Bud Abbott (1895-1974) and Lou Costello (1906-59) were comedy giants for two decades, wowing the public on screen from 1940 to 1956 and on TV from 1951 to 1953. They were the true successors to Laurel and Hardy. "Buck Privates" was their second film, and the one that propelled them onto the A list. They followed this with nearly 40 films, the best of which were such classics as "Hold that Ghost" (1941) and "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). The "A & C Meet..." films alone spawned 7 films. By the mid 50s the comedic style of Martin and Lewis gained the upper hand and personal disputes between the partners brought the comedy to an end. As they had eclipsed Laurel and Hardy, Martin and Lewis stole their thunder, but even today one can't help but laugh at the gags.
"Buck Privates" is probably their best film, aided in no small part by the terrific songs and dances of the Andrew Sisters, who would join them in two more films ("In the Navy" and "Hold that Ghost") that same year. LaVerne, Maxene, and Patty not only worked with Abbott and Costello, but also with The Ritz Brothers ("Argentine Nights") and Crosby and Hope ("Road to Rio") and also appeared with the top musicians of the 40s and 50s. At the time of "Buck Privates" the sisters had already established a name for themselves with such big hits as "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen", "Hold Tight", "Roll out the Barrel", "Ferryboat Serenade", and "Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar". They perform four songs in the film - "You're a Lucky Fellow Mr. Smith", "Apple Blossom Time", "Bounce me Brother with a Solid Four", and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "Boogie Woogie" was nominated for an Oscar as Best Original Song.
Abbott and Costello were originally a vaudeville act, and what they did was to bring their act to the big screen. Films were a series of smaller bits strung together with a plot. In this they copied the style of the Marx Brothers (even though their pedigree makes them look like successors to Laurel and Hardy, who used a completely different motif for their films) right down to the minor love plot, the menacing heavy, and the musical numbers.
There are so many funny bits in this film it's hard to list them all. Lou initiates his "I'm a bad boy" catchphrase that would last for more than a decade. The drill routine was originally scheduled for a few minutes but went nearly 5 due to the ad-libbing (watch closely for the reactions from the actors who participate). The verbal patter between the boys is priceless, as Bud convinces Lou that if he marries a younger woman she will eventually be older than he is. Here's a sample -
Bud - You're 40 years-old and you're in love with this little girl that's 10 years-old. You're four times as old as that girl and you couldn't marry her, could you?
Lou - Not unless I come from the mountains.
Nat Pendleton (1895-1967) plays the heavy who pursues the boys. Pendelton was famous for the "slow burn" and he appeared in over 100 films. He reprieved his role in 1947's "Buck Privates Come Home" - his last film.
Look for Shemp Howard (1895-1955) for a minor role as a cook. Shemp had been acting since 1932 when he broke away from "Ted Healy and His Stooges". He appeared with W.C. Fields, Fatty Arbuckle, Lon Chaney, and even John Wayne, but was making no real headway. In 1946 when brother Curly had a stroke he re-joined the Three Stooges and they made 73 short films together.
1941 was a terrific year for films - "Citizen Kane", "The Maltese Falcon", Sergeant York", "How Green Was My Valley", Meet John Doe", "They Died with Their Boots On", "The Sea Wolf" "High Sierra", "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", and "A Yank in the RAF". With such an impressive list, "Buck Privates" came in at #9 at the box office.
The NY Times called it "an hour and a half of uproarious monkeyshines." The film grossed a record $4 million, although some placed it as high as $10 million. It received 2 Oscar nominations but no wins - "Boogie Woogie" lost to "The last time I saw Paris" from "Lady Be Good" for Best Song and "Dumbo" won for Best Music. The film was so popular it generated a radio show later that year on the Lux Radio Theater. The Japanese were so impressed they showed the drill scene to their troops to demonstrate how poorly trained US soldiers were.
This is a great film from a great comedy team.