Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Time of Your Life (1948)

This is an odd little film. Not in a good "Holy shit, I've never seen anything like it and it's forced me to look at filmmaking/life in a brand new way, and getting me to ask questions about what I perceive as 'good' and 'bad,' turning my own preconceived notions on its head." More like a shrug of "meh," followed by the exasperated exclamation "Boy, this hasn't aged well at ALL!"

The Time of Your Life is an adaption of William Saroyan's Pulitzer prize winning, but little revived play of the same name. It takes place almost entirely in this San Francisco dive called Nick’s Pacific Street Saloon, Restaurant and Entertainment Place, which seem to attract the most strange, eccentric characters. This includes, but is not limited to, a B-girl with a heart of gold (Jeanne Cagney), a tap dancer who likes telling funny stories that nobody laughs at (Paul Draper), and Joe (James Cagney), a mysterious man who always has money and likes being nice to people. There's no real plot to speak of; just a lot of interactions and purplely monologues. It fact, it is almost radical is how little action takes place outside of the bar, not attempting to hide its theatrical roots, though bowing down to cinematic censorship (turning Kitty’s profession from prostitute to B-girl, for instance).

This is full of very memorable, and often very good, performances. Special shout outs have to go towards William Bendix as the bar owner, who is both exasperated and pleased by his clientele; and Jeanne Cagney (James’s sister) who projects a certain melancholy but fragile hope and will to survive in every scene she is in. Cagney himself is in an atypically low-key performance, and its only ok; there's little of the dynamism that makes him so appealing.

Now, this movie has major flaws, most that can be traced to the original material. The characters are a collection of quirks, tall tales and pinballs. The dialogue is overwrought and stylized to the point of grating rust. Morality is at its most basic divided into two types: those who are good and those who are vilely evil (the one Bad Guy wears black, for Christ's sake).

I'm glad I saw this bizarre film once, but it holds no candle to the best "movie based on a play where barflies monologue in a bar for hours," The Iceman Cometh (1970)

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