Thursday, July 7, 2016

Buck Privates

Year 8, Day 189 - 7/7/16 - Movie #2,390

BEFORE: Well, I don't really consider this a follow-up, but I watched Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin in the army a couple weeks ago, and then I saw Gary Cooper get drafted, so tonight it's Abbott and Costello's turn.  I had this following right after "Sergeant York" for the longest time, but then I saw the way to shoehorn the recently-acquired Jimmy Stewart films into the sequence.  Samuel Hinds carries over from "You Can't Take It With You", from a member of the family of hipsters to a major general, now that's range. 

Things have been way too serious around here lately, what with talk of propaganda and socialism, it's time to get back to simple comedies for a while.  

THE PLOT:  Bud and Lou enlist in the army in order to escape being hauled off to jail, and soon find themselves in basic training.

AFTER: Just like with Jerry Lewis, so far I've included the odd Abbott & Costello film in my chains, but I haven't done a proper chain of their films yet - but the problem so far has been that some of their films are ideal for Halloween ("Hold that Ghost", "Abbott & Costello Meet Jekyll & Hyde"), but I'm nowhere near time for horror films yet, not even comedic ones.  So I'm going to split up the Abbott & Costello films, watch five of them here in July, and save two for October.  I can only have one lead-in and one lead-out from any horror chain, anyway.  

(When this chain is done, though, I've still got a problem looming about how best to fill the space between mid-August and early October.  I guess when I get back from San Diego I'll take a closer look at what's left on the list at that point and hopefully find some connections I haven't noticed yet.  I think I've got the start of a plan.)

It's another film released in 1941, months before the U.S. was involved in World War II, but still I have to wonder if films like this played a part in either getting Americans ready for the idea, or pushing the country toward a wartime mentality.  There are songs in this film like "You're a Lucky Fellow, Mr. Smith" that really glorify the process of joining the army.  Sure, how lucky all these soldiers are to be going off to war, especially since many of them won't be coming back.  And tunes like "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" (yes, this is where it first appeared) just make the army sound like so much fun, with buglers spicing up the morning reveille call - what a fine time!

Sorry, I guess I've still got some lingering cynicism after watching the propaganda of "Mrs. Miniver" and "Sergeant York".  Hey, it's 75 years from 1941 this year, it's not really that coincidental that I'm focusing on films from the start of World War II.

To me, it's almost a NITPICK POINT that the Andrews Sisters sang "Eight to the Bar" in a couple of their songs - I doubt that most people listening now, or even back then, would know what that means.  I think you'd have to be a musician to know that this means to play eight notes in the span of four beats (assuming four beats in a measure, or "bar") - so essentially, double-time, or just "play faster".  But they keep repeating the phrase as if everyone listening knows what it means, and that sort of bugs me.  Later in this film they sing "Bounce Me Brother With a Solid Four", and I wonder if that's another title that confuses non-musicians, who might think the singer's asking to be hit with a piece of wood or something.

But I digress - let's get back to the film.  This is a movie from early in Abbott & Costello's film careers, so they're not playing the leads here, just the comic relief.  I guess the movie company wasn't sure if they could carry a picture - so the main story is a love triangle between a rich man and his valet, who both get drafted at the same time.  They both fall for Judy, a hostess at the training camp - the valet seems to have known her longer, before the draft, while the rich man tries to woo her away.  The triangle never really gets resolved, as the two men settle their differences during a training exercise, and are both recommended for officer training, as Judy moves on to be a hostess for officers.  It sort of seems like she's hedging her bets, she doesn't choose between the two men with war looming, which increases her chances of having a potential husband after the war.  (Too cynical?)

But I will count it as a NITPICK POINT that Costello's character sings a song about becoming a captain in the army, which seems like an odd turn-around for a character who didn't want to enlist in the first place.  And while I'm at it, much is made at the start of the film about the institution of the draft, but  Slicker and Herbie (Bud and Lou) enlist to escape the cops - but wasn't the recruitment center in the middle of processing drafted men?  They kept asking each recruit for his draft number, but those two guys didn't have numbers!  What gives?

Another NITPICK POINT, the police officer who nearly arrests them in the opening scenes later becomes their drill instructor, Sgt. Collins.  How did he leave the force and work his way up to sergeant, all in just a matter of days, while Slicker and Herbie were being processed for basic training?  Obviously it gives them a constant comic nemesis, but I just don't know if the army promotions worked that way.

There's some wordplay here, but nothing on the level of their famous "Who's on First?" routine (which I coincidentally had to explain to the kids in the office yesterday...).  Our comic heroes mistake the army induction center for a movie theater, and when they ask the "usher" what movie is playing, he says it's "You're In the Army Now".  And when they walk in and someone asks them, "draftee?", Lou replies, "No, it's quite comfortable in here."  I admit I had to laugh. 

Also starring Bud Abbott (last seen in "Jack and the Beanstalk"), Lou Costello (ditto), Lee Bowman (last seen in "Cover Girl"), Alan Curtis (last seen in "High Sierra"), Jane Frazee, Nat Pendleton (last seen in "Another Thin Man"), The Andrews Sisters, Harry Strang, with cameos from Shemp Howard (also last seen in "Another Thin Man"), Selmer Jackson (last seen in "Sergeant York"), Eddie Hall. 

RATING: 5 out of 10 double malteds

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