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Theatre / The Time of Your Life

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Eddie Dowling as Joe in original Broadway production

The Time of Your Life is a 1939 play by William Saroyan.

The action is centered in a dive bar, "Nick's Pacific Street Saloon, Restaurant and Entertainment Palace", in San Francisco. The action centers around Joe, an affable man who has enough money to spend his days lounging around in a bar. Joe encourages Harry, a young man with dreams of being a comedian and dancer. He matches up his buddy/flunky Tom with Kitty, a hooker who dreams of a way out of the life.

Other characters include McCarthy, a philosophizing longshoreman, Harry, an aspiring comedian and tap-dancer, "Kit Carson", an old man who tells fanciful stories; Blick, a mean-spirited vice cop; and Nick, the owner and bartender of Nick's. Gene Kelly played Harry in the original Broadway production.

Made into a film in 1948 which starred James Cagney as Joe, directed by H.C. Potter, as well as a made for television film with Jackie Gleason as Joe. James Barton appeared as "Kit Carson" in both movies.


  • Abhorrent Admirer: Lorene to Dudley.
  • The Alcoholic: One character, identified only as "The Drunkard", comes staggering in to the bar from time to time, scrounging for forgotten nickels in the pay phone, only to be booted out by Nick.
  • An Aesop: The text of the play is prefaced with a moral sermon.
    "Seek goodness everywhere it is found, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed."
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: Nobody really bursts out cheering when Blick is shot and killed offstage, but they seem at least relieved, and it seems that the police aren't interested in investigating the Dirty Cop's death.
  • Asshole Victim: All of the characters are happy to be rid of Blick.
  • The Bartender: Nick the friendly (though justifiably cynical) owner and tender of the bar.
  • Blatant Lies: Kitty Duval is obviously a prostitute working the wharf, but she goes about putting on airs claiming to be a star of the Burlesque theater all over the US and Europe. As soon as Nick meets her, he correctly identifies her as a two bit whore (not that he cares one way or another).
  • The Bully: Blick is described as "the weakling who uses force on the weaker."
  • Chekhov's Gun: Averted, with an actual gun. One of the random items Joe has Tom buy is a gun. At the climax, after the sadistic Blick forces Kitty to Shameful Strip and beats Willie, Joe pulls his gun on Blick—but it doesn't fire. Right after that Kit Carson kills Blick offstage, with a different gun.
  • Cloudcuckoolander:
    • Kit Carson with his tall tales.
    • Harry, with his strange, rambling monologues that only he finds funny.
    • Joe to some extent, he amuses himself in strange ways, such as asking Tom to go buy children's toys for him.
    • "The Arab", who only speaks in cryptic aphorisms.
    The Arab: [commenting on newspaper article] No foundation. All the way down the line.
  • Crazy Memory: Kit Carson, the odd old man in strange clothing. Throughout the day, he tells a series of unbelievable stories, every one of which starts with him stating the unlikely event, the place, and the year. In the final act, he tries to make a corrupt vice cop stop harassing a dancer/prostitute and is thrown out of the bar. Minutes later, the vice cop is shot offstage. The old man returns to the bar, and someone says the cop has been killed.
    Kit Carson: "I killed a man once. San Francisco, 1938. I didn't like the way he talked to ladies, so I went and got my pearl-handled pistol, waited for him to get out of the bar, and shot him . . . I had to throw that beautiful pistol into the bay . . ."
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: The old man nicknamed "Kit Carson" seems like nothing more than a crazy, aged drunk telling ridiculous tall tales, so he seems like an easy target for Blick, who likes to beat and humiliate people who can't or won't fight back. Shortly after, Kit Carson puts a bullet in Blick and leaves him dead on the street.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Nick the barkeep, especially when dealing with some of his more hare-brained customers.
  • Dirty Coward: Blick usually only picks fights with or torments people he thinks can't or won't fight back - women, youths, elderly people etc.
  • Drink-Based Characterization: Joe, being something of an Upper-Class Twit, likes to loaf around at Nick's and order champagne, though Nick's isn't the kind of high-class joint that would ordinarily stock up with it.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: As with so many other theatrical productions. Apparently the whole story is over a single evening.
  • Gentle Giant: McCarthy.
    "I'm a longshoreman. And an idealist. I'm a man with too much brawn to be an intellectual, exclusively. I married a small, sensitive, cultured woman so that my kids would be sissies instead of suckers. A strong man with any sensibility has no choice in this world but to be a heel, or a worker. I haven't the heart to be a heel, so I'm a worker."
  • Hate Sink: Blick the bullying, sadistic vice cop.
  • Hidden Depths: Many of the characters, most notably:
    • Longshoreman McCarthy, who happens to be very well-read as well as very articulate and perceptive.
