Buck Privates (1941): Arthur Lubin’s Service Comedy, Starring Abbott and Costello in Top Form–Box-Office Hit (Oscar Nom)

Buck Privates was Universal’s biggest box-office hit of 1941, showing the popularity of the studio’s new comedic team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

Buck Privates

Theatrical release poster

Bud and Lou are cast as sidewalk salesmen Slicker Smith and Herbie Brown.

The romantic triangle involving Randolph Parker III (Lee Bowman), Judy Gray (Jane Frazee) and Bob Martin (Alan Curtis).

Escaping the policeman Mike Collins (Nat Pendleton), Slicker and Herbie duck into a movie theater which, unbeknownst to them, has been converted into an Army recruiting center.

As they are reluctantly inducted into the Service, the 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.

Once ensconced in boot camp, Slicker and Herbie run afoul of their sergeant, who is, of course, their old enemy, Mike the cop. Meanwhile, Parker and Martin compete for the attentions of USO hostess Judy—Parker has to prove his worth as a soldier.

Slicker and Herbie are shunted into the background as the romantic subplot is resolved, but they reappear in the film’s closing scene.

Abbott and Costello get to perform their classic “dice game,” “awkward squad,” “turn on the radio,” and “boxing ring” routines, not to mention their timeless verbal exchanges. In one of those, Bud convinces Lou that if he marries an underage girl, she’ll eventually be older than he.

The film also showcases the Andrews Sisters, performing such tunes as “Apple Blossom Time” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” which was Oscar nominated.

Made on a moderate budget of $245,000, the movie was hugely popular at the box-office, earning more than $4,000,000.


Oscar Nominations: 2

Song: Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B

Scoring: Charles Previn


Oscar Context:

The Song Oscar went to Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from “Lady Be Good.”

The Scoring Oscar went to Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace for “Dumbo.”

Bud Abbott as Slicker Smith
Lou Costello as Herbie Brown
Lee Bowman as Randolph Parker III
Jane Frazee as Judy Gray
Alan Curtis as Bob Martin
Nat Pendleton as Sgt. Michael Collins
The Andrews Sisters as Themselves
Samuel S. Hinds as Maj. Gen. Emerson
Harry Strang as Sgt. Callahan
Nella Walker as Mrs. Karen Parker
Leonard Elliott as Henry
Shemp Howard as Chef


Directed by Arthur Lubin
Produced by Alex Gottlieb
Written by Arthur T. Horman
Music by Charles Previn
Cinematography Milton R. Krasner
Edited by Philip Cahn
Distributed by Universal Pictures

Release date: January 31, 1941

Running time: 84 minutes
Budget $245,000
Box office $4,000,000

DVD: Oct 10, 2000