Episode Spotlight: 5 O’Clock Charlie


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

“5 O’Clock Charlie” (#26, 2×02)
Originally Broadcast: Saturday, March 8th, 1977
Teleplay by Larry Gelbart & Laurence Marks and Keith Walker
Story by Keith Walker
Directed by Norman Tokar

Capsule Summary: The daily visit to the 4077th by a North Korean plane provides much needed relief for most of the camp but frustration for Frank and Margaret.

This is a wonderful episode from start to finish. It’s absurd and hilarious and fires on all cylinders. The plot, the jokes, the PA announcements, everything works. It’s early M*A*S*H at its very best. What I enjoyed most about rewatching it for this review was the fact that so many scenes seemed brand new to me. Either I had forgotten about them or, more likely, they were cut from the episode in syndication and this was the first time I was watching it uncut on DVD.

Specifically, the end of the lengthy scene in Colonel Blake’s office when Frank finds a stapler in his holster seemed new to me. Actually, much of that scene felt new, including the exchange between Colonel Blake and Frank about Gary Cooper movies. Also, the scene in the nurses’ shower when Hawkeye and Trapper share a Martini via IV and discuss how to keep Frank from firing the gun.

There’s really just the one storyline involving 5 O’Clock Charlie which turns into Hawkeye and Trapper’s crusade to stop Frank from and later stopping him from using the anti-aircraft gun. It’s all so good that I don’t know where to start. Colonel Blake and his nug, perhaps? Hawkeye and Trapper continuously replacing Frank’s gun with random everyday items (the plunger is my favorite)? Frank running drills with his troops? Trapper dressed up as General MacArthur running drills with his troopers?

The the tag in this episode is quite nice, with its seemingly sincere attempt on the part of Hawkeye and Trapper to bond with Frank by inviting him to dinner. About the only aspect of the episode that doesn’t quite fit is the inclusion of the guitar playing dentist Captain Phil Cardozo, played by Corey Fisher (who had a small role in the movie MASH). It doesn’t add much of anything to the episode.

5 O’Clock Charlie would return in the Season Three episode “There Is Nothing Like A Nurse,” providing a rare bit of episodic continuity. Wikipedia has a lengthy paragraph on the production of the episode, referencing an October 1972 issue of Private Pilot magazine. All of the footage was filmed in one day. A pilot named Don Burkett flew the Ryan PT-22, which he also owned, while sitting in the rear seat of the plane. Apparently if you look closely you can see Burkett in the rear seat, although I haven’t been able to spot an actual person.

Also according to Wikipedia, this episode is based on the Japanese airplanes that harassed Army Air Force bases at night during World War II’s Guadalcanal campaign. A similar plane was featured in a March 1963 episode of McHale’s Navy. I doubt very much the Army would have allowed a North Korean airplane to bomb one of its MASH units for six weeks, even if the pilot was incompetent, but this is such a great episode that I’m willing to give it a little suspension of disbelief.

Hawkeye and Trapper enjoy a good bombing

Does “5 O’Clock Charlie” hold the record for the most lines spoken by Ginger in a single episode? There’s the scene in the O.R. with Colonel Blake and then another line later on in Post-Op when she’s helping trick Frank into thinking it isn’t time for 5 O’Clock Charlie to appear.

Three actresses are listed in the closing credits playing nurses: Sarah Fankboner as Nurse Klein, Gail Bowman as Nurse Powell and Deborah Newman as Nurse Richards. Nurse Klein protested when Hawkeye and Trapper took four dozen sheets and I believe Nurse Powell is the woman in the towel who walks in on Hawkeye and Trapper in the showers. So that would mean Nurse Richards must be the nurse Hawkeye flirts with at the first viewing of 5 O’Clock Charlie’s bombing.

Actor and writer Keith Walker, who provided the story for this episode and co-wrote the teleplay, has only three other scriptwriting credits to his name. In 1993 he co-wrote the screenplay for Free Willy.

Klinger doesn’t appear in this episode.

16 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: 5 O’Clock Charlie”

  1. Love, love, love this episode!

    I concur with all of the comments stated above. The episode is, to me, a classic example of everything that I love about M*A*S*H. I have probably watched it 50 or more times, yet I still laugh out loud each time I view it. Henry’s “nug” scene always gets me and Trapper’s MacArthur outfit combined with the Hawkeye/Radar interchange “Count off!” “Are you 1?” “Yes, are you?” — gets me rolling on the floor with amusement.

