Catch-22, A Movie With Too Many Stars? Cast List Of The 1970 WWII Farce

Entertainment | September 20, 2020

Alan Arkin in 'Catch-22.' Source: IMDB

What could unite Alan Arkin, Orson Welles, Anthony Perkins, Art Garfunkel, Bob Balaban and more? Catch-22, a 1961 novel (by Joseph Heller) that caught fire as one of the great books of the 20th century. When a book goes from generational touchstone to star-studded film -- well, there's going to be a lot of hubbub around the cast list of the movie and the portrayals of the characters, many of whom are ridiculous parodies of military stereotypes. Many A-list actors, who normally played leading roles, filled out the ensemble cast of Catch-22 in supporting roles. Novelist Joseph Heller, whose work inspired the whole thing, deserves credit for writing a scenario that allowed for so many intriguing individual performances.

Catch-22 Had Stars, Stars And More Stars

Jack Gilford, Norman Fell, Alan Arkin, Anthony Perkins, and Paula Prentiss in Catch-22. Source: IMDB

Catch-22 used satire to take a stand against war in an unorthodox style. Although the book revolves around World War II, its release during the Vietnam War encouraged the anti-war movement that would last throughout the next decade. Catch-22 tells the story of US Air Force Captain John Yossarian, who is repelled by the war and tries to convince the generals he is clinically insane so he can be sent home. The “catch” is that only crazy people would be willing to fly these dangerous missions, so it’s an even better reason for him to continue. Catch-22 takes a nonlinear approach focusing on a different character’s perspective of the war for each chapter instead of following a chronological order.

Mike Nichols, famous for directing the box office hit The Graduate, adapted Catch-22 into a film in 1970. Although the movie was considered a flop by critics and die-hard fans of the novel, Nichols assembled an all-star cast of some of the most popular actors of the era making it worth a watch. These icons might not be most remembered for their roles in this film, but they provide some incredible talent.

Alan Arkin As Yossarian

Alan Arkin. Source: IMDB

Alan Arkin, who has starred in numerous major films over the last six decades, plays the part of the protagonist Captain John Yossarian. Perkins was often praised for his roles in movies that were not well received, and Catch-22 was a perfect example. Among those who absolutely loathed the film, most agreed that Arkin’s portrayal of Yossarian was spectacular and made up for what the movie was lacking. Other than Catch-22, Arkin led an impressive acting career and is one of only six actors to have been nominated for “Best Actor” for his first on-screen appearance (The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, 1966).

Bob Balaban As Orr

Bob Balaban. Source: IMDB

Catch-22, in which he played bomber pilot Captain Orr, was one of Bob Balaban's earliest films. Mike Nichols originally planned for Balaban to play Milo Minderbinder, but when he heard his voice he realized Balaban’s voice was made for Captain Orr. The part of Minderbinder went to Jon Voight, who'd recently won acclaim for playing Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy, a film in which Balaban had made his movie debut, playing the minor part of The Young Student (New York).

During Catch-22’s filming, co-star Bob Newhart pulled a prank spreading a rumor that Balaban had died.

Paula Prentiss As Nurse Duckett

Alan Arkin and Paula Prentiss. Source: IMDB

Catch-22 is largely about male soldiers serving in the war, so there weren't many roles for women. Prentiss plays a small role as Nurse Duckett, the Medical Army Nurse. This was a familiar character to the actress as she also played an army nurse in the 1962 film The Horizontal Lieutenant. She shocked the world when she exposed her completely nude body within the first ten minutes of Catch-22, one of the first times a major actress revealed full frontal nudity in a feature film.

Prentiss' husband, Richard Benjamin, was also in Catch-22, playing the role of Major Danby. The couple co-starred on the sitcom He & She, which aired on CBS in 1967-68.

Martin Balsam As Colonel Cathcart

Martin Balsam and Buck Henry. Source: IMDB

Balsam almost played himself as Colonel Chuck Cathcart since he actually served in World War II as an Air Force sergeant. When his military career finished, he pursued acting and starred in numerous films including You Know I Can’t Hear When The Water’s Running, 12 Angry Men, Psycho, and A Thousand Clowns before teaming up with the Catch-22 crew. From 1989 to 1993, his daughter Talia Balsam was, oddly enough, married to George Clooney, who created a miniseries remake of Catch-22 on Hulu in 2019. 

Art Garfunkel As Nately

Art Garfunkel and Alan Arkin. Source: IMDB

By this point, Garfunkel had already established himself as an acclaimed singer/songwriter in the folk duo Simon & Garfunkel. He then decided to try acting, and he made his on-screen debut in Catch-22. Garfunkel’s bandmate Paul Simon was originally cast in the film as well, but his character was dropped, leaving Garfunkel to spend months in Mexico filming without Simon. Simon awaited for Garfunkel’s return to New York to continue recording, but the shooting took much longer than expected, and the rising tensions are said to have led to the breakup of Simon & Garfunkel. Simon wrote "The Only Living Boy In New York" about his time in New York waiting for Garfunkel.

Anthony Perkins As Chaplain Tappman

Jon Voight and Anthony Perkins. Source: IMDB

Perkins had been an up-and-coming actor before taking the role that, for better or worse, defined his career, that of Norman Bates in Psycho. It's said that Perkins' creepy portrayal of Bates actually hurt his chances of getting the leading-man roles he'd anticipated. Along with acting, Perkins also released a few moderately successful pop music albums in the late ‘50s under the name Tony Perkins. He spent years acting in theater and eventually made his way on the big screen. Catch-22 reunited Perkins with former co-star Martin Balsam, with whom he had acted in Psycho.

Orson Welles As General Dreedle

Orson Welles. Source: IMDB

Welles is remembered as one of the greatest filmmakers in history, particularly for Citizen Kane, as well as The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady From Shanghai, Touch of Evil, and The Trial. Welles was just supposed to act in Catch-22 as Brigadier General Dreedle, but his controlling attitude made him difficult to work with. Welles originally tried to obtain the rights to the Catch-22 book to direct his own version of the film, but failed to do so. His co-stars accused Welles of trying to take the directing lead over Mike Nichols, but Nichols definitely would not let him take over.

Tags: Alan Arkin | Anthony Perkins | Art Garfunkel | Bob Balaban | Catch-22 | Martin Balsam | Orson Welles

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Brian Gilmore


Brian Gilmore has been writing about and studying everything the Internet loves since 2006 and you've probably accidentally read something he's written before, and if you haven't, you're already reading this bio, so that's a good start. He's a culture junkie ranging from Internet culture, to world history, to listening to way more podcasts than the average human being ever should. He's obsessed with the social catalysts that have caused some of the biggest movements of the last few hundred years, including everything from their effect on the pop culture of the time, to where they end up ideologically. The idea that generations have a beginning and an end is fascinating to him, and the fact that their lasting effects at any given point of their evolution can steer the direction of the entire world lead to some interesting questions, and answers, about our current culture at any given time. He also loves retrofuturism, phobias, and the fact that every pop culture icon has at least a few photos of them that make you feel like you might know them. History isn't a collection of stories as much as it is humanity trying its hardest to maintain a grasp on lessons we've learned before as a species, and that is just way too interesting to not look into a few hours a week. Oh and he used to collect Pez dispensers.