During the Second World War, Captain Yossarian (Alan Arkin) is being sent on bombing raids in Italy. He doesn't want to go - you have to be mad to want to go. You can't be sent on bombing missions if you're mad, only a sane person would not want to go, and if you're sane, then you're fit for the bombing missions. And that's Catch-22.
How do you film one of the most brilliant books of the 20th Century? That's the problem Mike Nichols and screenwriter Buck Henry tackled with this patchy but often excellent adaptation of Joseph Heller's blackly comic novel. The film sets out to show the madness of war, and to some extent succeeds, even if it does feel like watching edited highlights from the book.
Catch-22 takes the form of memories running through Yossarian's head after he is stabbed in the opening scene. This gives the film a surreal, at times nightmarish quality, where one sequence will run into another. After a while threads begin to emerge: characters are dying off (although not as many as in the book), the men running the war care little for saving lives and are more intent on taking them, and Yossarian has been deeply scarred by an incident with an injured pilot that continues to haunt him.
Heading a superlative, ensemble cast, Arkin is first rate as Yossarian, deftly portraying his humanity and exasperation. Compare Yossarian's instinct for self-preservation with the selfishness and ruthless, entrepreneurial skill of Milo (Jon Voight) who sees the war as a business opportunity, even to the extreme of bombing the American airbase in return for a deal with the Nazis.
The few sane people (such as Anthony Perkins' chaplain) are too often shouted down by the insane ones, too much of the humour comes across as unsubtle, and the anti-war sentiment is nothing new (although timely in the Vietnam War era of 1970), but the strong characters and vivid moments all add up to a worthy attempt at tailoring a classic book for the screen. I'd rather watch this than Saving Private Ryan, anyway.
German-born director in America who was part of a successful comedy act with Elaine May. He then turned to theatre and film, directing sharply observed dramas and comedies like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, Catch-22 and the controversial Carnal Knowledge.
After the flop Day of the Dolphin, his output became patchier, but The Fortune, Silkwood, Biloxi Blues, Working Girl, Postcards from the Edge, Wolf and Charlie Wilson's War all have their merits. On television, he directed the award-winning miniseries Angels in America.