  2. “I think it ill-behooves us……..” Where, anywhere, in the history of TV can you hear the word “ill-behooves”? Quite the fancy wording there.

  3. Great episode. Season 2 has the best episodes after Season 6, IMO.

    The guys pulling tricks on Frank with the gun was funny no matter how many times they did it. Frank’s squad consisting of 3 soldiers was pitiful but the interplay between him and Hawkeye, Trapper and Radar was hilarious.

    Frank: It ill-behooves us….
    Hawkeye: Behooves?? What are we, in the cavalry??

    Henry being clueless as usual and Gen. Clayton getting in on the action shows that sometimes even the higher ups could be easygoing and not real stick in the muds.

    Great episode and has tremendous rewatch value.

  4. Has anyone noticed the bad editing in this episode, where the scenes involving Frank Burns and his gun are filmed along the dirt road that enters the 4077th compound, yet the scene with Trapper John dressed as General MacArthur and Radar and Hawkeye are his troops is suddenly filmed in a small clearing surrounded by a unique kind of foliage that’s never been seen on the show before or since?

  5. Great episode.

    About “episodic continuity”, I noticed that in the episode where Colonel Blake meets and falls in love with a girl but later left her, he kept a picture on his desk to remind himself of her. In the next episode, the picture is still there. I just can’t remember the name.
    Could you help?

  6. Great Episode!…Frank is his usual jolly paranoid self..and Henry wanted a nug..I mean a gun sir..lol

  7. No dramatic moments; no sanctimonious Hawkeye; just pure comedy, and great comedy. The jokes, the timing, the antics …all remind me of Marx Bros. movies.

    “…while sitting in the rear seat of the plane. Apparently if you look closely you can see Burkett in the rear seat”

    FTR, all such airplanes with dual cockpits are always flown from the rear cockpit when only one person is aboard; for balance reasons.

    And, for historical accuracy, the plane would probably have been a 1930s era Japanese or Russian biplane observation aircraft (many of these were abandoned in, or sold to, small countries after WWII).

  8. This was absolutely hilarious from start to finish.

    Frank: ” He who controls the skies controls the war”. Herman Goerring said that.
    Henry: Well, Frank, Goerring wore tutus and ate whole bakeries.

    Just curious, but is that really true about Goerring or did Henry make that up?

    1. Hermann Goering did indeed believe that. Goering tried very hard to win the war by having the Luftwaffe bomb England into oblivion. He believed it would be enough to get Britain to surrender without any kind of land battle. When the RAF finally began to have an impact after the German loss at the Battle of Britain, it made anything the Germans did nearly impossible because the Allies kept pounding German cities in bombing raids. The ability of the Luftwaffe to provide air support became very limited because they only had so many planes built and didn’t have the almost limitless manpower and especially supplies needed to build new aircraft. They really felt every plane that was lost. Eventually, better Allied technology allowing for more precise bombing, as well as a lot more resources just decimated the Luftwaffe. The Germans had cut themselves off from the rest of the world which was their downfall because they eventually ran out of the materials to maintain their airforce (fuel, steel) and adequately supply their troops.

      1. Germany had no colonies or real allies to rely on. Hitler thought he could beat one country at a time and move on. He really wanted to keep America -and England-out of his plans & then go after the Soviet Union. Didn’t work out as planned…

  9. I’ve liked 5 O’Clock Charlie for its reminder that “war is organised boredom” (that’s a MASH quote, right? Did BJ say it?) – in as much as Charlie is ineffectual but he’s there on the dot every day at 5pm. The daily rituals and routines of war.
    “The guitar playing dentist Captain Phil Cardozo” – wasn’t he the guy who was in a few episodes during the first couple of seasons who seemed to be basically doing a bad Woody Allen impersonation?
    It’s so obviously mannered it takes the viewer out of the show – well it does to me – is that why this character was quickly binned?

  10. This is also one of my favorite early episodes.

    Trapper: Sound off!!
    Radar: (looking at Pierce) Are you one?
    Pierce: (strikes “fruity” pose) Yes…are you?
    Radar: That’s not funny…

    And the arrows on the ground, which finally lead Charlie to his target…

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