The story concentrates on the social re-adjustment of three World War II servicemen, each from a different station of society. Al Stephenson returns to an influential banking position, but finds it hard to reconcile his loyalties to ex-servicemen with new commercial realities. Fred Derry is an ordinary working man who finds it difficult to hold down a job or pick up the threads of his marriage. Having had both hands burnt off during the war, Homer Parrish is unsure that his fiancée's feelings are still those of love and not those of pity. Each of the veterans faces a crisis upon his arrival, and each crisis is a microcosm of the experiences of many American warriors who found an alien world awaiting them when they came marching home. Written by
Forgotten now that it was mildly controversial in its day
My parents were of that generation, and the movie was cathartic for returning veterans and their families and friends; it's small wonder that it eclipsed <i>It's A Wonderful Life</i>, which arguably is a better picture. But at the time, the movie had some shocking elements to it. In fact, my mother (roughly the character Peggy's age then) saw it against her parents' wishes.
Back in 1946, it was a jaw-dropper to have a character in a movie utter the word "divorce" or to aver an intent to break up a marriage -- such ideas just weren't voiced in films then. To modern audiences, they come across as melodramatic, but I'm told they elcited genuine gasps from audiences then.
Even more astonishing was William Wyler's decision to cast real-life amputee Harold Russell in the key role of a returning Navy veteran. Until <i>The Battle of Britain</i>, in which an actual, disfigured RAF veteran made a cameo appearance, directors didn't make those sorts of courageous gestures. The intimate yet innocent scene in which Homer Parrish (Russell) demonstrates his helplessness to his fiancé Wilma Cameron (Cathy O'Donnell) is beautiful, heartbreaking and uplifting; later, during the wedding scene, Russell stumbled over a line in saying the vows, and Wyler left the humanizing mistake in, God bless him for it.
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