.  Lt. Col. Korn comes in and says that this is all the doings of that trouble maker Yossarian.

Yossarian keeps trying to make love to Nurse Duckett, but she just keeps kneeing him in the groin. 

Gen Dreedle arrives with a real blonde bomb shell, his secretary.  Yossarian is going crazy over her.  Gen. Dreedle marches with his entourage into the briefing room of the air crews.  The general asks for a chair for the lady and the men try to climb over each other for the honor of giving their chair to the lovely woman.  The general turns his back to the men until he hears a loud murmur coming from the men.  He turns around and sees them all gawking at his girlfriend.  The general tells the men that that there will be no moaning from the men.  In fact, the next man who moans is going to get it.  Major Danby finishes his count down for the synchronization of all the watches and he sees that no one is paying any attention to him.  He says: "Ohhhhh!" and the general demands that Col. Cathcart take this Major out and have him shot.   Cathcart gives the job to Korn.  Major Danby faints.

The general's son works for his father and he tells him that according to regulations he can't just shoot anyone he wants to.  So Gen. Dreedle demands that at least the man be immediately removed from his presence.  Col. Cathcart now raises the number of required missions to 75.  Yossarian winces mightily. 

The guys are in town and prostitutes hang around them.  Capt. Nately believes he's in love with his favorite prostitute.  Lt. Dobbs tells him men that they simply can't fall in love with women like Nately's "girlfriend".  Nately insists he's in love with the lady.  With the prostitute is her young sister.  The guys all go with Nately to another bar, but Yossarian stays put.  Alone for a second or two, Yossarian sees a prostitute that is a knock-out looker.  He gets up and follows her.  He is, however, stopped by a policeman directing traffic who makes Yossarian wait for a whole army convoy to go by. 

Gen. Dreedle wants to know from Col. Cathcart why is he giving out medals to airmen who have done a lousy job?  Col. Cathcart starts to explain. The air men are getting close for their bombing run on a little coastal town called Ferrara.  Yossarian asks Capt. Nately why are they going to bomb this town when there is nothing in it but Italian people?   Several minutes outside  of Ferrara Yossarian drops all his bombs in the sea.  Dreedle can't seem to believe it.  The men had a direct hit on the sea?  Dreedle wants to punish the men rather than reward them.  But Cathcart and Korn says they don't want it to get out that the men dropped their bombs in the Mediterranean Sea.   

So the general starts giving out the medals to the men.  When it's Yossarian's turn to come up front, he comes forward with no clothes on.  The officers are all stunned.  The general finally says:  "Unless I miss my guess captain, you're out of uniform."  His secretary snickers about the situation.  The general sends her to his car.  The general demands to know why this man is naked?  The officers pass the buck down to the sergeant who tells everyone that Yossarian's uniform was covered in blood from a co-crew member who died on the mission.  The general decides to give the medal to Yossarian anyway.  He just remarks:  "You're a very weird person, Yossarian." 

In a bar, Yossarian shows his new medal to his prostitute "girlfriend", the knock-out one he saw the other day.  He then gives her the medal.  They dance. 

Yossarian dreams once again of the death of Snowden.  Snowden tells Yossarian that he's cold.  Yossarian tells the young fellow that he is going to be okay.  Yossarian takes off his flight jacket and puts it over the lad, who now tells him that the pain is starting to hurt him.  So Yossarian says he'll get the fellow some morphine.  Yossarian gets the first aid kit and finds the morphine missing.  In its place he gets another M & M Enterprises share.  He shouts:  "Milo!"

The beach has lots of Roman statues on it.  The doctor, the nurse and Yossarian are at the beach where Milo is checking off his list to make sure that he has received all the statues he ordered.  Yossarian goes over to have a serious talk with Milo.  He asks first about where did his parachute go?  Milo says that Yossarian has to realize that his parachute was just one of many parachutes taken by the syndicate.  The parachutes were just one of multiple items Milo had to trade in order to get a diesel engine. 

Hungry Joe is out on a platform in the sea.  He is waving for Yossarian's group to get down.  Yossarian figures it out and has everyone get down on the sand.  A pilot named McWatt buzzes the group.  McWatt circles around and comes back.  Hungry Joe is still on his platform trying to motion to the beach lovers that McWatt is coming back.  The pilot flies just over the heads of the three beach lovers and then heads straight for Hungry Joe, who should have followed his own advice, and prostrated himself on the platform.  He doesn't and the plane literally cuts the top half of his body off.  The top half falls into the sea leaving just the lower half still standing on the platform.  Then the lower half collapses.  McWatt circles around a couple more times and then crashes his airplane into a mountain. 

Majors Danby and Major attend a funeral service for Snowden.  The padre is also there. Sitting naked in a tree overlooking the ceremony is Yossarian.  The padre sees the man in the tree.  Major Danby looks through his binoculars at the naked man and says:  "That's just Yossarian."  The reverend responds:  "Oh, oh.  Well, in that case . . . "  He starts reading from the Bible. 

