Wartime Comedies 8-Movie Collection [2 Discs] [DVD]

This collection contains eight comedies set during World War II: Buck Privates (1941), In the Navy (1941), Caught in the Draft (1941), Here Come the Waves (1944), Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), Francis Joins the Wacs (1954), The Private War of Major Benson (1955), and The Perfect Furlough (1958).
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Overview

Synopsis

In the Navy
The third of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello's starring films, In the Navy was released second; Universal had just made a bundle off Abbott and Costello's Buck Privates, and the studio wanted another "service" comedy put into circulation in a hurry. Abbott and Costello share over-the-title billing with Dick Powell, who plays a popular radio singer. Eager to avoid his screaming fans, Powell enlists in the Navy under an assumed name, hoping to serve his country incognito. Girl reporter Claire Dodd chases after Powell, hoping to secure a photo of the fugitive "idol of millions." So much for the "straight" plot; what are Abbott and Costello up to? Well, Costello plays a ship's cook who wants to impress Patty Andrews of The Andrews Sisters. With his pal Abbott's help, Costello poses as an admiral -- and in so doing nearly destroys the entire American fleet. This climactic sequence ran into trouble when the U.S. Navy decided that it didn't want to be held up to ridicule by showing the bumbling Costello ordering its ships around. To save the climax -- the most expensive portion of the film -- the scriptwriters wrote a new coda, passing off Costello's "admiralty" as a dream sequence. The best Abbott and Costello routines have little if anything to do with the plot: our favorite (indeed, everyone's favorite) is Costello proving to Abbott that 7 X 13 = 28. Those viewers who prefer music to comedy will be thoroughly satisfied by the vocal contributions of Dick Powell and The Andrews Sisters, as well as a lively dance number offered by the Condos Brothers. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Buck Privates
Filmed on a B-picture budget, Buck Privates was Universal's biggest box-office hit of 1941, firmly securing the movie popularity of the studio's hot new team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The story is fairly evenly divided between the antics of Bud and Lou-here cast as sidewalk salesmen Slicker Smith and Herbie Brown-and the romantic triangle involving Randolph Parker III (Lee Bowman), Judy Gray (Jane Frazee) and Bob Martin (Alan Curtis). Escaping the wrath of policeman Mike Collins (Nat Pendleton), Slicker and Herbie duck into a nearby movie theater, which unbeknownst to them has been converted into a US Army recruiting center. As the boys are reluctantly inducted into the Service, wealthy draftee Parker hopes to pull a few strings to avoid putting on a uniform, while Parker's former chauffeur Martin willingly answers his call to the Colors. Once ensconced in boot camp, Slicker and Herbie continually run afoul of their sergeant, who is none other than their old nemesis Mike the cop. Meanwhile, Parker and Martin vie for the attentions of USO hostess Judy, who'll have nothing to do with Parker until he proves his worth as a soldier. Poor Slicker and Herbie are shunted into the background as the romantic subplot is resolved, but at least our heroes get to steal the film's closing scene. It's hard to believe that anyone cared about the Parker-Martin-Judy triangle with Abbott & Costello on hand to perform their classic "dice game", "awkward squad", "turn on the radio" and "boxing ring" routines-not to mention their timeless verbal exchanges, the best of which finds Bud convincing Lou that if he marries an underage girl, she'll eventually be older than he (it plays better than it reads!) As a bonus, the film spotlights the Andrews Sisters, performing such top-ten tunes as "Apple Blossom Time" and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy". Even from the vantage point of six decades, with the WWII draft but a dim memory, it is easy to see why Buck Privates was such a huge success. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Private War of Major Benson
A too-tough Army major gets himself sent to run an ROTC program at a Santa Barbara military school after he calls unwanted attention to the military by mouthing off to a prominent news magazine. When he arrives to his new post, the major is shocked to find it run by nuns and that his new troops are school children. His assignment is to make "men" out of the rambunctious recruits so that the school can keep from losing its ROTC certification. At first the hard-as-nails major treats his young charges with all the tenderness of a old army boot and the boys, tired of his constant barrage of insults and demands, come to hate him. Further complicating matters is the major's disconcerting romantic feelings for the school's lovely doctor. Unfortunately, she isn't about to put up with his ultra-macho guff anymore than the children are and before this romantic comedy is through, the major learns important lessons about the value of humanity in dealing with others. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

