The Time of Their Lives starts out during the American Revolution with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello playing romantic rivals.
While the film may start out during the Revolutionary War, it soon jumps 166 years years ahead in time. This makes way for some pleasant laughs with being scared by electricity.
Six years into the war, master tinker Horatio Prim (Lou Costello) seeks to free Nora O’Leary (Ann Gillis) out of indentured servitude to Tom Danbury. His hope is that a letter from George Washington will allow him to do so. Unfortunately, Danbury’s butler, Cuthbert Greenway (Bud Abbott), has other plans. When Nora shows the letter to Danbury, she later hears him discussing Benedict Arnold’s treasonous plot. Danbury seizes Nora and then hides the letter in the library clock. Danbury’s fiancée, Melody Allen, sees all of this happening and so she searches for Horatio in order to warn Washington. The film soon becomes a comedy of errors because they think Danbury’s friends are on their way. If only. The Continental Army arrives and to no surprise, they shoot Horatio and Melody. A curse gets enacted and their souls cannot leave the estate.
While there is some comedy during this portion, most of it takes place during 1946. It’s fun to watch Horatio and Melody as they roam the estate in the then-present day. Following the estate’s restoration, playwright Sheldon Gage invites a few folks to visit. One of them is a psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenway (Bud Abbott). Greenway is a direct descendant of Danbury’s butler, Cuthbert. Most of the visitors have no idea what is going on but Emily is the only one who realizes the grounds are haunted. The comedy just writes itself.
This film certainly isn’t a bad way to spend the Independence Day holiday weekend. I mean, you’re spending time with one of the greatest duos in comedy history. One thing that I appreciate watching the film is that they’re not playing their typical characters. They’re not playing in a way in which they go after each other. The duo’s two previous films disappointed at the box office so it meant having to change things up. After the opening scenes during the Revolution, neither Abbott or Costello talk to each other in the film. They’re not playing partners or even friends. In fact, the two serve as romantic rivals in the beginning. That’s about it. Cut to 166 years later and Abbott returns as a descendant of his original character.
I feel that the jokes largely hold up as the film approaches the 75th anniversary in August. They come equally at Abbott and Costello’s expense. Costello’s ghost keeps getting stuck or can’t fully unmanifest himself. Meanwhile, Abbott’s psychiatrist thinks he’s losing it with both Horatio and Melody haunting him. You cannot help but laugh. Of course, this film is from the Code era so I’m sure Joseph Breen probably suggested script revisions. But in large part, this is a harmless comedy. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be chuckling during several scenes.
Behind the camera, Charles Barton steps into the director’s chair. The film marks the first of eight films with Abbott and Costello. Two years later, he would go onto direct their what may be their funniest film, Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein. The film also marks the rare time we see Bud Abbott driving a vehicle. In fact, this is the only time in the comedian’s life in which he drove a vehicle.
The Time of Their Lives may stray away from the typical Abbott and Costello formula but this film still draws laughs some 75 years later.
DIRECTOR: Charles Barton
SCREENWRITERS: Val Burton, Walter DeLeon, Bradford Ropes
CAST: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, with Marjorie Reynolds, Binnie Barnes, John Shelton, Jess Barker, Gale Sondergaard, Robert H. Barrat