But that’s TODAY! I haven’t had a coincidence like this since HOT SATURDAY (which was also the mystic 23rd)

Fiona remembered seeing THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES (1946) as a kid, though she couldn’t remember what it was called. Just that it was a curiously morbid yet charming fantasy with Lou Costello as a ghost. I remembered it too, couldn’t recall the title (which is a little flat), but suspected it came about partly because Abbot and Costello couldn’t stand each other and the story allowed them to star in a film together without sharing so many scenes as usual. Basically, Lou and Marjorie Reynolds are ghosts condemned to haunt an old house until they can prove that they weren’t traitors during the American Revolution. Bud is both the sneaky butler who landed them in trouble (sort of) and a modern descendent, a nervous psychiatrist who becomes the butt of the ghost’s jokes. For some reason, his role is undermined by the addition of three other houseguests, though the only other important player is housekeeper Gale Sondergaard, who’s psychic. As viewers of both THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL and BLITHE SPIRIT know, the lower orders, being closer to the animal kingdom, have a natural sensitivity to spectres denied to their more sophisticated natural superiors.


The movie is blandly directed by regular A&C helmer Charles Barton — each shot cuts off randomly, as if curtailed purely by how much dialogue the actors could get through. Dialogue introducing a restored mansion is followed, not by a shot of the house, but by an ill-framed automobile, and one awkward composition makes it look like a series of characters are standing atop a harpsichord, an odd position from which to deliver exposition.


But everything else about the movie is pretty neat. The special effects are elegant and fun, and the script provides lots of opportunities/challenges for the team responsible. At one point, the male and female ghosts run through each other and exchange clothing. In a saucy scene, an invisible Reynolds sheds her visible gown and runs off as nothing but a pair of disembodied stockings. (Sexual confusion reigns: Sondergaard, at a séance, channels a male voice, that of Reynold’s dead betrothed (speaking live from the afterlife). “You were gonna marry her?” asks Lou, then makes an ambiguous gesture with his wrist that seems faux-unconscious enough to escape the censors.

Folding in elements of TOPPER, THE UNINVITED and I MARRIED A WITCH, this is a pretty solid example of the supernatural whimsy that seemed to run rampant after WWII. And Costello is a funny guy — his big-kid act is half schtick and half actual solid performance. I checked off the bits of business as they appeared — the asthmatic wheeze of high emotion; the baby-talk voice of shame; the octave-skipping yelp of alarm. He’s less weird than Jerry Lewis, but more accurate in his mimicry of a five-year-old (Jer is more like a five-year-old space alien anarchist).


Abbot is a problem here, given not much to do — when he’s not half of a perfectly-timed pair, he kind of disappears. I can’t imagine he was happy with this one, though maybe not having to look at his partner’s pudgy face so much was a compensation.

Another thing about this film — after the Revolutionary War prologue, the first half of the 1946 scenes is the ghosts tormenting the mortals, accidentally at first, by searching for their exonerating evidence after midnight, and then deliberately, by pranking Abbot in punishment for his ancestor’s general shiftiness. But once the mortals figure out what the ghosts want, they immediately set about helping them, with no ill feelings. That’s so sweet it makes me want to cry.


Girls! Watch this movie and you will also learn the exact amount of time you have to spend trapped with Lou Costello as an immortal wraith before he starts to seem sexually appealing to you. One hundred and sixty-five years exactly. That could be useful information, conceivably.

7 Responses to “Costellokinesis”

  1. F back. The film’s surprisingly charming. Probably one of their best, with some genuinely odd, spooky moments. Can anyone confirm if special effects legend John P Fulton worked on this movie? It’s got many of his hallmarks and it is a Universal production.

  2. Other Bud & Lou curios include “Little Giant”, with one foot in their usual comedy and the other in “drama” (that is, you’re invited to pity Lou’s character). Lou is a nebbish who tries to make good as a vacuum cleaner salesman. Bud turns up as three characters: A customer at Lou’s gas station who leads him through a standard routine; an embezzling villain at the vacuum cleaner company; and that man’s decent (and dull) relation stuck at another office. All three Buds are made up to look different; I kept waiting for some kind of situation where Lou is confused by good and bad Buds but it never happens; the stunt casting is never exploited. Odd, dull mix of broad stupid bits and semi-realistic “poignance”. Maybe the script was intended for a single act comic, like Red Skelton in maudlin mode.

    A nostalgic favorite is “Jack and the Beanstalk”, a low-budget attempt at “Wizard of Oz.” It was up there with Laurel & Hardy in “March of the Wooden Soldiers” as a holiday staple on local TV stations. It plays like a TV special with its slapped-together feel, but does manage some laughs. Lou gets to sing a catchy song, and the celebration of the giant’s death includes an oddly balletic little band of dancers. The giant’s very tall housekeeper is more appealing than the nominal heroine (a glossy princess paired with a glossy prince). You wish Lou could have taken her home (we do see her escape the giant’s castle with the cow). It comes with a framing story that pointlessly sets up most of the characters with modern counterparts. The evil giant appears as a tall, bullying cop — you’d think bad guy cops would be out of favor in in 50s kid film.

  3. chris schneider Says:

    Makes me wonder how many other examples of “the creation of our country” whimsy can be found in this period. WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE (Ratoff, 1945), with its songs by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin, was the one to come to mind.

  4. Oddly, I definitely saw Little Giant on UK TV as a kid but Jack and the Beanstalk never seemed to play.

    There’s George Washington Slept Here but that’s a horse of a different colour.

  5. According to Michael Mallory’s “Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror,” David S. Horsley, who was Fulton’s assistant going back to “BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN,” was responsible for the special effects in TIME OF THEIR LIVES.

  6. Thanks! Makes sense. Two effects men are credited, Horsley and Jerome Ash. Lots of clever traveling matte work.

    Maybe The Remarkable Andrew (1942), featuring the ghost of Andrew Jackson and directed by Stuart Heisler, is a distant relative of this film.

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