Episode Spotlight: The General Flipped at Dawn


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

“The General Flipped at Dawn” (#49, 3×01)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, September 10th, 1974
Written by Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum
Directed by Larry Gelbart

Capsule Summary: The 4077th must deal with a series of new rules from two-star General Hamilton Steele. When Steele comes to visit, they realize he’s nuts , particularly when he announces plans to move the camp closer to the front.

This episode marks the only time Harry Morgan appeared on screen with McLean Stevenson and Wayne Rogers. For his guest starring role as the unstable General Bartford Hamilton Steele, Morgan was nominated for a 1975 Emmy Award in the Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Series.

Every line out of Morgan’s mouth in this episode is pure gold. The character of Colonel Potter was so different from General Steele and unfortunately never offered Morgan the opportunity to showcase the deranged hilarity he brought to this episode.

Still from the MASH episode The General Flipped at Dawn
All-Singing, All-Dancing

Steele’s bizarre, slightly inaccurate rendition of “Mississippi Mud” during Hawkeye’s preliminary hearing is without a doubt the highlight of the episode. I’ve always loved the tag scene in which Hawkeye, Trapper and Colonel Blake’s dance through and out of the Swamp while singing their own version of “Mississippi Mud,” leaving Frank shining his shoe in time to the music.

Other great moments include Colonel Blake trying to unfasten the door to General Steele’s jeep; Steele’s reaction to Klinger; Hawkeye pretending to be a reporter and Steele’s reaction; and Steele deciding to get lunch rather than staying to fight the snipers.

As recounted in “Memories of M*A*S*H,” it took seventeen takes to film the brief scene in which General Steele talks with Radar while inspecting the troops. Gary Burghoff and McLean Stevenson just kept cracking up at Harry Morgan.

26 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: The General Flipped at Dawn”

  1. I believe Harry Morgan has also said this was one of his favorite episodes, and I can’t blame him, this was great. It’s also interesting in hindsight how most of Steele’s scene were with Henry, considering Harry ended up replacing Mac in the role of the 4077th’s commanding officer.

  2. A classic episode if there ever was one! There’s not a single bad thing I can say about it. I don’t think it was possible for Harry Morgan to give a bad performance anyway, but he really outdoes himself in this one; hilarious the whole way through! A terrific start to, IMO, one M*A*S*H’s very best seasons!

  3. My absolutely favorite part of this is when Harry Morgan says “but first… a number” – “It’s in your blood boy!” – and the looks on the rest of the peoples faces. Hawkeye and the helicopter pilot exchange a GREAT look, while the provost guy sighs and shuts his book – as if it had all happened before.

    Just the funniest thing ever.

    1. Especially given the hyper-politically correct times we live in now, the “Mississippi Mud” scene is so politically incorrect it’s refreshing to watch…no way in hell would they be able to get away with it in 2016.

      1. I’m just waiting for Trump to pull a “Mississippi Mud” blunder while at the White House. He’s well on his way……

      2. Jan is an idiot. Just so obsessed with the President that you can’t keep him out of ANY conversation. Sad….but hilarious.

      3. Actually this episodes aptly demonstrates how well how racism fits within insanity. Just stupid is as stupid does.

      4. To be honest, I don’t see why they WOULDN’T be able to get away with it nowadays. After all, it’s the General (and his behaviour) that is quite clearly the butt of the joke here, and it’s not as if he’s a character we’re meant to be rooting for in any way.

        There’s a lot in M*A*S*H that absolutely wouldn’t fly by today’s standards (and no, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing) but I genuinely don’t think this is one of them since the crux of the joke is precisely how inappropriate it is and the General literally being the only one in the scene who thinks it is appropriate.

  4. Nothing I can say about this great episode and Harry’s tremendous performance that hasn’t been said before. Harry’s best episode and I never fail to laugh at “Not now, Marjorie…I’m inspecting the troops.” LOL

  5. I’ve always thought it would’ve been in interesting if in a later episode Gen. Steele would make another visit to the 4077th and it turns out that he’s a relation of Col Potters that Potter never knew about or something.

    1. Potter does mention something in a much later episode about working for a crazy general that made Potter shine the bottom of the general ‘s boots, referring, I believe, to General Steele (3 Es, not all in a row.)

  6. I’ve have never seen Patrick McGoohan’s Emmy Award winning performance on “Columbo”. But, it had better been fantastic in order to beat out Harry Morgan in this wonderful performance. Back then, Outstanding Guest Actor was merged into one comedy and drama category. What a classic this episode is! I do not know one M*A*S*H fan that doesn’t love this one.

  7. I’ve always liked his order to Burns to “Trim your nose hair.” And later there is Frank at the mirror doing just that.

  8. Just noticed a connection between this episode and “Bug Out”. Here Morgan as Steele tells United Press’ BF Pierce about sending a jeep to his wife in a box marked “Kitchen Utensils” In BO Morgan as Potter tells Frank the surgical instruments are in a box marked “Kitchen Utensils”.

  9. General Steele was really Colonel Potter with amnesia…

    I have to wonder though how far Steele would have really been able to convene a courts-martial. As Steele is leaving, singing “Mississippi Mud”:

    Henry: Do we leave now?

    Hawkeye: The general did…in a padded truck…

  10. It’s great looking back knowing Morgan replaces Stevenson and they are in scenes together. What a gem. The chopper pilot played his scenes well too especially when the general starts to unravel. The way Henry dances on his way out of the swamp is classical MASH. “Where are u from son?” “Iowa sir ” “No talking in ranks! “

  11. Saw this episode on DVD recently and it’s a real gas. The look on Williams’s face when Steele asks him to sing is priceless. What I can’t understand is why the laugh track thought some of Steele’s lines were funny especially “There are no atheists in foxholes”.

    1. I think it’s just because he barks it at him and it’s a bit random, although Father Mulcahy claims he’s heard it before.

  12. A high quality start to season 3 – for me the highlight was Radar and Henry’s barely contained sense of panic when he spots Klinger in full dress on his way to intercept the General at formation, and then the general thinking he is his wife Marjorie!

    I do agree with other comments that it barely had much of a role for Trapper and especially Margaret, so that marks it down a bit.

    Oddly, for an episode directed by Larry Gelbart, there was use of the laugh track in an O.R. scene, which seems so out of place. It is not in relation to any surgery, but I do wonder why, given that it was now season 3 and Larry Gelbart directed the episode, who decided that the O.R. scene needed a laugh track in this episode specifically?

  13. One other comment I forgot to mention about the opening scene (of Hawkeye and Trapper walking outside) is that it is another (and possibly the final?) reference that Hawkeye makes about his sister.

    Interesting that Hawkeye talked about his sister so deep into season 3 (episode 1 aired, but episode 8 in production order).

    I would like to know what is the first time that Hawkeye talked about himself as an only child?

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