Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Private Buckaroo

Just about a month ago, I did a post on the Bob Hope movie Caught in the Draft. I was thinking about that movie as I watched Private Buckaroo recently.

The movie starts off at a nightclub where popular bandleader of the early 1940s Harry James is performing, together with the band's singer, Lon Prentice (Dick Foran). It's an excuse to introduce one of the movie's many musical numbers, but it also gives us an excuse to see the comic relief of the film, "Muggsy" Shavel (Shemp Howard of the Three Stooges) and Bonnie-Belle Schlopkiss (Mary Wickes), who are a couple, strange as that may seem. It's early 1942, so unsurprisingly Harry gets drafted into the Army, with most of the band following along because it's their patriotic duty. (You'd think that like Glenn Miller, the Army would have James leading an Army band, but nope.)

Among those who don't get accepted at first is Lon, since he's got a flat foot. On the other hand, young Donny (a 16-year-old Donald O'Connor) does enlist, lying about his age to join. Unsurprisingly, everybody gets sent to the same base for their basic training, with Lon eventually joining after getting his medical clearance somehow -- the movie is shorter on plot and much longer on musical numbers.

Among the women at the base are the Andrews Sisters, apparently either part of the WACs or doing USO-type stuff. There's also Joyce Mason (Jennifer Holt), niece of the base commander and living in the same house as her uncle; she winds up becoming a love interest for Lon who is the nominal male star of the proceedings.

Lon, for his part, has the same sort of attitude that Bob Hope did in Caught in the Draft, which I why I thought of that movie. Lon thinks military life isn't for him, and expects everybody else to adjust their expectations accordingly. And then he gets irritated when they send him to base headquarters instead of with the rest of the men in James' band!

That's more or less the plot, for what it is, which isn't much, and even thinner than a lot of the World War II musicals. There's also a running sequence of Harry James having difficulty playing the valveless bugle, including one with sheet music being held for him by Huntz Hall (his presence is why I'm guessing this got programmed in TCM's Saturday matinee slot in between all those Bowery Boys movies). And the musical numbers. The Andrews Sisters have several, including what is one of their most famous hits, "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree". Surprisingly, they don't sing their other famous song, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", even though that had already been written and premiered. One other musical surprises, to me at least, was the opening which had the song, "You Made Me Love You". Apparently the song was written all the way back in 1913, so Judy Garland's famous rendition sung to a picture of Clark Gable, was far from the original.

Is Private Buckaroo good? Well, it's a good example of a World War II B movie that was rushed into production to try to build morale. I can see audiences of the day really enjoying it. For people watching 80 years on, it's probably more of a curiosity, especially if they want to see what Harry James or the Andrews Sisters were all about.

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