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Blu-ray Review Buck Privates Blu-ray Review - Recommended (1 Viewer)

Kevin EK

Senior HTF Member
May 9, 2003

Buck Privates is the fourth major release in Universal’s 100th Anniversary Blu-ray schedule, and while it’s certainly worth seeing, there a couple of caveats this time around.  The movie itself is still a hoot, now 71 years after its original release.  Ostensibly a military comedy about new draft inductees, it’s actually a great assembly of classic Abbott & Costello burlesque routines, braced by a few choice song performances by the Andrews Sisters.  The movie was understandably a huge hit in 1941, and when it was re-released several times afterward.  The new Blu-ray edition provides a new HD transfer and a couple of the special features included in earlier DVD editions.  The transfer is good, but not at the level of what we’ve seen with earlier releases this year.  And the Blu-ray is sadly missing the audio commentary included in the 2008 box set.  Nevertheless, given the quality of the movie and the overall quality of the Blu-ray, the release is Recommended.


Studio: Universal

Year:  1941

Length:  1 hrs 25 mins

Genre:  Comedy/Abbott & Costello/Military

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 30 mbps)

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (1.8 mbps)

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Film Rating: Unrated (Family Friendly Comedy)

Release Date: April 17, 2012

Starring:  Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lee Bowman, Alan Curtis, Jane Frazee, Nat Pendleton and The Andrews Sisters

Original Screenplay by:  Arthur T. Horman

Special Material for Abbott & Costello by:  John Grant

Directed by:  Arthur Lubin

Film Rating:    4 ½/5

Buck Privates somehow continues to be just as amusing today as when it was released in 1941.  Including a perfect storm of comic talent and musical talent, the movie whizzes by in less than 90 minutes, providing a heck of a lot of entertainment for such a short running time.  Bud Abbott and Lou Costello pretty much run the show as two inadvertent Army enlistees who provide comic counterpoint to a more straight-laced “B” story about a rich son who literally joins the Army and learns to be a man.  And there’s also the performance of the Andrews Sisters, whose songs steal any scene they’re in.  (While many will prefer their Oscar Nominated “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”, I find myself leaning more toward “Bounce Me Brother With a Solid Four”…) 

Make no mistake, this is very much a film of its time.  The humor and the style may strike current viewers as a bit quaint.  And there is one moment with a porter early on during the train performance of “You’re A Lucky Fellow Mr. Smith” that really jumps out at a modern viewer as a bit uncomfortable.  (It’s not intended as a racial slur, but you would never see something like this in a modern movie.)  That said, there are plenty of great moments in this movie – usually involving Abbott & Costello performing their patented stage routines in a new setting.  Probably coming best off is the “Drill” routine, with Abbott taking on the momentary role of tough drill sergeant as Costello fouls up in every way imaginable.   There’s also a great inset gag of Abbott urging Costello to keep turning his radio on after the real drill sergeant has called for Lights Out.  And there are two or three quick jokes that find Costello delivering punchlines that can still bring the house down.  (The one line “I’m a BAAAD boy” actually had me pause the movie for a few moments to recover.)  By the way, one routine you will NOT see in this movie is their classic “Who’s on First?”  That one can be found in their debut film One Night in the Tropics, or in their preferred film performance of it in The Naughty Nineties

There are a couple of interesting counterpoints represented by this movie that at least deserve a mention here.  First, Buck Privates is a kind of comic counter to All Quiet on the Western Front, in its own way.  Where the latter film showed the horrors of war in a serious manner, starting with the nastiness of boot camp, the Abbott and Costello film simply focuses on the comic horrors of boot camp itself.  There’s still the imposing figure of the tough and angry drill sergeant, but he isn’t sadistic – at least not in the manner seen in the 1930 film.  No combat is actually shown during the movie – only a wargames exercise that serves to provide a way for the characters to prove their mettle without ever firing a real shot.  For the second counter, this film is a pretty good model for later boot camp comedies, especially including Private Benjamin.  We see a similar scenario of the enlistee not realizing what they’re getting into, a series of comic vignettes to show the ineptness of the enlistee and the whole boot camp scenario climaxes, again, with the wargames exercise.  This isn’t to say that any of these films are directly intended as counterpoints (there are many, many wartime and military comedies and dramas that could be compared here) – just that these specific comparisons are interesting to note.

