Tuesday, April 12, 2016

OVP: Buck Privates (1941)

Film: Buck Privates (1941)
Stars: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lee Bowman, Jane Frazee, Alan Curtis
Director: Arthur Lubin
Oscar History: 2 nominations (Scoring of a Musical Picture, Original Song-"Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy")
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars

It's rare after all of the movies I've seen, but occasionally I have "moments" with classic movies where I get to see a famous film star for the very first time in a picture, and that was true recently with me catching Buck Privates.  I remember growing up my Dad playing "Who's on First?" on an old radio in our guest bedroom for my brother and I (for the record, I was born in the 1980's not the 50's, but my parents were super cool and somehow would find ways to let us listen to old radio programs and radio theater), but I had never actually seen Abbott and Costello in anything other than still photos (and quite frankly, even then confused them with Laurel and Hardy), so imagine my delight when I saw their names splash in front of Buck Privates as the credits began to roll.  Thankfully I was in the perfect mood for the film and a slapstick comedy, and Buck Privates didn't disappoint.  While silly and predictable, the comedy is a riot, Abbott and Costello have a compelling and marvelous chemistry, and the Andrew Sisters truly random cameos make for a splendid way to spend 84 minutes of your life.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film's plot isn't really necessary, of course, with Abbott and Costello playing peddlers who randomly end up in the army, and of course they have trouble with authority.  Like some of the side stories in the Marx Brothers pictures, we have a traditional love triangle happening between a snooty heir Randolph (Bowman), his valet Bob (Curtis), and the gorgeous camp hostess Judy (Frazee) to break up the series of gags from Abbott and Costello, but this proves largely inconsequential, though I kind of liked how they ended their story with the romance actually continuing as all three are headed to officer's training by the end of the film.  However, you're here not for the romance but for the comedy, and both of the main men (particularly Costello), deliver here with constant barbs against their commanding officer (who tried to arrest them earlier in the film when he was in the police force) and a series of slapstick scenes that are full of glee.

Even better than Abbott-and-Costello, however, is weirdly the Andrews Sisters.  For those unfamiliar, the three sisters appeared in 17 motion pictures (a record for a musical group) in the 1940's, frequently as themselves, and were enormous superstars in the decade, to the point where their records were smuggled into Germany even while the United States was at war with the country.  The film features four original songs of the group, including the flawless "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" which was nominated for an Oscar.  If you've never seen it, this is the best I can find on YouTube, but please click over and expect to proclaim "now THAT was music!"  I'd deduct a few points from the scoring nomination because the score is relatively short and nothing ever equals the Oscar-nominated song (though the number with the Lindy Hop comes close), but overall this is quibbling just for future reference in an OVP writeup-this is genuinely a delight.

The film's plot is thin and so I don't have too much more to say, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on this picture.  Is this a movie that is indicative of the rest of Abbott-and-Costello's canon, because if so I am going to be renting more pretty soon?  Also, I need to confess that I've watched that "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" clip at least three times since starting this review-it's so addicting!  Share your comments on Abbott-and-Costello, The Andrews Sisters, and Buck Privates below!

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