Francis Joins the Wacs
Francis Joins the WACS was the fifth in Universal's comedy series about a talking Army mule and his hapless human companion. Thanks to a bureaucratic snafu, ex-GI Peter Sterling (Donald O'Connor) is called into acitive duty and assigned to a WAC unit, headed by Major Simpson (Lynn Bari). It is Sterling's task to train the women to be camouflage experts, but the ladies resent his presence, assuming that Peter has been sent to discredit their unit. But with the help of Francis, the WACs manage to win the annual War Games, and to flummox misogynistic General Kaye (Chill Wills, who also provides Francis' voice). Julie Adams, then billed as Julia, provides the love interest. ZaSu Pitts also appears in Francois Joins the WACs, recreating the role she'd played in the first Francis installment back in 1949, while other uniformed females include Mamie Van Doren and Allison (Attack of the 50-Foot Woman) Hayes. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Caught in the Draft
Bob Hope plays a famous movie star who does his best to avoid the pre-war draft, but ends up in uniform all the same. Hope marries Dorothy Lamour, the daughter of Army colonel Clarence Kolb, in hopes that this union will help him sidestep military service. Stuck in boot camp, Hope is a class-A screw-up until redeeming himself during a sham battle--though his "heroic" commandeering of a tank began as yet another boo-boo. Still not entirely certain that Hope could carry a film by himself, Paramount teamed him with Eddie Bracken and Lynne Overman--a sort of Abbott and Costello plus One. Despite the efforts to make Bob Hope part of an ensemble, it is clear from the first frame to the last who is truly the star of Caught in the Draft. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Hail the Conquering Hero
It took nerve for writer/director Preston Sturges to lampoon the whole concept of hero worship in the middle of World War II, but once more Sturges' oddball sense of taste and propriety paid off at the box office in Hail the Conquering Hero. Eddie Bracken plays the son of a World War I Marine hero who is the first in his small town to sign up for military service. When Bracken is discharged from the Marines for hay fever, he hasn't the nerve to go home and tell his mother and the rest of the townsfolk. Fortunately, he is befriended by a bunch of good-hearted Marines, led by sergeant William Demarest. Bracken's new buddies decide to help him save face by accompanying him to his home and telling one and all that Bracken has served valiantly in the Pacific. Lauded as a hero thanks to this subterfuge, the hapless Bracken finds himself being coerced into running for mayor! When he finally does confess the truth, the townspeople decide that only a real hero would own up to his lies in public. As always, Preston Sturges' richly varied supporting cast makes the most of every scene they're in, especially Raymond Walburn as a blustering politico and Franklin Pangborn as a persnickety councilman. Special mention must be made of Ella Raines as a refreshingly non-cliched heroine, and ex-boxer Freddie Steele as a morose Marine with a Mother complex. While Eddie Bracken's nerdish mannerisms can wear on the viewer, he is kept marvelously in check throughout Hail the Conquering Hero. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Perfect Furlough
In this frothy romantic comedy, a hard-working female Army shrink (Janet Leigh) devises the "perfect furlough" for battle weary men and convinces the brass to let her try it on selected men stationed at her base. According to her plan, selected men would be given three weeks, tailor made to fit their deepest desires. Her first test-case is a handsome ladies' man (Tony Curtis) who chooses to go to Paris with his favorite movie star. Naturally the psychologist chaperones. Romantic mayhem ensues and eventually the furloughed soldier and the shrink fall in love. The story is also titled Strictly for Pleasure. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

Here Come the Waves
This peppy wartime musical stars Bing Crosby as radio crooner Johnny Cabot, the heartthrob of millions. To escape his frenzied fans, Johnny joins the Navy, where is he ordering to aid a WAVE recruiting drive. He is helped(?) in this endeavor by Betty Hutton, amusingly cast in a dual role as twin sisters Susie and Rosemary, one a shy retiring brunette, the other a bold and brassy blonde (Vera Marshe doubles for Hutton is some scenes). Part of Johnny's recruiting strategy is to stage a musical show, as good an excuse as any for a steady stream of bouncy musical numbers. This is the film in which Bing Crosby and Sonny Tufts, both in blackface, introduce the Johnny Mercer-Harold Arlen standard "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive." Sharp-eyed viewers will spot Yvonne de Carlo, Mona Freeman, Mae Clarke, and Noel "Lois Lane" Neill in small roles. Here Come the Waves was partially remade by Martin & Lewis as Sailor Beware. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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