Buck Privates Come Home

How often has Hollywood gone looking for laughs from auto racing?

Far from the usual—and sometimes over-the-top—melodrama from films that yielded unintended yucks, Buck Privates Come Home is intentionally—and successfully—hilarious, even if the racing is nothing more than a star vehicle for two of the greatest funny men of all time.

This film is a sequel to their 1941 Buck Privates, which drafted them into the Army. Six years later, they finally get to come home, where Slicker (Abbott) and Herbie (Costello) resume highly unsuccessful careers as street flim-flam salesmen. That compounds the problems in their effort to adopt a little girl they’ve smuggled home from France.

Seeking help, they contact a former WAC, whose fiancée owns a mortgaged midget car. The clichéd line about midgets (“why don’t you race guys your own size?”) doesn’t seem nearly as hackneyed when delivered by Costello. Typically for quickly made films (and for real racers, when you come right down to it), all the G.I.s who contribute money to get the car out of hock seem convinced that they are going to win the $20,000 Gold Cup. Never mind that the racer is avoiding cops because he owes everybody in town. Yup—the illusion that racing is a way to make money rather than spend it was born long, long ago.

Unless you want to see the movie solely for the racing, this is as good as any of the Abbott and Costello films. In addition to the always wonderful stars, there is a good supporting cast—film studios never had trouble getting people to work with Abbott and Costello because their films were guaranteed hits, no matter what the topic was. Nat Pendleton, a 1920 Olympic silver medalist who became a popular pro wrestler before getting into film, plays the boys’ hapless foil. Milburn Stone, whose fame stems from many years as Doc on television’s Gunsmoke, is the race track announcer. But the real star, besides the marquee team, is the midget car. Happenstance puts Costello behind the wheel and off the track through one of the funniest, most outrageous car chases in movie history.
Park your interest in reality. Don’t take a drink of anything while watching because—guaranteed—you’ll be snorting it out as the guffaws are plentiful. Many years later, Cannonball Run was among several films to try to emulate this romp, but none comes close to the pure fun in this showcase for the unrivaled talent of Abbott and Costello.

Type of Racing: Midget cars

Tracks: Gilmore Stadium, Los Angeles, California (now defunct)

Reel Racers: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello

Real Racers: None credited

Year of Release: 1947

DVD Length: 77 minutes
Approx. On-Track: 2 minutes, plus 5 minute off-track chase sequence

Color/B&W: Black-and-white

Watch for:

. . . Pay attention to how the midgets are started. No push. Rather they slip a strap around the front axle, pull the cars and then quick-release when the engine fires. And, for you young uns in the crowd, that really was how they started the cars then.

. . . Continuity check: After they get the race car out of the garage where $8,000 is owed on it, the guys are sure they are going to be $50,000 richer after the race. But the sign at the stadium clearly shows it’s a $20,000 purse. “It’s (the race car) going to solve everybody’s problem,” says heroine Sylvia. Except their math computation skills, apparently.

. . . “It’s a pip. And it will do 90 miles per hour!” says Abbott on seeing the car for the first time.

. . . While trying to get a G.I. loan at a bank, the midget model begins to backfire and the shadows appearing through the frosted glass on the door make it appear that Abbott and Costello are robbing the bank. Surprisingly—or not—they don’t get that loan. But at least the loan officer and the cops didn’t jail ’em because then we’d have missed the fabulous silliness that comes later.














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