Milo comes racing over to climb Yossarian's tree.  He hands a food item to Yossarian and wants his opinion on whether the food is fit to serve to the men.  Yossarian starts chewing it and asks:  "What is it?"  "Chocolate covered cotton."  Milo spits the item out of his mouth.  He can't believe Milo would even think of offering the "treat" to the men.  Milo responds:  "They've got to learn to like it!" because Milo cornered the market in Egyptian cotton and now he has discovered that there is a real glut of cotton.  He has 100 warehouses filled with cotton all over the European theater.   

Yossarian lays in bed with his girlfriend Luciana. (brief nudity)  He talks to her about the death and funeral of Snowden.  She tells Yossarian that she is not a prostitute.  She works for a big American company.  Yossarian says:  "Me too!"  A little later he says he wants to marry Luciana.  She tells him he's crazy!

At a brothel Captain Nately speaks with a old Italian man, who claims that Italy will win the war.  His claim is that since Italy is such a poor and weak country that it will survive the coming and going of  both the Germans and the Americans and still will be in existence long after America has been destroyed.  Yossarian comes into the brothel telling the men that they have to go back to the base because all leaves have been canceled. He adds that once again Cathcart raised the number of missions.  Now the magic number is 80.   

In his M M Enterprise plane, Milo gives the guys a ride back to base.  They fly over Orr's ditched plane in the sea.  Everyone was rescued except Orr.  Yossarian thinks back on a conversation he had with Orr where Yossarian told him that he won't fly with him because he's a one-man disaster area.  In fact, no one wants to fly with Orr.  Orr says they're crazy and Yossarian is also crazy. 

Yossarian looks for Orr at night.  He was sure Orr would be showing up at the base like he always did after his four lost planes. 

Doc asks Yossarian to play the role of a dying serviceman.  The dead man's parents and brother have traveled 5,000 miles to see their son before he dies, but their son just recently died.  Doc says if Yossarian does this for him, he will fill out a form saying that Yossarian is on the verge of nervous collapse.  Yossarian agrees to play the dying man.  But there's a catch.  Catch-22?  Yes.  So Doc says he will send Yossarian on a five day leave in Rome.  The family comes into the room and Yossarian tells them that his name is Yossarian.  The brother thinks that his brother Harvey is delusional and just thinks he's a man named Yossarian.  After a short while, the doc comes in and has the people leave the room. 

Yossarian dreams that he's back with Snowden in the plane.  He starts putting a tourniquet on the wounded leg.  He then tells the kid that it will be alright.  Now he takes off the jacket from the kid and discovers that Snowden's shirt is covered in blood. 

Captain Nately awakens Yossarian to tell him that Lt. Dobbs is going to kill Col. Cathcart and they have to stop him.  Dobbs has a .45 caliber pistol and is outside headquarters where Col. Cathcart is.  He aims his pistol at Cathcart to shoot him through the window, but Nately and Yossarian jump on Dobbs and stop him.  Dobbs tells the guys that Cathcart is a murderer and he is going to kill all of the guys unless he is stopped.  "He'll keep us flying missions till we're all dead." Dobbs turns his anger on Nately and throws him up against a large sign.  Nately goes unconscious.  Yossarian tells Dobbs to give him the pistol.  He adds that if Cathcart increases the number of missions, he will help Dobbs kill the colonel.  Dobbs replies:  "Well, that's very reasonable of you." 

Cathcart jumps into a jeep with Milo,  Dobbs tells Yossarian that those two men are up to something.  All of a sudden flood lights go on everywhere around the base.  And now Milo is having the base bombed and is even giving instructions from the ground to the German pilots.  He now yells at Dobbs and Yossarian to get off the field.  The mess hall is blown to smithereens.  Yossarian fires the revolver at the planes.  Milo tells Yossarian to stop that:  "This is an M & M Enterprises operation."

Yossarian now shoots at Milo in the control tower.  Cathcart and Korn come riding up in a jeep to ask Yossarian what the hell does he think he's doing and telling him to get off the field.  Yossarian points the pistol at Cathcart and pulls the trigger put the pistol just goes:  click.  Cathcart tells Yossarian that he will get him for this because what's good for M & M Enterprises is good for the Air Force!  And to save M & M Enterprises they have to get rid of the cotton.  The Germans have promised to accept the cotton from them as long as the Americans let the Germans bomb the American air base.  "It's all part of the deal!"  

Milo yells for the men to get off the field because after the bombing there will be strafing.  Milo runs over to Nately to find him dead. 

Back to the present.  The doctors are now operating on Yossarian, who keeps repeating Nately's name.  Nately's dead, say the doctors.  Yossarian asks whose dead and the doctors tell him that he will be if they don't hurry and take the knife out of his side. 

