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Joe spends a lot of his time at Nick's Pacific Street Saloon. Tom, who credits Joe with once saving his life, stops by regularly to run errands for Joe. Today, Tom notices a woman named Kitty when she comes into Nick's, and he quickly falls in love with her. Meanwhile, a distraught young man repeatedly calls his girlfriend, begging her to marry him. Nick himself muses on all the various persons who come into his bar, some to ask for work and others just to pass the time. Written by
In 1941 Richard Rogers and Lawrence (Larry) Hart did the score of a brilliant musical called PAL JOEY. One highlight was a striptease dance and song done by Elaine Stritch towards the end of the second act, where she is a reporter talking about interviewing Gypsy Rose Lee. Gypsy (if you recall the movie with Natalie Wood) was always self-taught, and well read. The song spoofed this having her show off her knowledge (it begins with her mentioning reading Schopenhauer, not the easiest thing in the world). One couplet is the following:
"Zip, Walter Lippman wasn't brilliant today." "Zip, will Saroyan ever write a great play?"
It is a little ironic that this barb was directed to William Saroyan, as the star of PAL JOEY was Gene Kelly, who played "Harry, a natural born hoofer" in Saroyan's one and only Broadway success, THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE. Why the barb? Well William Saroyan was a popular short story writer and novelist, especially for books like MY NAME IS ARAM, about the life of the Armenian-American immigrants in California. However, try as he might he never wrote a monumental dramatic masterpiece. THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE is not in the same level of dramaturgy as A LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, THE DEATH OF A SALESMAN, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, or WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF. THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE is a pleasant play, and still gets revived, but it is a lesser work for the stage. Even Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN is considered a greater play.
The problem with THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE is that it shows the interactions of a set of characters in Nick's Bar. As was pointed out in another comment on this board, O'Neill's THE ICEMAN COMETH also is set in a bar. But the denizens of the bar at Harry Hope's flop house hotel are all failures, who drink to forget their failures and reassure themselves that they can pull themselves out of the failure sooner or later (none of them really can). Hickey, who comes to the hotel, tries to convince them they'll be happier giving up their "pipe dreams" if they admit they are not heroic or brave or capable of reform. You see, there is a theme that is uniting that play's characters. Saroyan is not (as was said) O'Neill. He was more optimistic, and he tried to show that the characters were capable of helping each other. At the end they join together to defeat the evil Blick.
Saroyan, like Wilder, was a master of Americana. In one sequence he has two characters get involved in a contest to see how much gum can be chewed at one time. O'Neill (even in a play like AH WILDERNESS, which is a comedy) never could be so Hamish. Saroyan invents very colorful characters, like his old timer "Kit Carson", who claims to be an old Indian fighter. The central figure in the play, Joe (or Joseph T.) is also colorful - he seems to be a former newspaperman who was successful, but began to regret getting involved in the awful world of the news - he has retreated to the bar where he'll hopefully find more gentle people. He is visited at one point by a woman, probably his former fiancé, and acknowledges her, but won't return to the madness he willingly left. The character is interesting, but none of the other characters reflect his point of view.
So we are left with a well acted, entertaining play - turned into a good movie. Cagney is remarkably subdued - look at the scene when he examines the little wind-up toys he has Wayne Morris buy for him. He maintains our interest until the end, but the lively Cagney does not show up until he confronts Blick.
William Bendix does his usual great job, especially when confronting Blick as a potential blackmailing scum. His Nick runs a respectable bar, and the threat Blick is hinting at is that a prostitute may be using the bar (Jeanne Cagney). Bendix knows nothing of this, but is concerned. Oddly enough, although the bar is a nice neighborhood one, Howard Freeman and Natalie Schaefer go to the bar (they are wealthy people) as though they are slumming.
The current film version does not have all the scenes that Cagney originally had shot. Wayne Morris's growing romance with Jeanne Cagney is cut down in the film (which is regrettable). There is also an interesting change in the conclusion (as in Saroyan's play itself) as to what happens to Blick. But the film is a good one, and a worthy addition to Jimmy Cagney's film record.
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