Episode Spotlight: Private Charles Lamb


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

“Private Charles Lamb” (#62, 3×14)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, December 31st, 1974
Written by Sid Dorfman
Directed by Hy Averback

Capsule Summary: Radar works to save the life of a lamb airlifted from Greece for an Easter celebration. Meanwhile, Frank learns that a soldier shot himself to try to get shipped back home.

I love this episode. It’s nutty and outlandish and involves Spam, which I have enjoyed on occasion (never in the form of a lamb, however). It doesn’t bother me that Radar was somehow able to ship a lamb back to the States, which I’m sure is slightly more difficult than mailing a jeep home piece by piece.

At this point in the series, Radar hadn’t fully developed into an innocent, naive character. In various early episodes he’s seen drinking and smoking. Here he claims to be a vegetarian, despite eating meat in episodes before and after this. That might have just been a lie he told Frank. At the party he gets very, very drunk and apparently stays up all night partying.

Yet we also see a glimpse of the naive Radar when he realizes that the cook plans on cooking the lamb. It’s almost too naive, actually. “He isn’t going to kill him, is he?” Perhaps Radar was too shocked to be rational.

Frank’s B story is classic Frank. He rants and raves and accuses and demands punishment for others only to slink off at the first sign that he himself might get in trouble. It’s unlikely the military would have actually charged Frank with impersonating a priest. He never claimed to be one. He could argue he had a perfectly legitimate reason to be in Father Mulcahy’s tent. And of course, after all his ranting and raving about the debauchery and degradation of the Greek Easter celebration, he proceeds to get drunk and enjoy it himself. What a fink.

The Spam lamb

The famous Spam lamb is a little disturbing to look at, especially the close-up shot that shows a little tongue. We never see the tongue again. People must have enjoyed it, though, because at least half of it seems to be missing the morning after the party.

There’s a famous photograph of Radar holding the lamb in front of the Swamp. We never see that in the episode, suggesting it was a staged promotional photo.

Is that Igor asleep atop a table near the coffee dispenser in the Mess Tent the morning after the party?

I never thought about it until rewatching this episode the other day, but are rabbits, skunks, and whatever other animals Radar has in his menagerie native to South Korea?

Margaret does not appear in this episode but is mentioned by name. Neither Klinger nor Father Mulcahy are in this episode either, although the good father is mentioned by name as well.

26 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Private Charles Lamb”

  1. Great episode. The one thing that makes me laugh each time I watch this is seeing Trapper trying to open the lids on the jars brought in for the feast. He picks up one and tries to open it. Doesn’t work. He tilts the jar the other way and tries, no success. He puts it down and picks up another one to open. That one doesn’t work either. He then puts it down and tries to break off a piece of bread that Hawkeye is holding and struggles with that one too.

    It’s just too darn funny!!

  2. This classic episode is a marvelous example of what made Season 3 such a fun season! The writing and characters had certainly had time to solidify by this point, but the comedy and humor was still upfront and top notch!

    The party scene is hilarious, especially how a drunken Henry shrugs off the spam lamb, then later falls face-first into the platter. It recently occured to me that Henry seems to be just as big a boozer as Hawkeye and Trapper were, yet he somehow always managed to get really drunk a lot quicker than them. Then again, Hawkeye and Trapper are clearly functioning alcoholics, Henry’s more of a town drunk kind of drunk. There’s some odd continuity with the party I’ve recently noticed too: Jennifer Davis’s dress goes back and forth between being dark blue and light blue.

    And yes, I do believe Radar’s line about being a vegetarian was just a joke — I think even Radar was wise enough to know it’s easy to pull the wool over Frank’s eyes. I read somewhere that Radar having a skunk wasn’t very likely or accurate, as skunks are apparently more digenious to first world countries.

    1. I also forgot to mention another little nugget of visual humor: it’s been brought up before, but when the Greeks deliver their banquet, notice that Trapper fails to open a single jar of anything.

  3. Season 3 is my favorite. I believe the actors and writers had fully grasped the characters at this point.

    Private Charles Lamb has many great moments but I love Henry’s dumbfounded look “I gave a pardon to a sheep!?” The scene where Radar gets Henry to sign the paperwork is terrific as well. Henry asks if the emergency leave is for a death in the family to which Radar sheepishly responds “almost.”

