Catch-22 is a 1970 American black comedy war film adapted from the novel of the same name by Joseph Heller. In creating a black comedy revolving around the "lunatic characters" of Heller's satirical anti-war novel set at a fictional Mediterranean base during World War II, director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Buck Henry (also in the cast) worked on the film script for two years, converting Heller's complex novel to the medium of film.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mike Nichols|
|Produced by||John Calley|
|Screenplay by||Buck Henry|
by Joseph Heller
|Music by||Richard Strauss|
|Edited by||Sam O'Steen|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
The cast included Alan Arkin, Bob Balaban, Martin Balsam, Richard Benjamin, Italian actress Olimpia Carlisi, French comedian Marcel Dalio, Art Garfunkel (his acting debut), Jack Gilford, Charles Grodin, Bob Newhart, Anthony Perkins, Austin Pendleton, Paula Prentiss, Martin Sheen, Jon Voight, and Orson Welles.
Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Force B-25 bombardier, is stationed on the Mediterranean base on Pianosa during World War II. Along with his squadron members, Yossarian is committed to flying dangerous missions, but after watching friends die, he seeks a means of escape.
Futilely appealing to his commanding officer, Colonel Cathcart, who continually increases the number of missions required to rotate home before anyone can reach it, Yossarian learns that even a mental breakdown is no release when Doc Daneeka, explains the "Catch-22" the Army Air Corps employs.
While most crews are rotated out after twenty-five, the minimum number of missions for this base is eventually raised to an unobtainable eighty missions; a figure resulting from Colonel Cathcart's craving for publicity. Compliance with this insane number invokes regulation 22 for which, as explained by Doc Daneeka, there is a catch: An airman would have to be crazy to fly more missions, and if he were crazy he would be unfit to fly. Yet, if an airman would refuse to fly more missions, this would indicate that he is sane, which would mean that he would be fit to fly the missions.
Another strange "catch" in the movie involves Major Major, who had recently been promoted by Brigadier General Dreedle, who didn't like the look of the name "Capt. Major" on the roll call. Capt. Major was promoted to Major Major and put in charge of a squadron, but Major didn't want to be bothered, so he told First Sgt. Towser that if someone wanted to talk to Major Major, the person had to wait in the waiting room until office hours were over, unless Major wasn't in his office. Then the visitor could go right in, but Major wouldn't be there.
Trapped by this convoluted logic, Yossarian watches as individuals in the squadron resort to unusual means to cope; Lt. Milo Minderbinder concocts elaborate black market schemes while crazed Captain "Aarfy" Aardvark commits murder to silence a girl he raped. Lieutenant Nately falls for a prostitute, Major Danby delivers goofy pep talks before every bomb run and Captain Orr keeps crashing at sea. Meanwhile, Nurse Duckett occasionally beds Yossarian.
Nately dies as a result of an agreement between Milo and the Germans, trading surplus cotton in exchange for the squadron bombing its own base. While on a pass, Yossarian shares this news with Captain Nately's Whore, who then tries to kill him.
Because of Yossarian's constant complaints, Colonel Cathcart and Lt. Colonel Korn eventually agree to send him home, promising him a promotion to Major and the awarding him a medal for the fictitious saving of Cathcart's life; the only requirement being that Yossarian agrees to "like" the Colonels and praise them when he gets home.
Immediately after agreeing to Cathcart's and Korn's plan, Yossarian survives an attempt on his life when stabbed by Nately's Whore, who had disguised herself as an airman. Once recovered, Yossarian learns from the Chaplain and Major Danby that Captain Orr's supposed death was a hoax and that Orr's repeated 'crash' landings had been a subterfuge for practicing and planning his own escape from the madness. Yossarian is informed that after his last ditching Orr had paddled a rescue raft all the way to Sweden.
Yossarian decides to ditch the deal with Cathcart, leaps out of the hospital window, takes a raft from a damaged plane and, while a marching band practices for the ceremony to award Yossarian the promotion and medal, he hops into the sea, climbs into the raft and starts paddling.
