"Battle Circus" is interesting to compare to the TV series M*A*S*H. On TV, the camp of the medicos was a little too clean, and the doctors, especially Hawkeye, were always a little too ready with a joke. The one-liners never stopped at the 4077th, and there were few characters, especially in the last few years, who were not ever-ready to spew out endless dreary puns galore. Battle Circus is interesting in that it shows, I imagine, a more sober and realistic view of life in a MASH unit.
Because they are located near the ever shifting front of the Korean conflict, the MASH must constantly move with it. This brings out the greatest strength of this film: a large number of scenes in this movie are dedicated to showing the teamwork and bee-hive like energy of the grunts of the unit, taking tents down, putting tents up, moving the hospital here, then to there, often through or frighteningly near enemy fire, all the while dedicated to keeping their patients alive. The many minutes of film spent on these thankless and glory-less activities increases our appreciation of the realities of the soldiers' daily routine.
Here, there are few luxuries (unlike on the TV MASH, where many of the characters seem to have as many possessions as the Howells did on Gilligan's Island). Conditions in the personal tents of the characters are especially Spartan. Bogie's only possession seems to be a bottle of Scotch. When there is no time to bring everything with them, the soldiers burn whatever they must leave behind. Again, the starkness of existence suggests to this viewer a wonder that not all of the MASH members didn't go insane on a regular basis.
Now I am not a June Allyson fan, and while the romance between Bogie and her is not all that interesting or convincing, it is not a complete waste of film either. I don't believe I have ever seen Humphrey Bogart smile and laugh and be so un-pessimistic in a film before, and this is quite entertaining (Bogie even falls in the mud, losing his dignity, and laughs about it with June Allyson! Yikes!). There is no such thing as useless celluloid when Bogie is on screen. However, these episodes of light-hearted Bogie are surrounded by plenty of periods of brooding and cynical Bogie, so he is not completely out of character.
Robert Keith's colonel with the high-pitched voice complements Bogie's doctor very nicely in their scenes together. Keenan Wynn is also a terrific surprise; I usually find his raspy voice and abrasive characters unpleasant, but here he plays perhaps the most likable character (a can-do sergeant) in the whole film. His affection for a wounded Korean boy has the potential to be hokey, but he pulls it off very nicely.
One more MASH comparison. Bogie's character, like Hawkeye Pierce, is a woman-chaser and a man who wants no more authority than necessary, as well as a first rate surgeon. But unlike Hawkeye, who is afraid of guns, Humphrey Bogart is as willing to pick up a rifle and fire at the enemy as he is top pick up a scalpel. A real man's man.
Don't expect Gone With the Wind, and you will find this a quite interesting and quirky little war film.