Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tuesday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello

Since it's Tuesday again, you know we'll be talking about forgotten (or overlooked) films and/or other audio visual material - the weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his blog, Sweet Freedom. So don't forget to check in at link central to see what everyone's posted.

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello made several wonderful films in their long-lived movie/television careers including the classic ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN which remains one of my very favorite films of all time.

But we're here today to talk about something else by the lunatic pair, the less well-known 1946 film, THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES directed by Charles Barton, which, in many ways, remains one of Abbott and Costello's more atypical offerings. And wonder of wonders, Costello doesn't get slapped around by Abbott as was their usual shtick.

The humor is a bit subtler too. Well, subtle as far as Abbott and Costello goes. Though it's a funny film, it's not raucous funny nor, I think, was it meant to be. According to Wikipedia, Costello and Abbott were on the outs and taking a break from each other, hence the decision not to play the usual put-upon partners in hilarity, but two separate characters with separate lives (or non-lives).

Lou Costello plays Horatio Primm, a 1780 tinker who dies in the first part of the story set way back when, and spends the rest of film as a ghost. Dead along with him is Melody Allen (Marjorie Reynolds) - branded as traitors, their bodies have been thrown down a well and left to rot. Doesn't sound at all like a bundle of laughs, but stay with me.

In the movie Abbott and Costello actually appear together in only one scene early on. This must be a publicity still.

Move 165 years ahead and the odd couple materialize as see-through apparitions bent on retrieving a letter written by George Washington which would prove their innocence and allow them to leave the Greenway estate which they are condemned to roam and, what's more, head on up to the pearly gates. Phew!

Why did they wait so many years? Well, turns out that the original letter (hidden inside a clock) was part of a cache which soldiers on horseback appropriated way back when. They also burned down the original Greenway mansion as part of their revolution festivities. The only way to find the letter is to find the clock.

The modern-times Greenway mansion has been re-built by a rather stiff-necked Waspish descendant - psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenway (Bud Abbott in a straight acting role)  - with most of the original  furnishings restored. Except for the clock that is, which is currently up for auction in town. (Unknown to the two ghosts AND the psychiatrist and his friends.)

Since the house has been restored to its pre-Revolutionary days glamour, Horatio and Melody think they'll find the letter still in its hiding place.

When Greenway arrives to show off the house to his wise-cracking friends (of which Binnie Barnes gets the best lines) they are met by Gale Sondergaard - the eternal sinister housekeeper. (Think, REBECCA.)

Ghostly shenanigans ensue as Horatio and Melody do their best to search the house. The sinister housekeeper, of course, senses their presence though Greenway and his friends poo-poo the idea of 'ghosts'.

It's all nonsense and a lot of fun. In fact, this remains one of my favorite Abbott and Costello movies precisely because their usual heavy-handed routines are missing. This film is more about the story (which is an engaging one) and eventual outcome, rather than the two loony-toonys themselves. A good film for this time of year, I'm thinking.


  1. An absolute winner that I have not seen in ages! Thank you so much for all the fond memories.

  2. I don't think I've ever seen this one, Yvette, and it certainly sounds atypical of their usual work. Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. Hi Yvette, just browsing, pleasantly. Always a nice place to be. Noted the quote from Jane Austen. :-) Dave

  4. This is one of my favorite A&C films. I think the 2 work well as separate characters (though Lou gets most of the funny lines and laughs). Binnie Barnes works well with them, too; she should have made more pictures with them.

  5. Yvette, I'm pleased to see you've discovered THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES (though your last scene there kinda gives away a great joke)! Nice to see Marjorie Reynolds in the cast, as I liked her in MINISTRY OF FEAR! Even if Abbott and Costello were having a vacation of sorts from each other, it's still fun to see the boys getting laughs from other members of the cast, like our favorite sinister sylph Gale Sondergaard! :-) Swell post, my friend!

  6. Yes, it's a good one, C.W. Don't you think it's perfect for this time of year? It just fits in.

  7. Les it'a a good one especially at this time of year. I think you'd enjoy it. If you can find it. :)

  8. Grand Old Movies: Oh definitely, they SHOULD have made more movies with the smart mouthed Binnie. :)

  9. This was one of my favorite movies growing up in NYC, Dorian. It was always on some channel or other, usually 11. There used to be an Abbott and Costello film shown every week on a regular basis, Saturday or Sunday - can't remember which date.

    Boy did I miss that when they changed their programming.

  10. Which quote is that, Dave? And by the way the reason I have trouble picking up your comments is that they register as spam. Don't know why.

    At any rate, now that I know, I'll always check there first. :)

  11. I have heard a lot about Abbott and Costello but don't recall watching anything by the pair. For one who gives comedy top priority over all genres, I ought to have been familiar with their films and television series. Thanks for reminding me, Yvette.

  12. Hi, Yvette -

    I'm never able to watch Abbott and Costello without the fact that they didn't like each other getting in the way of my enjoyment.

    Maybe that's why I like Laurel and Hardy all the more. I know that they were really devoted to each other, and I think it shows in their acting.

  13. Mark, I'm with you on Laurel & Hardy. The family often sits down to watch L&H from the fairly large collection of CDs we have. They are the most innocent and delightful pair of comedians I've had the joy of watching. Not surprisingly, they are never funny solo. I rate Stan and Ollie several notches above Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Marx Brothers, and The Three Stooges.

  14. Prashant, when it comes to Abbott and Costello, I especially recommend:


  15. Mark, they didn't hate each other, I think. They just didn't love each other. But they worked well together.
    The personal stuff didn't/doesn't bother me in this instance. Although occasionally personal stuff does interfere with my appreciation of a movie. i.e. Bing Crosby wins no accolades from me. Can't watch anything he's in. After I read about his personal life. Yuck.

  16. I like Laurel and Hardy most especially in my favorite Christmas movie MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS which I've been watching every Christmas since I was a kid.

    But even there you can see the affection they had for each other.

  17. I like this hidden gem myself; I'm also fond of THE WISTFUL WIDOW OF WAGON GAP, another experimental A&C flick from the same period, and THE NOOSE HANGS HIGH, in which A&C are joined by the underrated and hilarious Leon Errol.

    I'd add THE NAUGHTY NINETIES (45) to the A&C recommendations, it has the definitive version of "Who's on First" and is a funny period piece besides.

  18. Hi Hal, sorry I overlooked your comment. Although I remember typing out a reply, I guess it must have disappeared as so many other things do.

    I'm pretty sure I've seen the other Abbott and Costello movies you mention. Maybe it's time to re-watch and refresh my memory. :)


Your comment will appear after I take a look.