Episode Spotlight: There Is Nothing Like A Nurse

Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.

“There Is Nothing Like A Nurse” (#58, 3×10)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, November 19th, 1974
Written by Larry Gelbart
Directed by Hy Averback

Capsule Summary: The nurses of the 4077th are evacuated due to the threat of attack, leaving Hawkeye, Trapper and the other men lonely and bored.

For an episode with only one real storyline, this episode has a lot going on. It features the second of three appearances by troubadour-surgeon Captain Calvin Spalding with two original songs written and performed by singer Loudon Wainwright III. It also features a home movie of Frank’s wedding, which Larry Gelbart later called one of his “favorite sequences” from M*A*S*H. Plus, the return of 5 O’Clock Charlie. And it includes several unusual cinematic techniques: an extreme close-up, dissolve transitions and a split screen.

Captain Spalding first appeared in “Rainbow Bridge” (originally aired September 17th, 1974) and following this episode appeared for the third and final time in “Big Mac” (originally aired February 25th, 1975). I’ve always thought “It’s Funny How We Miss Them” was the best of Spalding’s songs. For the record, the other song in this episode, first heard near the beginning with Hawkeye and Trapper singing along, is titled “Unrequited to the Nth Degree.”

The home movie of Frank’s wedding are hilarious but also sad. Frank really is a pathetic character both in the Army and in civilian life. In a March 2001 post to the alt.tv.mash Newsgroup, Larry Gelbart had this to say about the wedding film:

Remember mostly how much fun it was shooting Frank’s wedding movie. A good opportunity to see Frank in a civilian setting, see what a fool he was there, as well. And what a nice break it afforded us to get away from the war for awhile.

All in all, one of my favorite sequences.

I don’t know how I feel about the extreme close-up of Margaret’s mouth during her conversation with Henry about Nurse Baker. I don’t recall offhand any other examples of extreme close-ups. Was Henry, due to his hangover, zoned out and seeing her talk without listening? I turned the laugh track on and there’s laughter during the close-up but it doesn’t seem particularly funny.

The flashbacks seen while Spalding was singing “It’s Funny How We Miss Them” in the Officers’ Club, complete with dissolve transitions to indicate they’re flashbacks, seem a little unnecessary. Between the lyrics and the looks on Hawkeye and Trapper’s faces, I think we get the idea. That said, it was a nice reuse of the “running nurses” from the opening credits.

On the other hand, the split screen used during portions of the telephone conversation between Frank and Margaret was very effective because it allowed viewers to see the contrasting facial expressions. Again, I don’t remember any other uses of a split screen on the series.

The nurses on their way to safety

As for the plot of the episode, other than the minor detour involving Frank’s wedding movie, it was all about the impact of the nurses on the 4077th, both by their presence and their absence. Would Hawkeye, Trapper and the other men really have nothing to do only hours after the nurses left? Probably not.

I do wish there had been some resolution to the Nurse Baker plot point. Did Margaret actually go over Henry’s head? Was Baker forced to sit on the edge of her bed for a month? I wonder if the lack of closure was Gelbart’s intent when he wrote the script or if there were additional scenes cut from the episode. It could be that we’re supposed to assume that after being evacuated, Margaret had second thoughts and decided to let Baker slide.

It’s interesting that the actress who portrayed Baker in this episode isn’t credited, despite having a number of lines. It’s definitely not Bobbie Mitchell, who is credited as Nurse Able.

7 Comments

  • Crabapple Cove says:

    Great episode indeed.

    — I agree with you and Gelbart about Frank’s home movie. Captures his entire persona with a silent film. The home movies of Radar’s family and Col. Blake in other episodes were also outstanding, in my opinion.
    — I enjoyed the Capt. Spalding character (his name is an homage to Groucho Marx in ‘Animal Crackers’ I assume?). I wish they would have used Spalding more, but with the way the show changed after Seasons 1-3 I guess he didn’t really ‘fit’ the themes anymore.
    — the extreme closeup of Margaret is weird, yet it works considering Henry’s severe headache. That type of closeup was used a number of times in Gilligan’s Island (as best I can remember), but it is quite odd to see in M*A*S*H.

  • Larry P. says:

    One of my very favorite episodes! Other than the odd flashback dissolves during Spalding’s song (which is a very, very small nitpick), I have nothing but positive things to say about this one. Hawkeye and Trapper trapping Frank in the foxhole with the jeep and then going inside and making fun of his wedding movie is, hands down, one of funniest things I’ve ever seen, on M*A*S*H or any other show; every time I see it, I’m absolutely dying during the whole sequence. And the topper is Frank and Margaret at the end echoing the scene from the movie with Frank and his wife. Just brilliant.

    This is an episode I never get tired of. Classic M*A*S*H.

  • Seoul City Sue says:

    Great episode. Love Frank’s wedding and it kinda makes you feel sorry for the guy, stuck with such a dour wife.

    The guys just tore him apart while watching the movie. Henry especially “You think she’ll take off her glasses.” LOL.

    I am very indifferent towards Capt. Spaulding. He didn’t add anything interesting to the show and his songs were really cheesy. Hawkeye brings up a topic that he repeats in various other episodes about George Washington having wooden teeth. The nurses have very 70s make up on in the flashback sequences……heavy raccoon eyes and big Farrah Fawcett hair.

    Margaret obeys orders to leave with her nurses in this episode in stark contrast to ‘Deluge’ where she insists that she and her nurses stay behind to help the surgeons despite threat of enemy attacks. This, probably, can be construed as a character growth as the seasons progressed.

    Love the episode.

  • jgf says:

    FWIW, Loudon Wainwright III was a little known folk singer who scored big in ’72 or early ’73 with a novelty song “Dead Skunk” (I still have my 45rpm single of that) but never hit the Top40 again. I always wondered if that had anything to do with his being hired for MASH.

  • CJB says:

    There Is Nothing Like A Nurse is clearly a takeoff on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s song “There Is Nothing Like A Dame” from South Pacific. Thanks for a FANTASTIC site! I just discovered this evening and I love it!!

  • Lady you are A Piece of Cornbread says:

    Did anyone ever freeze frame though the leader film of Frank’s wedding to see if Gelbart and company had something actually written instead of just being random squiggles? Fine place or an Easter egg.

  • Marc Blanchard says:

    Great episode. There’s one line I never understood though. On the club Trap mentions the reel under franks bed and then Hawkeye says it’s probably a video of Frank’s parents being told that he died at birth. What did he mean (Hawk)?

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