Cast & Crew
Chester A. Riley, a riveter at Stevenson Aircraft in Los Angeles, works hard but is always behind in his bills. One day, after paying out all but five of his fifty-dollar-a-week paycheck, Riley has to sneak into his house to avoid his landlady, Miss Martha Bogle, to whom he owes money. Then, his wife Peg receives a phone call from Sidney Monahan, a former flame from Brooklyn, their home town, and Riley impulsively invites him to dinner. While readying for Monahan, Riley's daughter Babs, a serious-minded college student, catches the eye of Miss Bogle's handsome young nephew, Jeff Taylor. To Babs's delight, Jeff, who has just moved in next door with his aunt, is a dedicated pre-med student. When Monahan and his new wife Lucy arrive for dinner, Riley is envious of his former rival's obvious wealth and tries to hide his own financial shortcomings. During cocktails, a bill collector from the electric company shows up, and after Riley sends him on his way, he disconnects the Rileys' electricity. Plunged into darkness, Riley takes the advice of friend and neighbor, undertaker "Digger" O'Dell, and invites his guests to a restaurant. Before going, Riley instructs his precocious son Junior to exchange his piggy bank coins into bills and meet him at the restaurant, assuming that Junior's savings combined with his five dollars will be enough to pay for the meal. After the boorish Monahan orders the most expensive items on the fancy French menu, however, Riley barely has enough to cover the check. He then is embarrassed in front of the Monahans when Junior appears with his full piggy bank, having been unable to open it, and during a struggle with the waiter, the bank falls to the ground and breaks. Humiliated, Riley vows to Peg that he will become more successful, and after six weeks of working overtime, he volunteers to host the company's Labor Day beach picnic. When his efforts to impress his boss, Carl Stevenson, apparently fail, Riley becomes incensed and finally works up the courage to confront him. To Riley's amazement, Stevenson reveals that he had already planned to promote him to foreman, beginning in January. Stevenson's ne'er-do-well son Burt, meanwhile, is cornered at the picnic by a thug named Norman, who demands that he repay a $25,000 gambling debt. Aware that he can use his grandfather's trust money if he marries with the approval of his father, Burt decides to pursue the wholesome Babs. Babs, however, has her heart set on Jeff and rejects Burt's advances. Later, while dropping off the rent to Miss Bogle, Babs receives her first kiss from Jeff. Jeff and Babs's bliss is soon dampened when Miss Bogle reveals that she must sell the Rileys' house because of her own financial problems. Not wanting to uproot his family, Riley determines to come up with the $1,500 down payment and goes from bank to bank searching for a loan. Rejected everywhere, Riley reluctantly asks Monahan for the money, but Monahan also refuses him. Just as all appears lost, Riley learns from Burt that he has been promoted to a high-paying executive position. Riley is overjoyed by his unexpected "step up," unaware that Babs asked Burt to offer him the job, and that he did so without his father's knowledge. When Burt finally tells Babs about his financial predicament and suggests that they marry quickly so that Riley can keep his job and he can save his life, Babs reluctantly agrees. Jeff, who had just proposed to Babs himself, is devastated by her announcement, as is Peg, who knows that her daughter does not love Burt. On the day of Babs's wedding, which is to take place at the Stevenson mansion, Riley becomes annoyed and hurt when Gillis, his best friend and co-worker, snubs him because he is sure that Riley "sold" his daughter to get the promotion. Despite Gillis' accusations and Peg's doubts, Riley goes along with the wedding plan until Junior uses the Stevensons' intercom to eavesdrop on Burt's room. After Riley overhears Burt discussing "business" with Norman, he beats up Norman and drags him before the wedding crowd. Once Riley declares to Stevenson that he does not want the promotion, Babs realizes she is free and runs into Jeff's waiting arms. Gillis then forgives Riley, and Riley is satisfied that his family is happy once more.
Ted De Corsia
William E. Green
Leslie I. Carey
John F. Decuir
Russell A. Gausman
Ruby R. Levitt
The Life of Riley
The idea for the radio program had originated as a sitcom for Groucho Marx called The Flotsam Family , but Groucho was Groucho and the sponsor couldn't accept him as a family man. Irving Brecher, who would direct the film adaptation of Life of Riley, had seen William Bendix in a film called The McGuerins of Brooklyn (1942) and knew he'd found his man. The lead character was changed to Chester A. Riley, the title was changed to The Life of Riley and a show and star were born.
