Episode Spotlight: The Price of Tomato Juice


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

“The Price of Tomato Juice” (#87, 4×15)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, December 16th, 1975
Written by Larry Gelbart & Gene Reynolds
Directed by Gene Reynolds

Capsule Summary: Radar tries to convince Frank to requisition tomato juice for Colonel Potter, but Frank refuses to help unless he gets something he wants, and things quickly start to spiral out of control.

“The Price of Tomato Juice” reminds me of an earlier episodes: “For Want of a Boot” from Season 2. Both feature a character wheeling and dealing in an attempt to get something. Radar wants tomato juice in this episode; Hawkeye wants a new pair of boots in “For Want of a Boot.” The humor in these episodes comes from the convoluted maze of favors and requests involved. Personally, I think the concept works much better in “For Want of a Boot.” That’s partly because Hawkeye going to great lengths trying to get a pair of boots is simply more amusing than Radar trying to do something nice for Colonel Potter.

The two episodes have very different endings. Radar is ultimately successful in acquiring tomato juice while Hawkeye fails to procure a new pair of boots. But there’s a twist ending to “The Price of Tomato Juice.” Poor Radar. All his hard work for nothing.

(Then there’s “The Longjohn Flap” from Season 1. Rather than want something, Hawkeye has something that others want: his longjohns. They change hands time and again before making their way back to their rightful owner.)

Sometimes, it seems like Radar can do anything as company clerk. Then there are episodes like “The Price of Tomato Juice” in which he can’t get his hands on tomato juice without a signed requisition form. We don’t even see Radar trying to trade for tomato juice with other outfits.We do see him try to slip a two day pass for Klinger past Colonel Potter. That sort of thing often worked with Colonel Blake but not Potter. He pays closer attention to what he’s asked to sign.

Contrast Margaret’s excitement about General Barker’s soiree with Colonel Potter’s disgust at being asked to arrange for one of his nurse’s to spend a weekend with a general in Seoul. Then wonder exactly what kind of wacky shenanigans Klinger got up to when he went to Seoul instead of Margaret. Klinger tells Potter and Radar he had “a million laughs” with General Barker.

Finally, what’s with the recurring gag about flies in camp? We’re told B.J. is insect officer but he never does anything about the infestation of larvae.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode The Price of Tomato Juice showing Radar and Colonel Potter

“Kindness is never for nothing, son.”

General Bradley Barker is referred to but not seen in this episode. This isn’t same General Barker who appeared in “Requiem for a Lightweight” and “Chief Surgeon Who?” back in Season 1. Margaret tells Frank she knows two General Barkers.

There are some fans who believe this episode includes a blooper when Igor tells Frank his name is Maxwell (the last name of the actor who plays Igor, Jeff Maxwell). In a December 2002 post to the alt.tv.mash Usenet group, Jeff Maxwell offered the following explanation:

It was not a “slip up,” I spoke the words exactly as written in the script. If anybody made a mistake, it was a writer.

Likewise, when asked in December 2000 if Radar’s “What the hell is that?” line upon seeing Hawkeye swat a fly with the handle of his atomizer handle was ad libbed, Larry Gelbart had this to say:

Nope. Just the sign of a good actor doing his job, making his scripted words sound improvisational.

Radar refers to a younger brother who died, the second and last time he mentions having a brother on M*A*S*H. He also spoke about a brother in “Officer of the Day” during Season 3. In at least two other episodes, Radar mentions having a sister as well. Otherwise, Radar is an only child.

Hawkeye reads out a headline about the Empire State Building selling for $20 million dollars. The iconic New York City skyscraper actually sold for $34 million in May 1951.

10 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: The Price of Tomato Juice”

  1. This is a pretty good episode and shows how awesome of a character Radar is. I always felt bad for him that after all that work, Potter can’t even drink it. I’m sure eventually Potter found out how hard Radar tried to get it for him though.

    I always assumed Igor just said a false name so that he wouldn’t actually get in trouble. He figured Frank was stupid enough not to figure it out anyways, especially after the “Apples don’t grow on trees you know” line (which is hilarious btw!) It is interesting he said Maxwell though.

    They’ve had the fly gag in a couple episodes but this one definitely seemed to take it a bit far. I guess the flies could be pretty bad in a camp out there in the summer with no air conditioning. You’d think the Army would provide some supplies to help with that though, considering they’re a hospital.

  2. This is one of a foursome of episodes from Season 4 I really like, along with “The Gun,” “Mail Call Again,” and “Dear Ma.”

    An interesting thing about this episode is that it appears that Radar had gotten used to Potter rather quickly, considering we see earlier in the season that he still had a lot of discomfort around him.

    One thing I am curious about though: is there a specific ingredient in tomato juice that Potter is allergic to that’s absent from other tomato products, such as a ketchup, which Potter has no problem consuming?

