Happy Patriots Day: Abbott & Costello in THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES (Universal 1946)

Good morning! While most of you in America are fretting over Tax Day, here in Massachusetts we’re celebrating Patriots Day, commemorating the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord that kicked off the American Revolution. It’s a state holiday, and the Boston Marathon is held every year on this date, with the Red Sox playing their traditional 11:00am game. It’s been a tradition on this blog (well, since last year, anyway ) to feature Revolutionary War-themed films, and today we’ll take a look at THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES, an Abbott & Costello comedy that’s one of the duo’s best.

THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES differs from the usual A&C formula, with Bud and Lou playing separate characters rather than working as a team. The film begins in 1780, as Costello’s Horatio Prim, tinker by trade and true patriot, rides to visit his lady-love Nora. In his possession is a letter of recommendation from George Washington himself, but Abbott’s Cuthbert Greenway, jealous of Nora’s affection for Horatio, locks him in a trunk. Meanwhile, the lady of the house, Melody Allen, discovers her man Thomas Danbury is a traitor to the cause. Helping Horatio escape, the two are mistaken for British sympathizers, shot, and tossed down a well as the rebels ransack Danbury Manor and burn it to the ground. The rebel leader curses Horatio and Melody to spend eternity on the grounds unless it’s proven they weren’t traitors after all.

Fast forward 166 years and, as the ghosts of Horatio and Melody are still trapped on Earth, Danbury Manor is restored to its former glory by Sheldon Gage, planning to turn it into a tourist attraction. He brings along his fiancé June, her Aunt Millie, and his pal Dr. Ralph Greenway, a descendant of Cuthbert. There’s also servant Emily, said to possess psychic powers, as well as the power to creep people out (June  to Emily: “Didn’t I see you in REBECCA?”).

Our disembodied duo decide to haunt the joint in hopes of finding Washington’s letter and free their earthbound souls, and that’s when the fun really begins in this excellent fantasy-comedy directed by Charles Barton, who went on to make nine more movies with the team. Bud Abbott gets a chance to stop playing straight man and takes the brunt of the comic mayhem, as the ghostly Horatio mistakes him for Cuthbert (Bud plays both parts). But it’s Lou Costello who truly shines as Horatio, combining his farcical facial expressions and high-pitched vocal squeals with moments of pathos. Audiences weren’t used to seeing Bud and Lou as separate entities (though they also went this route in their previous film LITTLE GIANT), and they returned to  their tried-and-true routines with their next, BUCK PRIVATES COME HOME.

Marjorie Reynolds , fondly remembered for the Christmas classic HOLIDAY INN, makes a good foil for Lou as the ghostly Melody. Academy Award winner Gale Sondergaard didn’t play much comedy in her career, but she’s perfect as the weirdo Emily (and no, she wasn’t in REBECCA ; that was Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers). Binnie Barnes gets off some snappy one-liners as Aunt Millie (Bud during the séance scene: “We’ve all got to make our minds completely blank” Binnie: “Well, that should be easy for you!”). John Shelton and Lynn Baggett are bland as Sheldon and June, but veteran Donald MacBride livens things up as a cop towards the conclusion.

There’s plenty of spooky shenanigans to be had, as Horatio and Melody encounter modern (well, 1946 modern) technology, the séance sequence manages to be both funny and eerie, and the special effects hold up well for the most part. To cap it all off, there’s a hilarious final sight gag that’ll leave you laughing. Even non-A&C fans will enjoy THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES, a scare comedy that’s as patriotic as George Washington! With that, let’s all celebrate Patriots Day:

(Hey, I told you it’s a Massachusetts thing!)

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Celebrate Patriots’ Day with JOHNNY TREMAIN (Walt Disney 1957)

Here in Massachusetts, every third Monday in April is designated Patriots’ Day, a state holiday commemorating the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord which gave birth to the American Revolutionary War. The annual Boston Marathon is run on this day, as well as an 11:00AM Boston Red Sox game, so it’s a pretty big deal in this neck of the woods. Those of you in other parts of the country can celebrate by watching JOHNNY TREMAIN, Walt Disney’s film about a young boy living in those Colonial times that led up to the birth of “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”.

Based on the 1943 Newbery Award-winning YA novel by Esther Forbes, the film tells the story of the Revolution through the eyes of young Johnny Tremain (Hal Stalmaster), a teen apprenticed to silversmith Mr. Lapham (crusty Will Wright ), who has a cute daughter Priscilla (Luana Patten). When the aristocratic merchant Jonathan Lyte (eloquent but arrogant Sebastian Cabot ) brings in his silver tea-pot demanding a rush job, Johnny shares a secret with Cilla: his christening cup, given to him by his late mother, bears the Lyte family crest. When Johnny diligently works on the pot during the Sabbath (how blasphemous!), his hand is burned, permanently damaging it and his apprenticeship in the process!

Unable to find work because of his injury, Johnny goes to Lyte for help, and instead is accused of stealing the christening cup and arrested! He’s put on trial, and defended by Josiah Quincy (Whit Bissell ), a leader in the secret “Sons of Liberty” society. Cilla’s testimony sets Johnny free, and he’s recruited by the Sons as a messenger, playing an important part in the Boston Tea Party, then again by delivering the famous message to the church sexton (“Two if by sea”) that triggers Paul Revere’s midnight ride, leading up to the Battle at Lexington Green and “The Shot Heard ‘Round The World”!

Along the way, Johnny meets all the important figures in the Revolution: Revere, Quincy, James Otis, Samuel Adams, Dr. Joseph Warren. The film was  directed by Robert Stevenson , his first of a number of Disney classics: OLD YELLER, MARY POPPINS, THE LOVE BUG, and many more. It’s a stirring saga that manages to both educate and entertain, and features the rousing song “The Sons of Liberty” after the Tea Party incident, with the rebels hanging 13 lanterns on the tree, representing the Original 13 Colonies:

        The cast includes Richard Beymer as Johnny’s pal Rab, Virginia Christine as Mrs. Lapham, Walter Sande as Paul Revere, Jeff York as James Otis (who gives an impassioned speech on fighting tyranny at the Sons’ secret meeting), Walter Coy, Cyril Delevanti, Gavin Gordon, Dabbs Greer , and Lumsden Hare. So today would be the perfect day to watch JOHNNY TREMAIN and celebrate liberty and freedom; as for me, I watched it last week, and since the Red Sox game has been cancelled due to our crummy New England weather, I think I’ll start my day by watching yet another movie! Happy Patriots’ Day, one and all!

BTW, this year Patriots’ Day happens to fall on another celebration – my birthday!!