Buck Privates is a 1941 musical military comedy film that turned Bud Abbott and Lou Costello into bona fide movie stars. It was the first service comedy based on the peacetime draft of 1940. The comedy team made two more service comedies before the United States entered the war (In the Navy and Keep 'Em Flying). A sequel to this movie, Buck Privates Come Home, was released in 1947. Buck Privates is one of three Abbott and Costello films featuring The Andrews Sisters, who were also under contract to Universal Pictures at the time.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Arthur Lubin|
|Produced by||Alex Gottlieb|
|Written by||Arthur T. Horman|
The Andrews Sisters
|Music by||Charles Previn|
|Cinematography||Milton R. Krasner|
|Edited by||Philip Cahn|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$4,000,000 (USA)|
Abbott and Costello performed a radio adaptation of the film on the Lux Radio Theater on October 13, 1941.
Slicker Smith and Herbie Brown (Abbott and Costello) are sidewalk peddlers who hawk neckties out of a suitcase. They are chased by a cop (Nat Pendleton) and duck into a movie theater, not realizing that it is now being used as an Army enlistment center. Believing that they are signing up for theater prizes, they end up enlisting instead.
Meanwhile, spoiled playboy Randolph Parker (Lee Bowman) and his long-suffering valet, Bob Martin (Alan Curtis), are also enlisting at the theater. Randolph expects his influential father to pull some strings so he can avoid military service. Bob, on the other hand, takes his military obligations in stride. Tensions between the two men escalate further with the introduction of Judy Gray (Jane Frazee), a camp hostess and friend of Bob's upon whom Randolph sets his sights.
At boot camp, Slicker and Herbie are mortified to discover that Collins, the policeman who chased them, is now their drill instructor. Randolph, meanwhile, learns that his father will not use his influence on his behalf, believing that a year in the Army will do Randolph some good. Life at camp is not so bad, since The Andrews Sisters appear at regular intervals to sing patriotic or sentimental tunes, and Herbie continues to screw up with little consequence.
Although he is an expert marksman, Randolph skips an army shooting match in order to spend the afternoon with Judy. The company loses the match and a sizeable amount of money they had bet, causing them to resent him even more. However, during a war game exercise, Randolph redeems himself by saving Bob and coming up with a ruse to win the sham battle for his company. He is finally accepted by his unit and wins Bob's and Judy's admiration in the process. He learns that he's been accepted to Officer Training School but initially refuses, believing that his father's political influence was responsible. However, his commanding officer assures him that his training record (along with recommendations from others in his class) factored in the decision. Bob has also been offered an appointment to OTS, and Judy announces that she will be joining them as a hostess at the OTS training facility. Meanwhile, Smitty and Herbie eagerly accept an invitation to shoot dice with Collins, but Herbie ends up losing his pants.
- Bud Abbott as Slicker Smith
- Lou Costello as Herbie Brown
- Lee Bowman as Randolph Parker III
- Jane Frazee as Judy Gray
- Alan Curtis as Bob Martin
- Nat Pendleton as Sgt. Michael Collins
- The Andrews Sisters as Themselves
- Samuel S. Hinds as Maj. Gen. Emerson
- Harry Strang as Sgt. Callahan
- Nella Walker as Mrs. Karen Parker
- Leonard Elliott as Henry
- Shemp Howard as Chef
The famous "drill routine", where Smitty tries to get Herbie and other soldiers to march in formation, was actually a series of shorter takes that were strung together to expand the bit to more than three minutes of screen time. Abbott and Costello had been performing this sketch on stage for more than three years.
Lubin recalled the film "was very strange to shoot because they didn't go by much of a shooting script. Being burlesque comedians they just did their old routines. They would say 'This routine is "Spit in the Bush".'... And they would have to act it for me and show it what it was. The entire first script was a series of titled gags. I would just say 'We'll take a close up here and a two shot here'. I never interfered. There were was nothing I could do because these were tried and true old burlesque things that they and their forefathers and their forefathers, probably since the Greek period, had done."
Lubin recalled ""the studio was a little uncertain about how they were going to be accepted. But at the first preview the audience just died. Buck Privates was a very, very funny show. And, actually, I must say it was very little credit to the director. It consisted mainly of fabulous gags that these two wonderful guys knew from years and years of being in burlesque." They promptly requsted Lubin make a follow up, Oh, Charlie! which became Hold That Ghost.