Made for Universal Pictures and directed by Brecher, who also wrote and produced the simple plot of The Life of Riley , revolves around Babs (Randall) learning that Riley is about to get laid off. The boss' son (Long), who is in love with Babs, suggests that they get married in order to save Riley's job. When Riley learns that the couple is to spend their honeymoon in separate rooms, he becomes suspicious.
When the film opened in New York at the Loew's Criterion theater in April 1949, Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times turned his nose up at it writing, "As one whom domestic expediency occasionally compels to bear with the Friday night bull-bellowing of one Chester A. Riley on the radio, this reviewer can state with fair authority that no artistic advantage has been gained by making this same Mr. Riley and his family apparent on the screen." No one escaped Crowther's vitriol: Bendix was "an oaf," Lanny Rees, as son, Junior, looked "slightly frightening," Randall as Babs was "just another shapely blonde," and John Brown as Digger was "extremely disappointing in the flesh." Crowther concluded, "[W]e suppose there are millions who will like this sort of truck. And we suspect there'll be more Riley movies. What a revoltin' development, indeed."
Executives, who immediately began production on a television series, did not share Crowther's opinion, but because Bendix's movie contract barred him from doing television (a not uncommon ban in the early days of the medium when studios wanted to discourage audiences from staying home and watching TV), Jackie Gleason played Riley for one unsuccessful season in 1950. Bendix was able to return to the role on NBC from 1953 to 1958, where the program was consistently in the top 25.
Bareiss, Warren "The Life of Riley" Encyclopedia of Television
"The Life of Riley" The Billboard Magazine Dec 6, 1947
Crowther, Bosley "'The Life of Riley,' With Bendix in the Title Role, Makes Its Appearance at Criterion" The New York Times April 18, 1949.
Cullen, Frank, Hackman, Florence and McNeilly, Donald Vaudeville Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America Vol. 1
Dunning, John On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio The Internet Movie Database
By Lorraine LoBianco
The Life of Riley
Opening credits conclude with the following written statement: "America! Land of miracles, where dreams come true! In 1907, a penniless farmer named Ruben Shipp discovered gold while plowing his field. Today he is just living the life of Riley...In 1908, a starving Indian named Gray Horse drove a tent stake into the ground and struck oil. Today he is just living the life of Riley...This is the story of Chester A. Riley...who is just living...in Los Angeles California." The expression "life of Riley" or "living the life of Riley (Reilly)" emerged in the early 1920s, and was probably derived from turn-of-the-century Irish songs, such as "The Best in the House Is None Too Good for Reilly." Irving Brecher's onscreen credit reads: "Written and directed by Irving Brecher." Actor Ted de Corsia's name appears as both "de Corsia" and "deCorsia" in the onscreen credits.
The Life of Riley was the initial release of Brecher Productions, Inc. William Bendix first played "Riley" in the popular NBC radio series on which this film was based, and John Brown played "'Digger' O'Dell" in the series. Brown also played "Gillis" on the radio. Paula Winslowe played "Peg" for most of the series' run. Alan Lipscott and Reuben Ship wrote many of the radio series' early episodes, and Don Bernard was the show's initial director. Riley's catch phrase in the series and the film was "what a revolting development this turned out to be."
Patricia Hall was listed as a cast member in a Hollywood Reporter news item, but her appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Although Hollywood Reporter announced in January and February 1949 that the film would have its premiere in March 1949 in Cincinnati, no definite information about the premiere was found. Bendix, Rosemary DeCamp, Richard Long, Meg Randall and John Brown reprised their screen roles for an May 8, 1950 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast. In October 1949, the NBC network began broadcasting a television series inspired by the radio program, also titled The Life of Riley. Jackie Gleason starred as Riley during the show's first year, while DeCamp and Lanny Rees reprised their film roles for the series. The show was canceled after its first season, but was revived in 1953, then ran on the NBC network until August 1958. For the second run, Bendix returned as Riley, while Marjorie Reynolds appeared as Peg.