Monday, February 14, 2022

Abbott and Costello's The Time of Their Lives

Bud and Lou in one of their few scenes together.
One of Abbott and Costello's most atypical films ranks among their best. The Time of Their Lives (1946) is one of only two of the pair's movies in which they don't perform as a team. The previous year's Little Giant is the other non-comedy team picture. In real life, the two actors were in the middle of a rift.

The Time of Their Lives casts Lou as Horatio Prim, a patriotic American tinker during the Revolutionary War. Horatio is enlisted by the upper-class Melody Allen (Majorie Reynolds) to warn George Washington of a treasonous plot involving her fiancé Tom Danbury. However, while Melody and Horatio are departing the Danbury estate, they are pursued by a band of men. Following an exchange of gunfire, Horatio and Melody are killed--by other patriots who assumed they were traitors. Their bodies are dumped into a well and cursed to wander the estate until the "crack of doom" or until their innocence can be proven.

Lou Costello as Horatio.
Horatio's and Melody's ghosts spend most of the next 166 years residing in a tree on the estate following the mansion's destruction in a fire. However, in 1947, they take an interest when a playwright named Sheldon Gage rebuilds the grand house and restores some of the original furnishings. It gives Horatio and Melody hope that they may be able to find a letter from Washington that proves Horatio was not a traitor. That letter would free them from their curse.

While Lou Costello still cracks one-liners and performs pratfalls, The Time of Their Lives is a charming change-of-pace comedy fantasy. Bud Abbott benefits the most, as he gets to play double roles: a conniving manservant in 1870 who dislikes Horatio and a contemporary psychiatrist who takes a big risk to help the friendly ghosts. It's especially refreshing to see him as the latter, a likable character distinctly different from his usual roles.

Marjorie Reynolds as Melody.
Marjorie Reynolds essentially plays Lou's straight man. On screen, the couple project a sweet affection for one another. There's even a hint of romantic feelings between the two ghosts, though that angle is jettisoned awkwardly when Melody learns of her fiancé's regrets. It's really the only misstep in an otherwise well-written script.

The ghostly special effects are impressive for the most part. A highlight is when Horatio and Melody walk "through" each other and exchange clothes. Such effects required the actors to perform the same scene multiple times. That created a problem because Costello often liked to take props as souvenirs from his movies. In one instance, his pilfering of a prop destroyed a scene's continuity and wasted a day of filming.

Marjorie Reynolds retired from movies in the early 1950s. Despite promising roles in "A" pictures like Holiday Inn (1942) and Ministry of Fear (1944), she never became a star. She transitioned successfully to television, though, as William Bendix's wife in the NBC series Life of Riley (1953-58). She also appeared in occasional guest star roles in TV shows like Leave to Beaver and, notably, The Abbott and Costello Show

The Time of Their Lives did not perform at the box office as well as Abbott and Costello's other comedies for Universal. Still, the team got back on track later in 1947 with The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap, an amusing Western comedy co-starring Majorie Main. And in 1948, they would star in their biggest hit of all: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein


  1. I loved Abbott & Costello in this film. It's one of my favorite movies. It is much different than their "meet....fill in the blank" movies. I like those too, though. They were a great comedy team.

  2. Ack! I've never even heard of this film! But I'll be looking for it. Thanks for recommending.