    • When Kit Carson shoots Blick in the final scene and brags about it in the fashion of his usual crazy tall tales at the bar shortly afterwards, it suggests that at least some of the seemingly far-fetched stories about his life and exploits probably have some truth to them.
    • Wesley, an unemployed and hungry young black man, is a talented pianist.
    • While Harry's comedy act is a lot of nonsense, he is a skilled dancer.
  • High Hopes, Zero Talent: Harry is an aspiring comedian, but by his own admission, nobody finds his nonsensical, rambling monologues funny.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Kitty Duval. She decidedly doesn't fit the stereotype, and won't let any friendly person call her a whore; her cover story is that she used to be a famous burlesque queen.
  • Idle Rich: Joe, apparently. He won't say how he made his money, but he made a lot of it and apparently he's ashamed about how he made it, which is why he hangs out in a dive bar and helps out lowlifes and weirdos.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Joe may come across as arrogant as he gives order to Tom and sends him off on silly errands, but he always means well to nearly everyone, and in the end he brings Tom happiness by helping to set him up with a job and with Kitty Duval.
  • Just Following Orders: Krupp enters arguing with his longshoreman friend McCarthy, protesting that all he's doing is carrying out his orders to keep the peace on the waterfront. McCarthy asks Krupp if keeping the peace means hitting him over the head with a club if he's on duty and standing on the opposite side.
    Krupp: All I do is carry out orders, carry out orders. I don't know what the idea is behind the order. Who it's for, or who it's against, or why. All I do is carry it out.
    McCarthy: You don't read enough.
  • Local Hangout: Nick's, where a regular congregates to hang out and drink.
    (stage direction) "It's a good, low-down, honky-tonk American place that lets people alone."
  • The M√ľnchausen: The old man identified in the Dramatis Personae as "Kit Carson" (which may or may not be his name). Among his many stories is one about herding cattle on a bicycle in Toledo, Ohio in the year 1918, when a hurricane struck the town and left him floating northwest sitting on the roof of a house. Another of his tales involves being attacked by a man with a hook for a hand. The play ends with him telling the story of having killed a man in San Francisco, 1938, because he didn't like the way he talked to ladies. Since that's the present day and a vice cop was just murdered outside after harassing a woman in the bar, the characters believe this one.
    Kit Carson: I don't suppose you ever fell in love with a midget weighing 39 pounds.
  • No Name Given: Several characters are listed in Dramatis Personae by their nicknames or descriptions rather than by name:
    • "The Arab"
    • "The Drunkard"
    • The character identified as "Kit Carson" in the Dramatis Personae does introduce himself as Murphy. Given the wild stories he tells, even he might not even remember his real name or care to share it.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Nick tells Willie to fix the pinball machine when the flag is stuck by giving it a whack. This causes the flag to go up and down repeatedly before it rights itself.
  • The Piano Player: Wesley, who's awfully good at it.
  • Police Brutality: Blick, a bully with a badge, tends to beat up anybody who gets angry with him for intimidating other people.
  • Porky Pig Pronunciation: Krupp to McCarthy: "You sure can philos— philosoph— Boy, you can talk."
  • Shameful Strip: When Blick interrogates Kitty, who claims to have worked as a burlesque queen (an obvious lie), he forces her to put on a striptease for him on the spot. This is played for tears, not laughs.
  • Slice of Life: Slice of life gathering at a San Francisco dive.
  • So Unfunny, It's Funny: Harry wants to be a great comedian, but nobody laughs at his comic monologues. Also a case of Giftedly Bad.
  • Uncanny Valley: In-Universe, Blick evokes this feeling in people. From a stage direction:
    "He is no different from anybody else physically. His face is an ordinary face. There is nothing obviously wrong with him, and yet you know that it is accept him as a human being."

Tropes found in the 1948 film:'

  • Adaptational Heroism: In the film, Joe gets to beat up Blick (most likely so James Cagney could live up to his reputation for tough guy roles), whereas in the play, Blick is shot offstage by Kit Carson.
  • Adaptational Wimp: In the play, Kit Carson kills Blick off-screen, suggesting that at least part of his tall tale persona is true. In the film, Kit misses his shot and is beaten up by Blick (who is eventually punched out by Joe).
  • Blowing Smoke Rings: The obnoxious rich guy's much more fun wife does this when Kit Carson gives her a cigar.
  • Bowdlerize: Much of the dialogue concerning Kitty is rewritten to turn her from a streetwalker into a "B-girl". The scene where Joe and Tom go up to Kitty's room to comfort her and angrily drive away a drunken young sailor is removed entirely.'
  • Demoted to Extra: McCarthy, the self-taught intellectual longshoreman, is an important character in the play. His character doesn't have much to say or do in the film, and many of McCarthy's more insightful comments from the play are given to Joe in the movie.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: The movie spares Blick the offstage death which he meets in the play.

Alternative Title(s): The Time Of Your Life