27 January 2008 | Terrell-4
Harry James and The Andrews Sisters, plus Bonnie-Belle Schlopkiss and Lancelot Pringle McBiff
Private Buckaroo, a high-energy, patriotic movie from 1942, has two uses now. The first is to show us the optimism of our elders as they readied themselves to support the troops fighting in WWII. Sure, the jokes are corny, but the musical numbers crank up the confidence with everything from "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" to "Six Jerks in a Jeep." It's not a bad idea to now and then remind ourselves of what an older generation of Americans were facing.
The second use of the movie is to provide fodder for all those graduate students eager for an easy doctorate in "American Popular Culture," a phenomenon that proves, if the money is right, that American universities will offer degrees in just about anything.
The barest of plots has Harry James being drafted. Naturally, his whole orchestra signs up, too, including Lon Prentice (Dick Foran), his singer who has an attitude adjustment problem. We see the high-jinks of training, a romantic encounter that will serve to straighten Prentice out, and a big show just before the boys ship overseas. All this is just a clothesline to pin on at least 13 musical numbers, and The Andrews Sisters and Harry James do most of them. The comedy intermissions are several. To give you an idea of what Universal's writers were capable of, the three-way romantic laugh relief involves Bonnie-Belle Schlopkiss (a tall and emphatic Mary Wickes), Sergeant Muggsy Sharell (Shemp Howard, who was earlier and later became again one of the Three Stooges) and Lancelot Pringle McBiff (an odd incarnation of stand up comic Joe E. Lewis). Personally, I enjoyed most Huntz Hall as a corporal trying to teach James how to play reveille.
Although some people today can pass by The Andrews Sisters because of their style, particularly Patty Andrews' mugging, the three were expert at close harmony. They have six numbers; all are skillfully delivered with a great deal of verve. As far as Harry James goes, I can't think of a better way to open a movie than James and Helen Forrest giving us the full treatment of "You Made Me Love You." And in one showstopper we have The Jivin' Jacks and Jills, a group of dancing teen-agers formed by Universal to showcase the studio's young talent. The ten kids tap and leap all over the stage to "Apple Tree." The fact that the story line is almost non-existent and that romantic lead Dick Foran, who sounds a bit like a cross between Nelson Eddy and Dennis Morgan, has the personality of a cardboard box really doesn't matter at all.
Doctoral candidates, start writing your dissertation on "The Underlying Significance of B Movies on the Cultural Development of American Civilization During the Formative Years of World War Two, With an Emphasis on the Influence of Teen-Age Tap Dancers on the Defeat of the Axis."