Episode Spotlight: Requiem for a Lightweight

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

“Requiem for a Lightweight” (#3, 1×03)
Originally Broadcast: Sunday, October 1st, 1972
Written by Robert Klane
Directed by Hy Averback

Capsule Summary: In order to keep Major Houlihan from transferring a pretty nurse, Trapper agrees to enter a boxing competition with Hawkeye as his trainer.

This episode marked the first broadcast appearance of William Christopher as Father Mulcahy, replacing George Morgan who played the character in the pilot episode. But because this was the eighth episode produced despite being the third aired, it was not Christopher’s first work as Mulcahy. He actually appeared in the second episode produced (“Henry, Please Come Home,” aired ninth) as well as the sixth episode produced (“I Hate a Mystery,” aired tenth).

Also appearing for the first time in this episode is Marcia Strassman as the lovely Nurse Margie Cutler. She would make a total of six guest appearances during Season One. I’m a big fan of Strassman, who after her recurring role on M*A*S*H ended went on to co-star on ABC’s Welcome Back, Kotter from 1975 to 1979. Finally, Sorrell Booke made the first of two appearances as General Barker (the second being “Chief Surgeon Who?” which was produced before this episode but aired after it). He, too, went on to greater fame years later playing Boss Hogg on The Dukes of Hazzard from 1979 to 1985.

The plot of the episode is a little thin. Why would Margaret transfer Margie, a perfectly competent nurse, just because Hawkeye and Trapper were falling all over themselves trying to compete for her affection? If she transferred every nurse the two lusted after, she’d have a pretty small staff. And if Colonel Blake couldn’t do anything about Margie because Margaret was in charge of the nurses, what exactly did he do after the boxing match to get her back to the 4077th?

Still, there’s so much to love about this episode that the logic behind the story is easy enough to ignore. I’m not sure where to start. How about Margie’s introduction? She rushes out of the shower in a towel, knocking Radar over in the process, and runs into Hawkeye and Trapper who are immediately smitten. She then somewhat unbelievably loses the towel and runs off naked, prompting Hawkeye and Trapper to salute in appreciation. It’s quite the debut.

Also: Trapper and Hawkeye racing to Margie’s tent (yet another example of an unexplained single occupancy tent), destroying Frank’s new garden in the process; Ugly John passing out after explaining the old ether-on-the-boxing-glove trick; Trapper explaining he’s a doctor to Sgt. Flacker; and Margaret screaming after Flacker falls on her and Frank.

Speaking of Frank and Margaret, their little scheme to switch the ether with distilled water and ruin Hawkeye’s plan would have backfired pretty badly had Trapper been seriously hurt. I doubt they wanted that but I also doubt either of them thought things through before acting.

Kid Doctor wins in the end

There’s some over-the-top laughter in this episode. First when Trapper is leaving Colonel Blake’s office after learning about the boxing competition and later in the Mess Tent when Blake reacts to Hawkeye’s promise that Trapper will win the fight.

At the start of the episode, when the PA calls for all shifts to the operating room, it’s obvious that all the background actors were waiting for their cue to start rushing across the compound. Those that burst out of the Mess Tent were no doubt waiting in front of the door rather than seated at tables eating. They run out too quickly, some with surgical gowns already half on.

If you look closely, you can see two nurses in bathrobes running across the compound before we see four nurses run out of the shower tent in bathrobes, followed by Margie in her towel. That’s a lot of nurses waiting in line for the showers.

The first half of this episode, particularly any outdoor scenes, are lit very softly. There’s almost a glow around the characters.

13 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Requiem for a Lightweight”

  1. This is one of my favorite early episodes.

    A couple of details I’d like to point out after watching this episode so many times, I don’t think Margaret transfered Cutler so much because Hawkeye and Trapper were fawning over her, because she later tells them, “Major Houlihan says I’m a bit of a distraction,” I think because Cutler was new and she seemed to humor Hawkeye and Trapper with their flirting that Margaret saw this as unprofessional and unmilitary behavior.

    Also, notice for some reason, almost all of the outdoor scenes in this episode look really… foggy… I wonder if the camera lenses kept fogging up or prespiring during filming because maybe it was too hot/muggy? I’ve had that happen to me before when filming outdoors on a really muggy day and the camera lens kept fogging up.

    It’s also interesting to note that during the actual boxing match, note the African-America corpsman sitting next to the bell, he’s seen as an extra in a few early episodes of M*A*S*H, but he was also an extra P.O.W. all six seasons of HOGAN’S HEROES (as was Roy Goldman). Speaking of which, compare this episode to HOGAN’S HEROES’s “The Softer They Fall,” in which Kinchloe is lassoed into a boxing match against camp guard Battling Bruno as a diversion for Hogan’s latest scheme.

