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Bud Abbott and Lou Costello could never be accused of creating great art,but, at their peak, they were one of the more popular teams appearing inmovies. Although the tone is far different, their success can be readilycompared to Jim Carrey's in the Ace Ventura movies - people who foundthem overbearing simply couldn't fathom anyone who was a big fan. Still,they had millions of devotees, and The Time of Their Lives (1946), acleverly executed ghost story in which Bud and Lou barely even speak to eachother, is one of their strongest outings.
Costello plays Horatio Prim, a Revolutionary War soldier who's wronglyexecuted as a traitor. He then revisits the world many years later, accompanied by abeautiful ghost (Marjorie Reynolds), to establishhis innocence and be allowed into heaven. Abbott plays a psychologistwho, unfortunately for him, resembles the person who sentenced Prim to deathall those years ago. Lots of supernatural activity occurs around an old mansion, asPrim torments the psychologist all the way to a happy ending.
The comedy team of Abbott and Costello is usually mentioned in the same breath, because one seldom saw them managing scenes alone, a la the Marx Brothers. They were a true comedy duo, with Bud playing the straight man and Lou supplying theyucks. But Costello was beginning to feel stifled as their career-built-for-two skyrocketed, and longed to branch out into other kinds of performances. He eventually got his wish with a picture called Little Giant (1946), in which he played a role that stood apart from his partner. When it turned out to be a hit, the experiment was tried once again with The Time of Their Lives.
Producer Val Burton wrote the original treatment for The Time of TheirLives in 1944, although at that point it was to be called The GhostSteps Out, and the ghosts were a dandy and his African-Americanvalet...a bit beyond the reach of Abbott and Costello. A year later, WalterDeLeon and Bradford Ropes re-worked the idea. John Grant then contributedadditional dialogue. For a while, it looked like there might be aplagiarism lawsuit, as The Time of Their Lives bore a slightresemblance to a Broadway show called The Gramercy Ghost, but iteventually fizzled out.
The Time of Their Lives, with its ghost-conjuring trick photography -Reynolds had to darken her hair in order for her shots to work properly -was the most expensive Abbott and Costello vehicle up to this point. But adetailed accounting of the special effects is enough to make George Lucasweep. Studio records show that the lordly sum of $2,000 was spent on testshots of "heaven," roughly $1,500 was burned on thin wires that were used tomake objects "float," and several other gags cost anywhere between $250 to$750! Nowadays, you couldn't cover Drew Barrymore's daily lunch and laundrytab for 250 bucks.
At one point, Costello, who seemed far more ready to break up the team than his easy-going partner was, phoned director Charles Barton and insisted thathe and Abbott switch parts. "I think Lou had been off for two or threedays, and he thought we were shooting a lot more with Bud than with him-because he never read a script. Neither did Bud. Anyway, Lou wanted toswitch parts or else he wasn't coming to work. That meant scrapping weeksof footage. So we just sat and waited him out. When he did come back,everything was beautiful sailing from then on."
Luckily for Barton, neither man needed much preparation to give a decentperformance. "Both had photographic memories," he said. "They could glanceat a script once, and they'd know it. They were very quick learners whohated rehearsals." It's not surprising that, with Abbott and Costello,timing really was everything.
Director: Charles Barton
Screenplay: Val Burton, Walter DeLeon, John Grant, Bradford Ropes
Producer: Val Burton
Music: Milton Rosen
Cinematography: Charles Van Enger
Editing: Philip Cahn
Art Direction: Jack Otterson, Richard H. Riedel
Principal Cast: Bud Abbott (Cuthbert/Dr. Greenway), Lou Costello (HoratioPrim), Marjorie Reynolds (Melody Allen), Binnie Barnes (Mildred Prescott),John Shelton (Sheldon Gage), Jess Barker (Tom Danbury), Gale Sondergaard(Emily), Robert Barrat (Maj. Putnam).
BW-82m. Closed Captioning.
by Paul Tatara