Moment of Movie Wisdom: Patriotism and Humility in ‘Private Buckaroo’ (1942)

Moment of Movie Wisdom: Patriotism and Humility in ‘Private Buckaroo’ (1942)
People wave American flags in Oakland, Calif., on March 25, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Tiffany Brannan
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Commentary

July is the only true summer month, since it’s the only month when school isn’t either finishing late or beginning early. It’s hot, sunny, and thus a perfect time for summer vacations, activities, and leisure. It’s also the most patriotic month here in the United States, since American Independence Day begins the month with a bang on the Fourth of July.

We Americans tend to celebrate summer holidays with barbecues, pool parties, beach vacations, excursions to the lake, and other outdoor leisure activities. While these American customs are wholesome family fun, they do little to honor the sacrifice of the patriots who gave their lives so we could enjoy these pastimes in freedom. One of the best ways to do so is by watching a patriotic movie. Some of the most patriotic films were made about and during World War II.

Today’s Moment of Movie Wisdom is from “Private Buckaroo” (1942). The scene in question takes place 22 minutes into this 65-minute film. At a recruiting office, men are registering for the draft. Rather than trying to dodge the draft and avoid being recruited, men are using resourceful means to get into the service. The leading man (Dick Foran) has been turned down by the Army several times because one of his feet are flat. Also at the office are two teenaged boys who are trying to enlist, one of whom is played by Donald O’Connor. This lighthearted scene in a generally playful movie illustrates how much men wanted to serve their country.

The Story

Lon Prentice (Foran) is the lead singer with Harry James’s band at a nightclub. It’s the early days of World War II, and a lot of servicemen and women attend the club. James’s manager, Lancelot Pringle “Biff” McBiff (Joe E. Lewis), is very upset when the famous trumpet player receives his draft notice. Meanwhile, Lon is upset because he’s been turned down by the Army several times because he has one flat foot. Also at the club that night is Sergeant Muggsy Shavel (Shemp Howard), whose overbearing fiancée, Bonnie-Belle Schlopkiss (Mary Wickes), is more interested in Biff than him.

At the recruitment office, James learns that he is in perfect physical condition, so the whole band enlists with him. Lon uses medical intervention to pass the physical qualifications, while two young boys lie about their age to get in. With his star musician and lead singer gone, Biff decides to go on a USO tour with the Andrews Sisters, who also were performers at the nightclub. Despite Lon’s eagerness to join the service, he has a bad attitude about basic training at Camp Healy, thinking he’s ready for battle right away. The commanding officer gives Private Prentice permission to skip any training he deems unnecessary, knowing that the other men’s reaction will teach him a lesson. Meanwhile, Lon becomes interested in Joyce Mason (Jennifer Holt), the niece of the base’s commanding officer (Ernest Truex), who doesn’t appreciate his cocky attitude.

Lobby card for the film “Private Buckaroo” (1942). (MovieStillsDB)
Lobby card for the film “Private Buckaroo” (1942). (MovieStillsDB)

The Scene

The scene begins with a close-up of a sign on a door: “William A. Jones. Foot Specialist. Flats Fixed.” The door swings open, and a happy Lon comes bounding out. He bounces on his toes a few times to test his new and improved foot before blowing a kiss toward the door. He then shakes a stranger’s hand and walks into the recruiting office. There, he sees Harry James’s whole band. He asks whether they are all enlisting, too. As one musician begins to answer, Biff cuts him off to reply that they’re waiting for the results of James’s physical. Then, Donny (O’Connor) and his friend enter and ask for the recruiting officer. Biff asks, “What are you two boy scouts doing here?” Donny replies, “We want to join the army,” his recently changed voice cracking as he answers. Biff tells them that you have to be over 18 to join the army, and the two youngsters walk out with a plan.
Harry James comes out of the examination and proudly announces that he’s in perfect shape. Lon tells him that he’s joining, too, and goes over to the recruitment officer. He informs him that Dr. Jones says he has “two of the nicest arches you ever saw,” handing him a certification. The sergeant agrees to give him another chance and sends him to the examining officer. Then, Donny and his pal come back in, smoking cigars to look older. They walk boldly up to the sergeant and request applications. Eyeing them suspiciously, the officer asks, “Are you two men over 18?” “Sure,” they reply confidently, so he hands them forms without requiring further proof. Harry stops them, pulls the cigars out of their mouths, and asks why they lied. They smugly insist that they didn’t lie, showing him that they wrote the number 18 on the soles of their shoes.

Its Significance

This scene highlights the lengths to which young men went during World War II to serve their country. In World War I, some military medical personnel believed that most flat footedness was not a genetic condition but an acquired condition which could be cured. By World War II, the Army had decided that having flat feet caused too much discomfort and the possibility of other health problems, so having flat feet was a reason for disqualification from medical service. However, medical interventions were still used to fix flat feet. We don’t find out what method Dr. Jones used on Lon to produce a good arch, but it could have been the use of exercises, a brace, a foot stretcher, or even surgery.

The fact that the two boys avoid lying about their age by writing the number 18 on their shoes provides a comical moment. However, it’s not an unrealistic situation. An estimated 200,000 men and women were underage when they enlisted in World War II, as young as 12 years old. These brave young people would forge their mothers’ signatures on applications, borrow older siblings’ birth certificates, and wear bigger clothes to look more developed. Although the military was desperate for more recruits, they were reluctant to lower the age below 18 because they were afraid younger boys wouldn’t be mature enough for the dangers of war, physically and emotionally. These courageous youngsters proved the contrary, since they fought valiantly alongside much older men.

Lobby card for the film “Private Buckaroo” (1942). (MovieStillsDB)
Lobby card for the film “Private Buckaroo” (1942). (MovieStillsDB)

A Patriotic Musical Showcase

“Private Buckaroo” was made as a recruitment film shortly after Pearl Harbor. One of its main points of interest today is the prominent feature of the Andrews Sisters. This singing group of three sisters, Maxene, Patty, and LaVerne, was wildly successful during World War II. Their peppy tunes and patriotic lyrics made their songs popular morale boosters. If you’ve heard this sister act’s music, it’s fun to watch them perform. They’re very entertaining!

This is a fun yet meaningful movie about the patriotism which was required to fight and win World War II. It’s available to watch on many free streaming platforms, including Freevee, Tubi, and Fandor.

Tiffany Brannan is a 22-year-old opera singer, Hollywood historian, vintage fashion enthusiast, and conspiracy film critic, advocating purity, beauty, and tradition on Instagram as @pure_cinema_diva. Her classic film journey started in 2016 when she and her sister started the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society to reform the arts by reinstating the Motion Picture Production Code. She launched Cinballera Entertainment last summer to produce original performances which combine opera, ballet, and old films in historic SoCal venues.
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