Musical Monday: Private Buckaroo (1942)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Private Buckaroo (1942) – Musical #627

Universal Studios

Edward F. Cline

Themselves: The Andrews Sisters (Patty Andrews, Maxene Andrews, Laverne Andrews), Harry James and his Music Makers, Helen Forrest, The Jivin’ Jacks and Jills
Stars: Dick Foran, Joe E. Lewis, Ernest Truex, Jennifer Holt, Shemp Howard, Richard Davies, Mary Wickes, Donald O’Connor, Peggy Ryan, Huntz Hall, Susan Levine, Sidney Miller (uncredited), Addison Richards (uncredited), Tommy Rall (uncredited), Gene O’Donnell (uncredited)

Famed trumpet player Harry James (himself) is drafted at the start of World War II. His fellow nightclub performer, Lon Prentice (Foran), wants to enlist in the Army but keeps getting declined as 4F for flat feet. Lon finally is accepted into the Army, but at basic training, Lon doesn’t feel he needs to participate in military training.

• Harry James was the musical director for the film.
• Though Joe E. Lewis made television and film appearances as himself, this was his last film in an acting role.
• In 1942, actress Susan Levine played characters named Tagalong in three films.
• Actress Jennifer Holt’s first credited film role. She was the daughter of Jack Holt and sister of Tim Holt.
• While filming “Private Buckaroos,” Harry James and His Music Makers, Helen Forrest and the Jivin’ Jacks and Jills filmed a featurette on set called “Trumpet Serenade.”

Harry James and Dick Foran in Private Buckaroo

• “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” number with the Andrews Sisters and The Jivin’ Jacks and Jills
• Harry James performing

Notable Songs:
• “Private Buckaroo” performed by Dick Foran
• “Six Jerks in a Jeep” performed by The Andrew Sisters
• “You Made Me Love You” performed by Harry James and Helen Forrest
• “Concerto for Trumpet” performed by Harry James and His Orchestra
• “Steppin’ Out Tonight (That’s the Moon, My Son)” performed by The Andrew Sisters and Harry James
• “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” performed by the Andrew Sisters, Harry James and The Jivin’ Jacks and Jills

The Andrews Sisters in “Private Buckaroos”

My review:
When “Private Buckaroo” was panned by critics when it was released in May 1942.

“For consistent ineptness, for frantic dullness, for the sheer impertinent waste of film at a time when Hollywood is supposedly seeking ways of saving raw stock,” wrote New York Times Bosley Crowther in his review.

But frankly, I found “Private Buckaroo” lots of fun – though understandably not one of the top musical films of Hollywood history.

Trumpet player Harry James plays himself as a night club bandleader who is drafted. Dick Foran plays a nightclub singer Lon Prentice who wants to enlist but is 4F because of one flat foot. Lon is finally accepted into the Army but doesn’t want to participate in military training. Joyce Mason (played by Jennifer Holt) is a loose love interest for Lon, though she disapproves of his behavior.

As a sub-plot, Sgt. ‘Muggsy’ Shavel, played by Shemp Howard, loses his girl (played by Mary Wickes) to comedian Lancelot Pringle McBiff (played by Joe E. Lewis). And Donny (Donald O’Connor) is too young to join the Army but joins anyways. The Andrew Sisters are on hand to perform in the night club and at USO shows.

The plot is thin to open up for 13 musical numbers, which some reviews ignore but most of them are great

It’s fun to see Harry James in a role where he gets to both play his trumpet AND do a bit of acting. I think James is one of the best trumpet players to have ever lived. James didn’t serve in the military, but his music did serve as a soundtrack for World War II and families who were apart. There are some humorous gags with James not being able to play simple tunes on the trumpet-like “Revali,” while being a master musician elsewhere.

Singer and comedian Joe E. Lewis has a small role in the film and he’s plain annoying. His song “I Love the South” is the only musical performance I didn’t enjoy. You may be familiar with him as well from the Frank Sinatra biopic, “The Joker is Wild.”

Foran, dubbed as the singing cowboy, both has a beautiful voice and also does a good job at playing a jerk.

My only criticism is that the subplot with Wickes, Lewis and Shemp Howard may not be necessary, though Wickes and Howard are both humorous.

It was neat to see Jack Holt’s daughter and Tim Holt’s sister in this film, but Jennifer Holt was wasted. She was just one more character in a 68-minute movie to keep track of. There were too many characters in such a brief movie.

The real highlight are all the musical numbers, particularly “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.” I loved seeing the young dancers, Jivin’ Jacks and Jills. Their swing and tap dancing were so fun and energetic!

“Private Buckaroo” was made early in the film to encourage enlisting and also cooperation during basic training, which is why Foran’s character is so disobedient. Viewers today can criticize this, but you have to keep in mind the time when it was released and the mindset of audiences.

“Private Buckaroo” is a brisk 68-minutes with plenty of songs and great trumpet playing. Worth watching for any big band music lover.

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