After turning down several other Hollywood producers, playwright William Saroyan sold the film rights of his whimsical Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Time of Your Life to James and William Cagney. The scene is a rundown San Francisco waterfront bar, populated by a group of lovable eccentrics. Joe (James Cagney), a philosophical souse, encourages all around him to indulge in their wildest dreams. Joe's pal Tom (Wayne Morris), a born patsy, runs errands for Joe, the only person who has ever shown him kindness. Kitty (Jeanne Cagney), a streetwalker, willingly allows Joe to sponge drinks off her in exchange for a few nice words. Harry (Paul Draper), an enthusiastic but hopelessly untalented dancer-comedian, is hired by bartender Nick (William Bendix) at Joe's urging. And Kit Carson (James Barton), an addled old man who lives in a dream world, is prodded by Joe into weaving his unlikely reminiscences of the Wild West. It is Kit Carson (James Barton) who solves everyone's problems by eliminating a particularly scabrous detective named Blick (Tom Powers). Time of Your Life was originally filmed with Saroyan's bizarrely humorous ending intact, but the preview audiences reacted negatively, forcing the Cagney brothers to shoot $300,000 worth of retakes. Though many historians have written off The Time of Your Life as a brave failure, the film was actually a hit, grossing $1.5 million.
by Hal Erickson synopsis