The film received positive reviews from critics. Theodore Strauss of The New York Times called it "an hour and a half of uproarious monkeyshines. Army humor isn't apt to be subtle and neither are Abbott and Costello. Their antics have as much innuendo as a 1,000-pound bomb but nearly as much explosive force."
Variety wrote, "Geared at a zippy pace, and providing lusty and enthusiastic comedy of the broadest slapstick, Buck Privates is a hilarious laugh concoction that will click solidly in the general runs for profitable biz."
Film Daily enthused, "If ever a 'sleeper' appeared out of Hollywood, this is it ... the attraction is a grand, madcap musical which packs a whale of a wallop for the general public liking laughs galore on the frankly slapstick side."
Harrison's Reports called it "A good comedy for the masses ... Abbott and Costello definitely establish themselves as a comedy team that should win wide popularity."
Diabolique magazine wrote "It’s become fashionable in later years among Abbott and Costello aficionados to decry Buck Privates – purists complain about all those Andrews Sisters numbers and the time devoted to a “straight” love triangle. Hold That Ghost (1941) and especially Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) are more highly regarded by buffs. But I think it’s terrific – in part because of that love triangle (which is very well acted) and the Andrews Sisters, but also because Abbott and Costello were rarely so energetic. They’re in top form with brilliant routines, and Lubin treats it all with the perfect light touch."
The film received two Academy Award nominations in 1941. Hughie Prince and Don Raye were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Charles Previn was nominated for an Academy Award for Original Music Score (Scoring of a Musical Picture).
The film was one of Universal's biggest money-makers of the year, grossing over $4 million at the box office at a time when movie tickets averaged 25 cents and gross was defined as money earned by the studio; today it refers to all of the money that a film made. Universal gave director Arthur Lubin—who was under contract at a fixed salary—a $5,000 bonus and told him to start on another film, Hold That Ghost, almost immediately. Lubin directed five Abbott and Costello films in ten months.
World War II
It was re-released in 1948, and again on a double bill with Keep 'Em Flying in 1953 during the Korean War.
The Andrews Sisters perform four songs in the film: "You're a Lucky Fellow, Mr. Smith", "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", "Bounce Me, Brother, With a Solid Four", and "(I'll Be With You) In Apple Blossom Time". The composers of the first three of these songs, Don Raye and Hughie Prince, appear in the film as new recruits alongside Abbott and Costello. Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy was nominated for an Academy Award.
The studio was against using (I'll Be With You) In Apple Blossom Time because of fees demanded by the music publisher. The Andrews Sisters paid the fee themselves, and it went on to become one of their most requested songs.
"Bounce Me, Brother, With a Solid Four" also features one of the more famous Lindy Hop dance sequences of the swing era. Many dancers from Los Angeles, including Dean Collins, Jewel McGowan, Ray Hirsch, and Patty Lacey, are featured.
This film was released on VHS and Beta in 1983, then re-released on VHS in 1989 and again in 1991. It has been released three times on DVD, first as single DVD on April 1, 1998 OCLC 44543569, and later as part of two different Abbott and Costello collections. The first time, on The Best of Abbott and Costello Volume One, on February 10, 2004, and again on October 28, 2008 as part of Abbott and Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection. A Blu-ray edition was released on April 17, 2012.
In popular culture
The film is advertised on a cinema marquee in 1941.
- Bob Furmanek & Ron Palumbo, Abbott and Costello in Hollywood, Perigree Books 1991 p 42-48
- Town Called HOLLYWOOD Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 04 May 1941: C3.
- Palumbo, Ron. "Buck Privates: The Complete Filmscript." Bear Manor Media, 2013.
- Flynn, Charles; McCarthy, Todd (1975). "Arthur Lubin". In Flynn, Charles; McCarthy, Todd (eds.). Kings of the Bs : working within the Hollywood system : an anthology of film history and criticism. E. P. Dutton. p. 366.
- Strauss, Theodore (February 14, 1941). "Movie Reviews - Buck Privates". The New York Times. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
- "Buck Privates". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. February 5, 1941. p. 12.
- "Reviews of New Films". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 9 February 3, 1941.
- "'Buck Privates' with Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lee Bowman and Alan Curtis". Harrison's Reports: 27. December xx, 1941. Check date values in:
- Vagg, Stephen (14 September 2019). "The Cinema of Arthur Lubin". Diabolique Magazine.
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