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WARTIME COMEDIES

   

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 7, 2015

If you’re looking for some golden oldies for family viewing and feel overwhelmed by your Netflix queue, you might want to take a flyer on “Wartime Comedies,” a new two-disc DVD release from Universal Home Entertainment that collects eight wartime comedies, most filmed during World War II and several of them genuine classics. And the price is just $10 to $15.

Even if a couple of the films don’t appeal, that’s a price that’s hard to beat (it’s available at some retail outlets, like Walmart, ShopKo, Target, etc.) for eight comedies from Hollywood’s golden era starring great comic actors in their prime.

The best of these are a pair of Abbott & Costello features, the first in which they starred — “Buck Privates,” released in January 1941, and “In the Navy,” which was in theaters just four months later. Both are very funny pictures with some of the comedy team’s best routines, and both featuring some great songs by the Andrews Sisters.

   

In third place, I’d cite “Hail the Conquering Hero” (1944) a zany satire by the great Preston Sturges with Eddie Bracken and a supporting cast filled with seasoned character actors. Bracken is discharged after only a month in the Marines due to chronic hay fever and a group of Marines he meets in a bar decide to help him impersonate a hero so he won’t disappoint his mother. But the ruse quickly escalates out of control when the entire town turns out to greet him and the press latches onto the story.

Next up is “Here Come the Waves” (1944) — because I love Betty Hutton and she plays two roles here, which confuses Bing Crosby (and everyone else). Then there’s “Caught in the Draft” (1942), one of Bob Hope’s best movies, in which he plays an egotistical actor who tries to elude the draft, despite the expectations of Dorothy Lamour.

There’s even a Francis the Talking Mule picture here, “Francis Joins the WACs” (1954), in which Donald O’Connor is mistakenly assigned to the Women’s Army Corps and runs into wacky Zasu Pitts (reprising her role from the first “Francis” film), along with Chill Wills (who also provides the voice of Francis). And he’s surrounded by lovely ingénues of from the Universal stable: Julie Adams, Mamie Van Doren, Joan Shawlee, Allison Hayes and Mara Corday.

Those six films are in black and white, and two color films from the 1950s are also here, “The Perfect Furlough” (1958), with Tony Curtis and his then-wife Janet Leigh starring in a frantic farce set in Paris, directed by Blake Edwards early in his career, and “The Private War of Major Benson” (1955), an atypical comic vehicle for Charlton Heston as tough-as-nails officer assigned to train boys in a military school, with Julie Adams in support, and smaller roles played by up-and-comers Sal Mineo and David Janssen.

These two are the real draw for fans, as they have not been available except as DVD-R burn-on-demand discs on the Universal Vault label, each priced at $15 to $20. So this “Wartime Comedy” set is a real savings just to get those two films.

The downside, however, is that “The Private War of Major Benson” is in the square-ish pan-and-scan mode instead of the film’s original widescreen format.

“The Perfect Furlough,” the only other title here that was a widescreen release, is preserved in its original format.