This is one of the greatest war movies ever made! Most war movies either glamorize war or give you a picture of how much like hell it is. In many ways the greatest war movie ever made was All Quiet on the Western Front and every movie since has been indebted to that classic. However, what makes Catch-22 so great is that it is a comedy! We get to laugh at the insanity of war.
Mike Nichols superbly directed this cinematic adaptation of Joseph Heller’s scathing black comedy, a tale of a small group of flyers in the Mediterranean in 1944. There are winners and losers, opportunists and survivors. Separately and together they are nervous, frightened, often profane and sometimes pathetic. Almost all are a little crazy. It all adds up to an anti-war satire of epic proportions. The cast is superb. Alan Arkin plays Captain Yossarian who knows that every time he flies another mission he is likely to get killed. The commander in charge keeps increasing the number of missions they have to fly before they get to go home. This drives Yossarian over the top. He goes to the doctor and demands that he be declared insane so that he doesn’t have to fly any more missions. The doctor, a very practical man, agrees that many of the fliers are going insane. And, any one of the insane pilots who came to him and said they want out would qualify as being insane….except…if they did recognize that what they were doing---flying to their death---was insane behavior, then that recognition would mean that they really are not insane! That is catch-22.
Buck Henry not only wrote the screenplay but also has a role in the movie as the second in command of the base. Others in this fine film include Anthony Perkins as the confused and inept military Chaplin, Martin Balsam as the base commander, Orson Welles as an incompetent occasionally visiting general, Art Garfunkel (of the famous duet Simon and Garfunkel) as one of the flyers, Bob Newhart, Richard Benjamin, Martin Sheen, and Jon Voight as Milo who sets up a trading company designed to make them all rich by the end of the war (he trades their silk parachutes and anything else he can get his hands on to make money---his activities loudly shout out that war is all about making money…Vice President Cheney and Halliburton are excellent examples that this is still one of the guiding principles of warfare).
Messages are loud and clear: War is an exercise designed to make money for an elite few even if a lot of others have to die in the process. Therefore, war is an insane activity for those who actually have to do the dirty work of killing others. This message is driven home with satire. People often learn important messages more effectively if you get them to laugh rather than to get them to cry.
Director Notes: Mike Nichols started out as one-half of the successful and hilarious comedy team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May. He was born in 1931 and is the long time husband of Diane Sawyer. He started directing films with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1966 and has directed some of Hollywood’s finest films including The Graduate, Silkwood, Postcards from the Edge, and Wit to name just a few of the ones I would recommend you watch.