The Blu-ray release of Buck Privates is actually the 4th DVD edition of the movie.  After various other video releases, a DVD was issued in 1998.  In 2004, the movie appeared again on DVD, this time with several other films in the first volume of a four-part “Best of Abbott & Costello” collection.  In 2008, Universal released all of Abbott & Costello’s theatrical output in a 15-disc “Complete Collection”, this time with special features including an audio commentary by Bob Furmanek and Ron Palumbo on “Buck Privates”, and various documentaries including “Abbott & Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld”.  For the new Blu-ray, Universal has prepared a new HD master of the movie, coupling it with the Seinfeld documentary, a re-release trailer and some of the new 100th Anniversary featurettes.  The packaging includes a standard definition DVD of the new master and a 46-page commemorative booklet.  For some reason, the commentary has not been included on the Blu-ray.   There’s also the issue for some viewers that there is some DNR visible at different times during the movie.   However, taken as a whole, these issues do not detract from the experience to negate my recommending this Blu-ray for rental or purchase.  I suggest that more discerning viewers rent the disc first to check for themselves.  Casual fans will find the upgrade to Blu-ray well worth their time.

One final note:  As with other Blu-rays this year, for some reason, there is no Main Menu on this disc.  When you start the disc, you’ll go right to the feature, from which you can select the “Pop Up” Menu to bring up chapter, setup and extras options.  But there is no separate Top Menu…


Buck Privates is presented in a black and white 1080p AVC 1.33:1 transfer that is not as successful as earlier entries this year, but which does yield many rewards.  Watching the movie carefully, one can see DNR at work in various scenes, but not in a consistent manner.  Some scenes show very clear evidence – particularly the wargames exercise, where any cut from the rougher stock footage of tanks and planes to the close-ups of the lead players immediately shows a quantum drop in the grain presence.  This is not simply due to the stock footage being rougher and grainier – it’s evidently due to the use of DNR to smooth out the image when the cast is involved.  There are several other scenes where the DNR is evident, but there are also scenes where the picture quality is quite good.  An early “weigh-in” scene shows a satisfying level of grain and doesn’t feel overly processed.  A shot of the enlistees marching past a pond (to the tune of “I’ll Be With You When It’s Appleblossom Time”) shows a lovely detail of the reflection of the water.  So this is more of a mixed bag than the earlier 100th Anniversary releases.  On the one hand, there is that definite DNR presence, which is bound to rile some of the readers of this website.  On the other hand, there are many shots that don’t have this problem, so this is not a matter of someone simply turning the DNR knob all the way to the right and leaving it there.  This is a matter of careful work, with which some viewers will disagree – but it’s not the sign of sloppiness or chintziness.


Buck Privates is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix that provides the best possible sound quality from the elements.  The songs by the Andrews Sisters come through loud and clear, as do the rat-a-tat back and forths between Abbott and Costello.  This is a solid presentation of the audio elements.


The Blu-ray presentation of Buck Privates comes with a few special features, including a re-release trailer, the Seinfeld documentary, and three Universal 100th Anniversary featurettes.  The packaging also includes the standard-definition DVD of the current edition.    Sadly, the audio commentary from the 2008 collection has not been included as part of this package, so the score here is reduced to reflect that omission.

Abbott and Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld (45:42, 480p, Full Frame) – This is a 1994 video documentary about the comic team, narrated onscreen by Jerry Seinfeld from a vaudeville stage.  There’s a little information about  the history of the Abbott & Costello act, and a generous number of clips of the team in action.  Great material is shown, including the complete “Who’s on First?” routine from The Naughty Nineties, and a selection of hysterical clips from their 1950s live television program.  Where things fall short is in any thought of depth about the lives of the comics or what was actually happening behind the scenes.  Some quick mentions are made to the tensions and competition between the two men, as well as a cursory mention of the tax problems that plagued them in the latter half of their career.   (There’s a few false statements in here as well – Abbott & Costello did not bail Universal out of bankruptcy as asserted by this documentary.  They made the studio a LOT of money, but the studio was already stable by the time they were signed.)

Trailer (1:37, 480p, Full Frame) – An unrestored re-release trailer for the movie is presented here, including some choice one-liners.  Unused takes are also included here from the great “Drill” routine.

100 Years of Universal:  Restoring the Classics (9:13, 1080p) – This high definition featurette is repeated from the To Kill A Mockingbird and All Quiet on the Western Front Blu-rays.

100 Years of Universal:  The Carl Laemmle Era (8:41, 1080p) – This high definition featurette discussing the early years of the studio is repeated from the March batch of standard definition catalogue releases.  It covers some of the great achievements of Laemmle’s work but falls short when it comes to explaining the end of that era.

100 Years of Universal:  Unforgettable Characters (8:18, 1080p) (NEW FEATURETTE) – This new high definition featurette quickly examines many of the famous characters featured in Universal releases over the past 80 years.  The gallery includes various horror movie monsters from Dracula to Jaws to Jurassic Park, and moves on to cover memorable performances by Al Pacino (Scarface), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) and Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski). 