  4. And, it’s amazing how, just 2 seasons before, Radar was drooling over some COOKED Leg of Lamb (with mint jelly) in “The Long John Flap”.

    1. Of course, Radar may be like a lot of people and not think of the fact that “store bought meat” comes from animals that need to be slaughtered. They think it magically appears.

  5. One of the finest MASH episodes ever, a perfect balance of A and B stories highlighting Radar’s innocence and Frank’s finkitude. The writers were firing on all cylinders at this period. Cap it all off with Trapper whistling Misirlou right at the end there as we pan across the remains of an apparently epic debauch and we’ve got an episode without a dud moment.

  6. Does anyone know what the Greek truck driver’s serial number was? I can’t translate Greek into English.

  7. Can anybody tell me what tune Trapper is whistling in the finale of the party scene. I think it is a Morriconie tune, from a Sergio leonie film made after the Korean War

      1. Yes! It was a traditional Greek song that was transformed into a scorching guitar opus by the legendary Dick Dale in the 1960’s and cemented into pop-culture immortality by Quentin Tarantino, who used it as the opening song in “Pulp Fiction”

    1. The tune is Misirlou. It was written in 1927 Athens. It has been re-orchestrated a few times. A version is in Pulp Fiction and Black Eyed Peas did a version a few years ago.

  8. I loathe this episode. Logic was thrown out the window in favor of naive and cute.

    We already know Radar has no compunctions about eating lamb (“with mint jelly?”). And the argument that this was a live lamb is specious; Radar was raised on a farm, where killing animals for food is routine.

    Strike one.

    Now. How does Radar get the lamb from Korea to an Iowa farm?
    Crate it up? With air holes? Enclose food and water? How to keep the water from turning over? Get the crate from the MASH to a military airbase and on a transport plane. We will assume Radar’s knowledge of military red tape has taken care of getting the crate on the shipping manifest, and that no one is yet suspicious of loading a live animal on a military plane.

    I must digress a moment. This is the early fifties, the transport plane will be prop driven, and for safety and refueling will have layovers in Japan and Hawaii en route to California; the total trip will probably be three to four days. Will the animal have enough food and water for that time (not to mention, again, how to keep the water from spilling); or perhaps Radar has contacts along the way to check on it. Neither option is logical, but let’s assume the animal arrives safely in California.

    How does it get to Iowa? It is doubtful Radar’s mom and Uncle Ed can afford to have a truck pick it up and deliver it, so let’s assume they will drive to California to get it.
    Digressing again, it is the early fifties, the interstate highway system hasn’t even been started yet; there was no auto production in the US during WWII, I doubt Radar’s family could afford a new (1946 or later) car so most likely their car is at least twelve years old; speed limits are typically around 45mph, but most people, especially in rural areas, drove more slowly. So, Radar’s mom and Uncle Ed take off on a round trip from Iowa to California in their old car on state and local roads driving perhaps 35-40mph, stopping periodically to eat and sleep. Who is tending their farm in their absence? Can they afford this trip (gas, food, motels, etc.), for one lamb?

    They get to California and must convince the military airbase security, in wartime conditions, that they need access to get a crate shipped from Korea.

    This entire scenario is so incredulous that it borders on complete fantasy. Possible? Yes. Probable? Absolutely not.

    Strike Two.

    It is well known how everyone hates the typical mess hall food; anything fresh – meat, vegetables, eggs, whatever – is prized. Yet no one seems irritated, much less mad, that Radar has selfishly stolen their fresh meat and they are again relegated to Spam.

    Strike Three.

    This episode is horrible.

  9. I love this episode. We were eating dinner tonight at a Greek restaurant and I explained to my 20 something year old sons about the Oedipal complex…where you like your mom’s cooking more than eating out!

      1. Yep. I told my wife that was him. She had to replay the scene and then said “his nose isn’t big enough”. I knew it was him.

  10. I love the ever changing spam lamb! It has olives for eyes and what looks like a piece of bell pepper for a mouth & changes to mashed potato eyes and a red mouth then back to olives all in one scene!

  11. Radar’s vegetarian comment was definitely not true.

    He said he was taking the vegetables to the movies “because I’m a vegetarian and I won’t touch popcorn”.

    The point of this scene was to make Frank look stupid, given he didn’t realise that corn was also a vegetable.

  12. probably my face scene is Trapper and Hawkeye’s reactions to seeing edible food. with the slop they eat they thought they’d probably never see something like that again

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