    I kind of which the bug subplot was handled a little bit better: the camp often talked about their rat problems and such, but not too much about bugs with the exception of occasional mentions of flies (usually when mistaken for raisins), or a time Hawkeye writes to his father about bunking with cockroaches and silverfish.

    Finally, what was up with Margaret while working with Potter in O.R.? Why does she sound like she’s sucking up to him the whole time? Even before he mentions General Barker? I just don’t get it.

  3. Speaking as someone who has never had an allergy that Im aware of, I wonder how believable is it that Potter would just forget he’s so allergic to something basic like tomato juice? It certainly seems to play into the picture of Potter that Frank was painting with his “Potter has to be glued to the latrine” line.

    1. I have quite a few allergies and sometimes it is hard to keep up. I’ve forgotten a few times that I’m allergic to pesto because it’s not something I eat very often.
      One of the things I’m allergic to is fresh pineapple but I can eat tinned ones ok, something to do with an enzyme being present in the fresh stuff that’s removed when tinned.

  4. I like all of the let’s-make-a-deal episodes, and this one might be my favorite. Lots of laughs throughout, plus it gave me my screen name on this site..

    The only glaring flaw in the episode is that Potter specifically remembers the last time he had tomato juice (at Fort Dix), but he doesn’t remember his reaction to it. But of course, if he had remembered, the episode would have gone nowhere.

    Frank is a hoot throughout this one, from his yelling at Igor to his selfish denial of the request (the shower scene is hilarious) to his drunken conversation in the officers club (“The drinks are on me everybody!”).

    I like the fly gags. BJ doesn’t seem to take his role as insect officer very seriously. Maybe the point the writers were trying to make is that it was hopeless to try to control the bugs.

    Finally, the reaction of the general’s driver to Klinger was really silly, but it was funny. According to IMDB, the general’s driver was played by the late character actor James Jeter. I’ve seen his face in a thousand different shows and movies, but never realized what his name was.

  5. Could some one please explain Hawkeye’s “GO YALE!” joke yelled at BJ’s drowning fly?

  6. Shows why Season 4 is strong. It’s difficult to name my favourite season, but 4 would have to be up there.
    I’ve seen a few comments about people not liking these types of episodes when wheeler-dealering is needed, either to gain a precious resource – I would include Adam’s Ribs, The Long John Flap, Want Of A Boot (correct title?) in this sub-group – or to get one over the military – again, …Ribs is an overlap, Tuttle, and so on.
    But this is probably my favourite class of episode.

  7. I don’t mind this episode but I have to say I find it a bit laboured and forced and unlike the gem that is “For Want Of A Boot”, it does seem to be a retread of the earlier one.

    When watching the episode the overwhelming reaction I have is that “Maxwell” is an error, but apparently that his what was scripted and it was an error on the part of the script writer (see the Dec 2002 post above). However, the script writers in this case were Reynolds and Gelbart themselves, so I can’t see why they would have made such a basic error. It was also directed by Reynolds, so go figure.

    By the way, it may or may not be coincidental that Jeff Maxwell was not listed in the end credits despite having dialogue in this episode.

    I agree that it strains credibility that Potter, having downed a glass of tomato juice, would not remember why it affected him and had to wait until * after * Radar gets him another glass before bothering to tell anybody. I can’t quite work out the time frame of the episode but it would be up to a week. And it is also the first time that a “requisition officer” is mentioned at the 4077th and boy what a coincidence it was Frank Burns.

    The other aspect that strains credibility is that the plot revolves around Margaret being convinced that Frank is proposing to her and feeling that all her dreams about living with Frank for ever are coming true.

    This is straight after (in broadcast order) “Mail Call Again” and two episodes after “Soldier of the Month”, in both of which cases Frank totally and spectacularly trashed his relationship with Margaret and Margaret saw him for the time wasting buffoon he was and verbally laid into him in no uncertain terms.

    So to believe that none of that happened for the plotting purposes of this tomato juice episode does not work for me. It is almost as if the writers (who I would point out again were Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart) simply were not aware of character continuity for Margaret during season 4.

    … and why is Margaret simultaneously within this episode looking forward to a weekend away with “Brad” in a lustful fashion, and tosses off Frank Burns to do so, then a few minuets later is all over Burns to marry him. It simply makes Margaret look either schizophrenic or a complete idiot.

    I am sorry to say that the episode plays like a season 1 episode by an outside writer – funny enough when taken in isolation, but simply jarring when looked at broadly as season 4 of MASH develops.

  8. Radar’s quest for the juice is pretty stupid, but this episode has some good laughs. Reminds me of some sillier early episodes. Love how they send Klinger to Seoul in place of Hot Lips. wish we got a scene of that nonsense with Barker and the Senator.

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