Oh, Henry! On The Film Version Of “Catch-22” (1970)

Catch-22 (film)

Catch-22 (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I dislike Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, which never should have been made into a movie.  It was, though, by Mike Nichols and half-talented scenarist Buck Henry.

About Nichols, Stanley Kauffmann was correct:  “at whatever level, he was born to direct,” and the material in The Graduate and Carnal Knowledge was worthy of him.  But the misguided, sophomoric stuff in the Catch-22 screenplay is not.  (Not that Nichols’s direction is mistake-free; note the use of the 2001 music by Richard Strauss.)

Really, the Heller novel has little sophistication—not none, but little.  What sophistication, what thoughtfulness, is there, however, hasn’t been passed on to the film, because I don’t believe Henry knew how to do it.  Spare me Heller’s Snowden episode, but in the movie it’s no good at all.  Neither are the caricatures from Orson Welles, Bob Newhart, and Buck Henry himself, and the comedy is sometimes too raffish.  A fantasy scene with full frontal female nudity is blatant and unnecessary.  I’m glad Catch-22 did not begin a veritable decline in Nichols’s oeuvre.


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