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  Time of Your Life, The Thirty People Walk Into A Bar...
Year: 1948
Director: H.C. Potter
Stars: James Cagney, William Bendix, Wayne Morris, Jeanne Cagney, Broderick Crawford, Ward Bond, James Barton, Paul Draper, Gale Page, Jimmy Lydon, Richard Erdman, Pedro de Cordoba, Reginald Beane, John 'Skins' Miller, Tom Powers, Natalie Schafer, Howard Freeman
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: In Nick's Bar, the owner (William Bendix) prides himself on welcoming anyone who wants to venture inside to slake their thirst and maybe strike up a conversation, though he remains a gruff type who may not necessarily make that welcome with open arms. Among his regulars is Joe (James Cagney), who holds court at one of the tables and seems to make his living by betting on the horses, since his instinct for a winner is second to none. But today will be more eventful than most other days, starting with a brittle woman, Kitty (Jeanne Cagney), who wanders in and is on the defensive whenever anyone speaks to her. But Joe's gofer Tom (Wayne Morris) takes a liking to her...

William Saroyan was the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Time of Your Life, and one of the most famous playwrights around at the time, despite bringing out wildly differing reactions in critics and audiences alike. An Armenian who had fled the Turkish-led genocide in his homeland, something that understandably remained a sore point for him ever after, he settled into a style that some found the epitome of homespun wisdom wrapped up in an American flag, yet grated on others as pure hokum and baloney for the easily pleased. Saroyan may have had the last laugh, as his plays were staged and adapted well after his passing, but the haters are undeniably hard to ignore.

In this case, a film version was an obvious choice and James Cagney snapped up the rights to take the play to the big screen almost ten years after it had been a hit, in a period for the star where he was keen to escape his gangster image. That he would return to that gangster image the following year with White Heat, to massive acclaim and a revival of interest in his work, perhaps indicates just how well his endeavours to prove himself a proper thespian went, but nevertheless he still commands a legion of fans who are just as likely to take a chance on a decidedly minor effort such as The Time of Your Life as they are his most popular works. You could, at least, tell something here.

The something was that Cagney plainly loved the material, and had great faith in its adaptation, yet the stagebound results were hard to get away from as you watched. Nick's Bar may be a fairly substantial location, but you never believe you're watching a genuine location, and Saroyan's dialogue is strained at various points, so much so that with most of the cast grandstanding every chance they could get, the experience was akin to watching an overacting contest rather than a slice of life. Despite this, some nice moments did survive, mainly down to Cagney who was most aware of how to deliver the play with a certain degree of authenticity even as you were thinking that none of this comes across as authentic, if anything it is wholly artificial from minute one to the end credits.

Not that you will see any end credits on prints of the film available now, for it fell into the public domain in a cut that edited out ten minutes so commercials could be more easily slotted into its television broadcasts. It is debatable whether yet more of Saroyan's faux-sincerity (which may have been actual sincerity, but certainly did not play that way) would have been any more palatable at nearly two hours, and there's only so much of the tap dancer (really) or the "comedy" drunk acts you can take. On the other hand, every so often there's a scene that displays the generosity of spirit intended, for instance the sole black cast member (professional pianist Reginald Beane in his only role) appears asking Nick for a job, then collapses from hunger; Nick does not throw him out, but gives him a meal instead, then allows him to stay on to play the piano. So bits like that have the desired effect, and Cagney was reliably charismatic, even enigmatic, when he was on the screen, but it's all very one-note and pleased with itself. Music by Carmen Dragon.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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