Events foil Costello's plans. He is trapped in a suitcase by Barker's butler Abbott, who also covets Gillis. Barker has turned Tory and hides the letter from Washington in an obscure compartment of a mantelpiece clock. Barker's hottie girlfriend, Marjorie Reynolds, overhears Barker, and decides to ride off to Washington to warn him about Barker. She leaves with Costello, whom she has freed from the suitcase.
But the Yankees already know Barker is a traitor. They arrive and shoot Costello and Reynolds, whom they mistake as Tories. The regiment leader curses the pair to eternal damnation on the Barker estate, unless the duo can prove their innocence.
Now Costello and Reynolds are ghosts, unable to leave the property. In the present day (1946) the mansion is restored by John Shelton. He moves in, along with creepy transgender servant Gale Sondergaard. Visitors arrive: Shelton's fiancée Lynn Baggett, her aunt Binnie Barnes, and Shelton's headshrinker Bud Abbott, a direct descendant of Costello's 1780 nemesis.
Costello and Reynolds search the mansion for the Washington letter, which they presume must be there. They can't find it, and Costello amuses himself tormenting the occcupiers, particularly Abbott, who, because it is a movie, looks just like his ancestor from six to eight generations ago.
Also because it is a movie, Sondergaard is psychic and knows that the house is haunted by the two ghosts shot centuries ago. She arranges a séance, which proves so successful that Abbott learns he must locate the antique clock which contains the Washington letter, to release the ghosts from the estate. Nonsense ensues involving a stolen clock, policemen, and a car driven recklessly by the ghosts.
How others will see it. Apparently the set was troubled by yet another feud between Abbott and Costello. Costello abandoned the production for two weeks. Scenes were shot without him until Costello returned as if nothing had happened. Special effects also caused budget overruns.
But the comedy duo liked their new director, Charles Barton, and worked with him for their next several films, including their most popular feature, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).
Surprisingly, among all of the comedy team's films, The Time of Their Lives has the highest user rating at imdb.com, a lofty 8.0 out of 10. Women especially enjoy the movie, and award it an 8.7 out of 10. Presumably, they appreciate the platonic chemistry between Costello and Marjorie, and the efforts that Abbott makes to free the spirit of Costello from the estate. The ending is happy as well; both Costello and Reynolds go to Heaven to join their respectively betrothed from 1780. Personally, I would rather spend eternity on the Barker estate with lovely Marjorie Reynolds.
How I felt about it. The MacGuffin is the Washington letter secreted in the clock. Like most MacGuffins, it is contrived. Does God need the re-emergence of the lost letter to confirm that Costello is not a Tory? Does God even care whether or not Costello is a Tory? And while one man can shoot another, and dump the body in a well, can he really actually restrict the whereabouts of the late man's soul?
We'll overlook the fact that there likely is no heaven, in any event, and no ghosts as well. This is, after all, a movie. While ghosts do not exist in our world, they certainly do exist on celluloid.
It is harder to believe that Costello would want to part with nice, pretty Reynolds when his beloved Gillis probably married someone else following his death. We also think that the residents of the haunted mansion would promptly leave the premises instead of holding a séance or get arrested stealing a clock.
But at least the movie earns brownie points with Costello's antics, particularly as a ghost bent on wreaking revenge on the hapless Abbott. Costello still may have the worst of it. After all, he is locked in a trunk, shot, dumped in a well, cursed, and electrocuted. But did I mention how nice it would be to spend eternity with Marjorie Reynolds? Thought so.