“Buck Privates” is sheer propaganda, a shameful attempt at jingoism mixed with some admittedly bright, cheery songs.
Sorry, just imagining the kinds of reviews the first Abbott and Costello movie might have received had it been released in 2012, not 1941. Back then, the film was openly embraced by a country about to enter the second World War, as well as anyone eager to see the comedy magic made by radio stars Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.
“Buck Privates” hits Blu-ray shelves this week, and kudos to the folks at Universal for bringing it back to startling life. Even casual movie fans will marvel at how pristine the newly scrubbed movie looks.
All the better to bask in the precise comic rhythms between Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The comedy duo worked for years together on radio and burlesque shows, but “Buck Privates” marked their first big-screen adventure. The medium agreed with them. They went on to make another 26 pictures together, including the 1947 sequel “Buck Privates Come Home.”
The original “Buck Privates” wasn’t conceived as a war movie. The story hinged on the draft, but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 had a profound impact on its box office grosses.
The film is essentially a series of sketches wrapped around the tale of two con men who bumble their way into the Army. We get some predictable story elements, from the smug rich kid, to the blue-collar Joe with his eyes on a pretty dame.
Abbott and Costello run through some now-classic bits involving gambling (“dice game”), dating math (“You’re forty, She’s Ten”) and other schemes meant to turn Costello into a quivering heap. And nobody dissolves better than the portly but lovable Costello.
To say Abbott and Costello were already a well-oiled machine by the time the “Buck Privates” cameras started rolling is to embrace a cliché for all its worth. Even when the material is contrived, as is often the case here, the pair manage to make the moments feel worthy of their talents. Their timing isn’t merely good, it’s almost as if the comics shared the same central nervous system.
The Andrews Sisters make regular appearances throughout the story, and while their entrances aren’t seamless, their presence is uniformly uplifting. It’s hard to deny the foot-tapping exuberance of tunes like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Song.
The Blu-ray release features a book-style jacket featuring original ads for the film, dialogue ripped straight from the movie’s best moments, and a tribute penned by director John Landis. The Blu-ray extras include “Abbott and Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld,” letting the sitcom star hail the duo’s magical big-screen career and a featurette about the film’s painstaking restoration process.