45th Anniversary of Sometimes You Hear the Bullet

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The iconic M*A*S*H episode “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet” celebrates its 45th anniversary today. It originally aired on Sunday, January 28th, 1973. The 17th episode of Season 1, it was a pivotal episode for the series. For the first time, M*A*S*H offered viewers comedy mixed with drama. The powerful Hawkeye/Henry scene features one of the show’s most memorable pieces of dialogue:

Henry: “Look, all I know is what they taught me at command school. There are certain rules about a war, and rule number one is: young men die. Rule number two is: doctors can’t change rule number one.

In January 1999, Larry Gelbart wrote a lengthy post about “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet” for the alt.tv.mash newsgroup. Here it is, in full:

Somehow, over the years, I have come to remember this as the seventh episode of the first season. It was, as some you may know a lot better than me, the eighteenth. The episodes that preceded it were a mixed lot. Some good, some less so. What was missing was a certain tone and perhaps a certain courage. The ideas for the shows came from several sources: from research, from original thoughts that occured [sic] me, or Gene Reynolds, or from both of us. Not a lot of outside writers (there was no staff – I was the staff) contributed to the idea pool. The show was in its infancy and quite unlike any others that were on the air, so it was difficult for free lance writers to key into us.

The original idea for Bullet came from a writer named Carl Kleinschmitt dealt with a civilian friend of Hawkeye’s, a writer, covering the war as fighting man so he could best tell realistically what going through battle was all about – and paying for that search for truth with his life.

That, in itself would have probably made a successful episode. Gene and I wanted to add an another element, however. We wanted something constructive to come from the experience, wanted the man’s death to something. We did not want him to be just one more war casualty.

To Kleinschmitt’s original outline, we added the character and storyline of the underage Marine who enlisted to prove his manhood, using the experience of Hawkeye’s friend’s to prevent the death of the boy.

Besides enriching the episode, the succes [sic] of the resultant script emboldened us to dig a little deeper with all subsequent scripts.

I wish it been the seventh episode. Who knows what the first might have been.

Best,

Larry G.

You’ll find my Episode Spotlight review for “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet” here.

For those of you who can remember watching the episode when it first aired 45 years ago, what are your recollections? Were you impressed? Did you realize what it meant for the future of M*A*S*H? For everyone else, does “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet” rank among your Top 10 best episodes? Does it still pack a punch 45 years later? Hit the comments with your thoughts.

One Reply to “45th Anniversary of Sometimes You Hear the Bullet”

  1. Everyone always seems to love this episode, and while it’s definitely a decent episode, and Hawkeye and Henry’s exchange is good, I don’t consider it to be amazing or anything.

    I think part of my issue with it is just the focus on Hawkeye, yet again. Anytime I watch MASH and there’s an episode that heavily focuses on Hawkeye, I tend to pay a little less attention because of “Hawk Fatigue” Alan Alda’s acting in the scene with Henry was also pretty terrible IMO. McClean did an awesome job in that scene, but Alan over acted it or seemed to be trying too hard to be genuine. It comes off as too fake to me.

    Definitely not in my top 10 episodes, or 20, or probably even 30, 40, or 50.

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