Main cast (as appearing in screen credits):
- Alan Arkin as Captain John Yossarian (Bombardier)
- Bob Balaban as Captain Orr (Bomber Pilot)
- Martin Balsam as Colonel Cathcart (Group Commander, 256th Bomb Group)
- Richard Benjamin as Major Danby (Group Operations Officer)
- Susanne Benton as Dreedle's WAC
- Marcel Dalio as Old Man in Whorehouse
- Norman Fell as First Sgt. Towser (Major Major's Desk Clerk, later Acting Squadron Commander)
- Art Garfunkel (billed Arthur Garfunkel) as Lt. Nately (Pilot)
- Jack Gilford as Dr. "Doc" Daneeka (Group Flight Surgeon)
- Charles Grodin as Captain "Aarfy" Aardvark (Navigator)
- Buck Henry as Lt. Colonel Korn (Group XO / Roman policeman)
- Bob Newhart as Captain/Major Major (Laundry Officer, later Squadron Commander)
- Austin Pendleton as Lt. Col. Moodus
- Anthony Perkins as Capt. Fr. A. T. Tappman (Chaplain)
- Paula Prentiss as Nurse Duckett (Army Medical Nurse Corps)
- Martin Sheen as 1st Lt. Dobbs (Pilot)
- Jon Voight as 1st Lt. Milo Minderbinder (Mess Officer)
- Orson Welles as Brigadier General Dreedle (Wing Commander)
The adaptation changed the book's plot. Several story arcs are left out, and many characters in the movie speak dialogue and experience events of other characters in the book. Despite the changes in the screenplay, Heller approved of the film, according to a commentary by Nichols and Steven Soderbergh included on a DVD release. According to Nichols, Heller was particularly impressed with a few scenes and bits of dialogue Henry created for the film, and said he wished he could have included them in the novel.
The pacing of the novel Catch-22 is frenetic, its tenor intellectual, and its tone largely absurdist, interspersed with brief moments of gritty, almost horrific, realism. The novel did not follow a normal chronological progression; rather, it was told as a series of different and often (seemingly, until later) unrelated events, most from the point of view of the central character Yossarian. The film simplified the plot to largely follow events in chronological order, with only one event shown in Yossarian's flashbacks.
In a long, continuous shot, in the scene where Captain Major accepts his rank as Major, becoming Major Major Major Major, the portrait in his office inexplicably changes from President Roosevelt, to Prime Minister Churchill, then to Premier Stalin.
Paramount assigned a $17 million budget to the production and planned to film key flying scenes for six weeks, but the aerial sequences required six months of camera work, resulting in the bombers flying about 1,500 hours. They appear on screen for approximately 10 minutes.
Catch-22 is renowned for its role in saving the B-25 Mitchell aircraft from possible extinction. The film's budget accommodated 17 flyable B-25 Mitchells, and one hulk was acquired in Mexico, and flown with landing gear down to the Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico filming location. The aircraft was burned and destroyed in the crash landing scene. The wreck was then buried in the ground by the runway, where it remains.
For the film, prop upper turrets were installed, and to represent different models, several aircraft had turrets installed behind the wings representing early (B-25C/D type) aircraft. Initially, the camera ships also had mock turrets installed, but problems with buffeting necessitated their removal.
Many of the "Tallmantz Air Force fleet" went on to careers in films and television, before being sold as surplus. Fifteen of the 18 bombers remain intact, including one displayed at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.
Catch-22 was not regarded as a great success with the contemporary public or critics, earning less money and critical acclaim than the film version of MASH, another war-themed black comedy released earlier the same year. In addition, the film appeared as Americans were becoming more resentful of the bitter and ugly experience of the Vietnam War, leading to a general decline in the interest of war pictures, with the notable exceptions of MASH and Patton. Critic Lucia Bozzola wrote "Paramount spent a great deal of money on Catch-22, but it wound up getting trumped by another 1970 antiwar farce: Robert Altman's MASH." Film historians and reviewers Jack Harwick and Ed Schnepf characterized it as deeply flawed, noting that Henry's screenplay was disjointed and that the only redeeming features were the limited aerial sequences.
Despite the film's commercial and critical failures, it was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 79% approval rating based on 28 reviews. The site's consensus reads: "Catch-22 takes entertainingly chaotic aim at the insanity of armed combat, supported by a terrific cast and smart, funny work from Buck Henry and Mike Nichols".
Adaptations in other media
A pilot episode for a Catch-22 television series was aired on CBS in 1973, with Richard Dreyfuss in the Captain Yossarian role. A six-part Catch 22 miniseries, produced by Hulu and Sky Italia, premiered worldwide in 2019.
There have been other films with "Catch-22" in their names, including the documentary Catch-22 (2007) and the short films Catch 22: The New Contract (2009) and Catch22 (2010), but they have been unrelated to either the book or film adaptation.
In popular culture
The anti-war song “Survivor Guilt” by punk rock band Rise Against features samples of dialog from the movie, specifically the discussion between Nately and the old man about the fall of great countries and potential fall of the USA, and their argument about the phrase “It’s better to live on your feet than die on your knees.” The same excerpts from the film previously were used by lead singer Tim McIlrath, in the song "Burden", recorded by his former band, Baxter.
Catch-22 was re-released to DVD by Paramount Home Video on May 21, 2013; a previous version was released on May 11, 2001.
- Most of the aerial footage was unused due to a directorial conflict between Nichols and Tallman, head of the Air Operations and Aerial Unit.
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