Today is Wednesday, so I’m going to publish this week’s first 100+ New Code Films article. Instead of waiting until the weekend, as I often do, I’m publishing this article today to correspond with a blogathon’s schedule. Whenever possible, I combine new Code film reviews with blogathon entries. This is interesting and fun, giving me ideas for which new American Breen Era (1934-1954) films to watch as well as ready-made readers!
Today’s topic is The Time of Your Life from 1948. I have been interested in this film for a while, since it is a free movie on Amazon Prime featuring one of my favorite actor, James Cagney. I thought it sounded interesting because it featured his sister, Jeanne, and was produced by his brother William. Like Yankee Doodle Dandy, it’s a real Cagney family affair. When I heard about a blogathon centered around home and family in film, I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to watch and review this film. I watched it on Amazon Prime Video yesterday.
An eccentric man with no visible means of support but a seemingly endless supply of money spends all his time at a low-end bar, drinking champagne, befriending various customers, and sending the young man whom he mentors on various errands and odd jobs. One day, a troubled young woman comes into the bar. The eccentric befriends her, and she claims she is a former burlesque star. He is determined to help her, so he fixes her up with his young assistant. They take an immediate liking to each other. The schemer quickly starts planning their marriage and future life together. Meanwhile, a stoolpigeon who is determined to cause trouble for others for personal profit keeps coming around the bar, hinting that he knows something about the young woman’s past in Chicago.
This movie stars James Cagney, Wayne Morris, and Jeanne Cagney. Supporting actors include William Bendix, Broderick Crawford, Ward Bond, James Barton, and Paul Draper.
This movie was directed by H. C. Potter. It was produced by William Cagney. The production company was William Cagney Productions. It was distributed by United Artists. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play was written by William Saroyan. It was adapted for the screen by Nathaniel Curtis.
This is a good Code film. I found it to be thoroughly acceptable. Although there is some discussion of Kitty’s (Jeanne Cagney) questionable background in Chicago, it is never suggestive or inappropriate. Also, it’s charming to see how Joe (James Cagney) treats people of all backgrounds with equal respect and regard, especially ladies of varying backgrounds. He exemplifies truly gentlemanly conduct, which is a good example one often sees in good Code films.
I highly recommend this film. It is unusual and unique but very enjoyable. In fact, I think its originality is one of its best features! It almost follow the Grand Hotel formula of staying in one location for its whole runtime, only stepping outside the bar once to briefly visit the bookie joint next door. The acting is excellent. James Cagney creates a very idiosyncratic but believable character. Joe’s hobby is people. They also seem to be his main employment. He spends all his time entertaining himself with whims, but he always ends up trying to help others. He will talk to people whom nobody likes. He’ll listen to stories that everyone else says aren’t true. He’ll share with and give to others. It’s nice to see the famous gangster actor playing such a likeable character. He constant companion is Tom (Wayne Morris), “Joe’s stooge and friend.” He’s a simple but kind young man whose life Joe once saved. Thus, he unquestioningly follows Joe’s instructions and bidding at all times. This is the only time I’ve seen Wayne Morris as a romantic leading man. I’ve usually thought of him as either a goofy character or a supporting actor, but he was very effective as an attractive young man in this part. Jeanne Cagney plays Kitty Duval, a sad young woman whom few people respect. However, Joe respects, regards, and compliments Kitty. She clearly wants attention, affection, and a good home, and Joe spends most of the film trying to get that for her and Tom. Jeanne didn’t make nearly as many films as her brother, so this is one of the rare opportunities to see her in a prominent, dramatic role. She displays her depth One of the other main players is Nick (William Bendix), the saloon owner. He caters to Joe because he pays him well, even keeping a large supply of champagne for his pleasure. He clearly thinks that Joe is crazy and doesn’t mind saying so, but who is he to turn away a good customer? William Bendix is the ideal actor for this role, lending the perfect blend of comical oafishness and dramatic intensity. One of the funniest characters in this movie is Kit Carson (James Barton), “a cowboy also called Murphy.” He says that no one believes his stories, and it’s not hard to see why. A casual comparison of the dates he lists in his life history and the age he declares he is reveal that he couldn’t possibly have done everything he says he has done. However, Joe befriends him, buys his drinks, and happily listens to his stories. He occasionally questions the veracity of his stories, but Kit always has an answer. This scruffy cowboy is played to perfection by James Barton, who makes us really believe that he is a dry old cowboy. Another interesting character is Harry (Paul Draper), who describes himself as a natural born dancer. I’ve never seen such unusual dancing before! This young man blends tap rhythm with balletic jumps and technical precision in a truly unique, interesting way. He is a very talented young man, and his performance throughout shows his passion and determination. Another talented artist who haunts the saloon is Wesley (Reginald Beane), a young black man who comes in looking for any odd job because he is starving. He refuses charity, but he shocks everyone, including himself, when he sits down at the piano. His virtuosic music earns him a job there as a musician! This is a really great movie. It’s not a blockbuster, but it has great merit and is very enjoyable.
For the Blogathon
This is my entry in The Home Sweet Home Blogathon, hosted by Gill Jacobs of Real Weegie Midget Reviews and Rebecca Deniston of Taking Up Room. One genre of eligible topics for this blogathon is movies starring actors who are related. I immediately thought of the Cagney siblings when I learned about this blogathon. James Cagney made three films with his twenty-year-younger sister, Jeanne. In all three films, his brother William was a producer. It’s fascinating to see the family resemblance between James and Jeanne Cagney. The piercing eyes, pointed chin, and intense stare are present in both the famous actor and his sister. There is an undeniable magnetism between Joe and Kitty. However, it isn’t really romantic. He regards her and cares about her, and she is deeply touched by his concern. They even express that they love each other. However, it always seems very platonic. He wants her to find happiness with his younger friend, Tom. Although he is twenty years older than she, his interaction isn’t quite paternal. It’s more like a brother!
The other theme of this blogathon is movies which focus on the idea and importance of home. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that this movie contains that theme, as well. Kitty is very sad and dreamy when she first meets Joe. He asks her about her thoughts. She says that she is having “a dream of home.” Although her own home was far from ideal, the idea of it has remained in her mind and heart throughout the years when she has been away. She realizes that home is defined by love and care from others. Joe helps her find her home again after years of drifting.
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