    1. I also forgot to mention that this episode showcased some of Wayne Rogers’s best acting on the show, particularly his facial expressions. I love how during the scene where Radar comes into the Swamp to tell them about Barker’s fighter having been brought into camp to warm up, Radar remarks how mean he looks while making more of a silly face than a mean face… yet the look of absolute horror on Trapper’s face is priceless (not to mention the way he says, “Hawkeye! This guy knocks out jeeps!”) Also in the tag, when Cutler dabs Trapper’s shiner with a compress, look at the look of absolute contentment on Trap’s face when she does so.

      Funnily enough, there’s a radio station in my town that used to use sound bytes from various different shows and movies during station bumpers, one of which was the exchange from this episode:
      MARGARET: Just a minute, isn’t that Frank’s bag?
      TRAPPER: I thought you were Frank’s bag!

      1. Agreed that this is a very good early episode of the series. I enjoy all the episodes that showcase Trapper (“Ceasefire” is another favorite of mine).

  2. I forgot to mention that I have an idea for you RJ if you wanted a new posting idea for the site. What you could do is post a topic that is very controversial concerning MASH and encourage people to respond to it with their opinion of the topic. I think that would be a really good way to wake up the community and get some people active in the community. Obviously you should post rules and guidelines stating that their shouldn’t be any cursing or swearing at each other and that each opinion should be supported with a fact or supporting evidence while a disagreement with someone should be carried out in a polite, respectable manor. But I think it would be very nice to see a debate on here with others. Sometimes it might even get heated, which is good for the brain but also shouldn’t be taken out of hand. Please consider this RJ. 🙂

  3. One of my favorite early episodes as well; I love everything about it. There’s a lot of laughs throughout, though my favorites are Trapper’s frantic “This guy knocks out jeeps!” as well as Frank’s “THAT’S ETHER!” and Hawkeye’s reaction. And I always crack up at Fr. Mulcahy’s making the sign of the cross as he finishes counting down the knockout.

    From start to finish, this is a great episode, IMO.

  4. Great Season One episode. Trapper was the highlight of this episode and he didn’t disappoint. His horrified expressions on seeing the burly Sgt. Bricker were hilarious. Also from an entirely superficial point of view, he looked mighty FOINE in those boxing shorts….ummmm!!!

    Favorite bit of dialog:
    Fr. Mulcahy: I trained a number of boys to box back home.
    Hawkeye: Do you have any advice for Trapper??
    Fr. Mulcahy (handing Hawkeye a Bible): Prayer. I don’t think he’s got one.

  5. “…another example of an unexplained single occupancy tent”

    I also wondered about this. Why one major had a private tent while another had to share a tent with two junior officers; or why three officers shared a tent when a corporal had a private tent …and another corporal had to make do with a cot in a corner of the duty hut.

    But years ago my best friend, who was career military provided some explanation.
    First, there are no hard and fast rules for housing, especially at front line units, beyond men and women cannot share tents. All else is at the discretion of the CO and tradition.
    The CO always has a private tent, often adjacent to the duty hut and his office.
    Any commissioned officer qualifies for a private tent on request. (MASH plays fast and loose with this because the Swamp is such an integral part of the story.)
    Anyone may have a private tent if they can get one (wheel and deal with quartermasters …”beg, borrow, or steal”).
    A major difference here is that when they break camp, officers tents are automatically moved with everything else; all other private tents are the responsibility of their owners …so stay on good terms with all those lowly privates who do all the laboring work, or do it yourself). Another consideration is heat, multiple people in a tent not only provide heat from their bodies but there’s a good chance someone will be in and out during the day and can check on the fire.

    And while we never see this on the TV show, a MASH consisted of around 200 people of which about a third were privates who did all the labor, they were typically housed in large barracks style tents of ten to twenty men each.

    1. As you said, the CO always had their own tent, that would explain why Margaret had her own tent, she is technically the CO of the nursing staff. Likewise Fr. Mulchay would have his own tent for obvious reasons.

      What doesn’t make sense is why Klinger would rate a private tent, certainly he was a scrounger, but he was not in a capacity to do much scrounging in early episodes (Radar was company clerk and Zale was the supply Sgt. and Zale and Klinger were not exactly on the best of terms)

  6. My favorite exchange:

    Trapper:”Henry, you don’t go along with us.we’ll tell everyone that your brother is in jail!”
    Blake:”My brother is a warden!”
    Hawkeye:”We won’t mention that part.”

  7. Just noticed HotLips ordered Margie to her office, not to her tent. Wonder if she was originally to have a desk and office like we see her in the episode when she’s Officer of the Day.

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