The movie and special features are subtitled in English, Spanish and French. The usual chapter and pop-up menus are present.  As I said, there is no Main Menu, but you can access everything you need via the pop-up option.

SD DVD – (1.33:1 Full Frame, Black and White) – As a bonus, the digibook also contains a standard definition DVD of this new transfer.  The sound is presented in an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix (at 192 kbps)   All of the special features from the Blu-ray are included here in standard definition.

Booklet – A 46-page commemorative booklet is included in the packaging.  While the introduction by John Landis is rather perfunctory, the rest of the booklet contains some fun material.  Biographical summaries are provided for the various co-stars of the movie, along with transcripts of several Abbott & Costello routines scene in the movie.  Promotional materials and posters are included to boot, and as a final grace note, the last few pages include a description of the movie’s sequel, Buck Privates Come Home.


Buck Privates continues to be a funny and entertaining movie more than 70 years after its original theatrical run.  The Blu-ray release sports a new HD master that works better in some scenes and shots than others.  Some DNR is visible, but not to the extent that the viewing experience is completely thrown off.  (I know, I know – for some viewers, the sight of ANY DNR is a dealbreaker – but this is not the case for everyone.)  There’s a good, but not great collection of extras – given the lack of inclusion of an available commentary.   All that said, this is still a good release of a great movie showing the comic talents of Abbott & Costello in their prime.  The release is Recommended for rental by the more serious HD aficionados and for purchase by casual viewers and fans of Abbott & Costello.  Despite the issues I have raised, this upgrade is still worth their time.

Kevin Koster

April 20, 2012.

Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:

Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “THX” picture mode

Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver

Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player

PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)

5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)

2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)

Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer


David Weicker

Senior HTF Member
Feb 26, 2005
Real Name
As I stated in one of the other threads, I've watched this and thought it looked fantastic. Well written review.
While I am not a 'commentary guy', since they went with the more expensive digibook, it would have been nice to have included the commentary.
I also would have liked (instead of the DVD) a cd containing the music numbers. Or perhaps a copy of Buck Privates Come Home. Of course, a real bonus would have been if they could have gotten Patty Andrews to do a few autographed copies (although at 94, she might not be in a signing mood).
Anyway, it is a terrific movie, and this Blu Ray is a worthy upgrade (I just had the 2004 eight movie version).

Bob Koster

Mar 25, 2007
Real Name
Bob Koster
FWIW: According to your grandfather it was he who discovered Abbott and Costello in a nightclub in New York, doing their "Who's on First" routine. Dad laughed so hard he fell off the chair! When he returned to Hollywood he told the Universal staff about the comedic duo, but was told that they already had too many comedians. Dad could be persistent as you know. Eventually he persuaded them to hire A & C for one movie. It was ONE NIGHT IN THE TROPICS. They became so popular in such a short time that even though they had small roles in the film, within a week their names were above the title on most theater marquees. Ironically, the female lead of ONE NIGHT IN THE TROPICS was Peggy Moran, your step grandmother. Dad had not met her yet. A & C went on to a brilliant career as one of Hollywood's most successful duos, and Peggy soon after met Dad and went on to success of another kind entirely.

Will Krupp

Senior HTF Member
Oct 2, 2003
Real Name
Pardon me for going slightly off topic, but I just want to say, Mr. Koster, that I am a huge fan of your father's work and so pleased to find that you post here. I grew up watching the movies he made with Deanna Durbin and loved every one. I honestly don't believe she ever found a director as good for her as he was. I even managed to see a copy of the rarest of them, SPRING PARADE which, I believe, is the first movie he made with your step-mother!

Speaking of your step-mother, I remember very distinctly developing a huge crush on her as a child after seeing ONE NIGHT IN THE TROPICS (I could never understand why Robert Cummings would EVER have chosen Nancy Kelly over her!) and made a point to see everything I could that she starred in. Adorable screen presence.

I am so happy to know that their lives together were a great success. There's a story that a bust of her appears in every movie he directed after their marriage. Is this true? Wonderful if so.

Sorry, again to take this off-topic but I had to let you know how much I appreciate all that he has given us (THE BISHOP'S WIFE is still a holiday tradition in our family.)

Richard Gallagher

Senior HTF Member
Dec 9, 2001
Fishkill, NY
Real Name
Rich Gallagher
Terrific review, Kevin. Buck Privates has been one of my favorite comedies for many years, and it holds up very well. It bears some similarities to the Bob Hope comedy Caught in the Draft, which was released roughly five months after Buck Privates.

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