Flashback.  Yossarian tells Aardvark and a pretty woman who Aardvark is helping that Nately is dead. Now he goes to find Nately's prostitute to tell her about Nately.  When he reaches the brothel the old woman there tells him that the MPs took all the poor young girls away.  And the old Italian man is dead.  Yossarian asks the old lady what right did the MPs have to take away the girls?  She says:  "Catch-22."  She knows this because the MPs just kept repeating that phrase.  Yossarian asks about what law gave the MPs the right to take the girls?  The old lady again replies:  "Catch-22."

Yossarian goes into the streets and sees the MPs rounding up still more girls.  He watches in disbelief as Milo stands up in an M & M Enterprises jeep like a conquering hero, complete with body guards.  Yossarian runs along with the jeep.  The jeep stops and Milo says to Yossarian that he knows how he feels about his buddy Nately, but Nately was just the victim of uncontrollable economic forces.  Milo then gives Yossarian a ride to see Nately's whore.  When the jeep stops, the M & M guards throw Yossarian out of the jeep.  She's in apartment 33 in a building marked with the M &M logo. 

Yossarian goes to the front of a very long line of servicemen and finds Luciana at the hotel reception desk.  He is absolutely stunned.  Luciana says that everybody works for Milo.  Yossarian asks for room 33.  Luciana asks for $10 dollars from Yossarian and gives him the key to room 33.  He goes into the room and tells the woman that Nately is dead.  For some reason, she accuses Yossarian of being the murderer and starts hitting him.  The sister comes in and she also starts hitting him.  Yossarian has to jump out of a window to get away from them. 

Yossarian walks through the streets of the city where he sees one terrible sight after another of people committing crimes.  He sees a group of people surrounding a body on the street.  Someone has thrown a young woman out of a window to her death on the street.  Yossarian looks up and see Aardvark looking out of the window.  He rushes up to Aardvark's room.  Aardvark says in his defense:  "I only raped her once."  And he had to kill her after he raped her so she wouldn't say bad things about him.  Yossarian tells him that they'll hang him for killing the girl.   Aardvark only says that they wouldn't make such a fuss over just one Italian girl. 

MPs bust into the room.  They don't take Aardvark away.  Instead they grab Yossarian for being AWOL. 

Back to the present.  Cathcart and Korn are explaining that they are sending Yossarian home as long as he promises to say only good things about them, the Air Force and his war experiences.  They'll even make him a major before they send him home.  He just has to "like" Cathcart and Korn.  Yossarian says:  "It's a deal."  He leaves headquarters and gets stabbed by Nately's prostitute. 

Laying on the ground Yossarian has that recurring dream about Snowden.  He takes his jacket off of Snowden, sees the blood and tries to move Snowden.  But as he starts to move Snowden, the kid's whole side opens up spilling out his internal organs.  Yossarian is now in shock after seeing that.  He manages to say:  "There, there", even though he feels sick to his stomach.   

In the hospital, Yossarian tells the padre and Major Danby about the deal he made with Cathcart and Korn.  He now says he's not keeping the deal with the colonels.  His visitors say that he has to or they'll court-martial him.  Yossarian says he doesn't want to go to prison and he can't play Cathcart's games.  He says what he can do is run away.  Yossarian adds that all his friends are either dead, disappeared or zombies.  Major Danby asks what about Orr?  Orr is in Sweden.  He rowed his way to Sweden in the tiny, little raft that comes with the plane.  Danby and the padre say that Orr had to have been planning this all the time.  He was actually practicing getting shot down.  They start laughing and all of a sudden Yossarian starts laughing uncontrollably.  He shouts:  "That son-of-a-bitch made it?" then jumps out of the hospital window onto a hay stack below.  On the ground he shouts:  "If he made it, so can I!"  He grabs a hidden satchel and runs across the air field over to the sea.  Along the way he opens the satchel with an inflatable raft in it.  The raft inflates and Yossarian runs into the sea with it.  He pulls out an oar attached to the raft and starts rowing away from the air base.   


What a great anti-war black comedy!  Yossarian is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and from complete exhaustion from flying so many combat missions.  He now constantly thinks about ways to get away from the combat missions.  He declares himself crazy, but there is a circular way of reasoning (called Catch-22) on the base that always denies Yossarian's claim of craziness, because a man who has flown as many missions as Yossarian has, would declare himself to be crazy to stop having to perform more missions.  So Yossarian is not crazy, but sane.  

Yossarian is not crazy, but suffers from a personality disorder and exhaustion that leaves him always on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  The most often used word in the film is "crazy".  And, indeed, everyone on the base does appear to be a bit "crazy".  The shenanigans that go on at that air base are so outrageous that they are ridiculously funny.   No one appears to have unselfish motives and those that might have had them are now dead or dying.  With everybody either or both "crazy" and always looking out for number one, the experiences at the air base seem as if there are out of a insane nightmare.

Alan Arkin is superb as Yossarian, but there are so many stars in the film and they almost all do great jobs of acting.  Even though I had just recently watched the film with my wife, I was still laughing as I typed up each scene in the film.  That's a mark of a good film!

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)