Monday 30 April 2012

Movie Review: The Time Of Your Life (1948)

A whimsical slice of life and semi-serious drama, The Time Of Your Life gets lost in flighty side stories about poorly sketched characters. Whatever weight the original play may have carried has long since been lost, and the screen adaptation is almost dumbfounding in its lack of focus.

The events take place over one day at a single location, Nick's Saloon and Entertainment Place on Pacific Street in San Francisco, a reputable establishment on the wrong side of town. Owner Nick (William Bendix) holds court, serving customers and hiring oddball talent, and his regular customers include the inexplicably wealthy and somewhat eccentric Joe (James Cagney), who seems to mostly enjoy getting to know people and helping them with sage advice, while endlessly repeating the same two songs on the jukebox.

Tom (Wayne  Morris) is Joe's sidekick and errand boy, and the customers who drift in and out of Nick's on this day include Kitty Duval (Jeanne Cagney), a girl with a past; Kit Carson (James Barton), a hard drinking old-timer with an endless number of tall tales, Harry the tap dancer, Wesley the pianist, Dudley the heartbroken young man, Willie, a man obsessed with defeating the pinball machine, and the mysterious and clearly evil Blick (Tom Powers).  Before the day is over, Joe is playing matchmaker for a burgeoning romance between Tom and Kitty, and helping to subdue a rampaging Blick.

A Cagney family affair, with producer William joining his siblings James and Jeanne in pulling the film together, The Time Of Your Life is an adaptation of a 1939 William Saroyan play. The movie never gains traction, the characters remaining lamentably bland, with all attempts at tension, drama, and humour evaporating as quickly as Kit Carson drains his beer. The whole exercise descends into a desperate attempt at delightful quirkiness that instead achieves stultifying dullness. Director H. C. Potter does not appear to even try to break the story out of its stage-bound confinement, although he makes decent use of the many nooks within Nick's sprawling establishment.

James Cagney does his best to inject some soul into the proceedings, and the character of Joe doubtless has a fascinating backstory that unfortunately remains a dense mystery. We are left with Joe proclaiming that he just wants to go through life being helpful and without hurting anyone. Being part of a movie this boring may not actually cause hurt, but it comes close.

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1 comment:

  1. I liked the movie, but acknowledge its weaknesses. There is a lot of good spirit in this script, with Cagney and Bendix playing against type. It is sweet, perhaps too sweet. But it was made during the Depression when people had to help each other. That's what I got out of it.


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