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I first saw this film (one of my top ten favorites) in 1995 on the big
screen, as part of the commemorations for the 50th anniversary of the end
WWII. It had an impact that was so strong that it's never left me--I've
it many times since, and with each viewing the film seems to reveal new
artistic richness and spiritual depth.
William Wyler's direction is breathtaking. One of the most moving scenes occurs early on in the film, when Homer, the young disabled Navy veteran, arrives at his family home and stands for a moment on the front lawn. For that one second there is an exquisite stillness that communicates a depth of emotion that can't be expressed physically. Then, just as the tension becomes almost unbearable, Homer's little sister Louella comes to the front door and runs out to greet him. In a similar way, the scene where Al Stephenson comes home to his wife and children is so finely directed you can almost feel that you're in the apartment with them--that it's your husband or father come home to you from the war--and you're experiencing the sheer elation of their physical nearness.
This aspect of the film--its portrayal of the joys and hardships of post-war readjustment and the veterans' experience--is what makes it so enlightening, honest and powerful. As a young woman, I have never experienced wartime or had my father, brothers or friends go off to fight. The film moves swiftly but seamlessly from the initial joy of homecoming and reunion to the problems, anxieties and humiliations that the three veterans encounter as they attempt to build a new life for themselves and their families.
I found it interesting how the film tries to give a picture of the different socio-economic backgrounds of the three men, and show the emergence of an affluent, market-driven economy. While this in itself is not bad, different episodes in the film show how this economic approach can conflict sharply at times with enduring human values such as integrity and justice. Al's dealings with the young veteran Mr Novak, who comes to him for a service loan to buy a farm, and his later (slightly tipsy) speech to a business gathering show this. Al declares at the end of his speech that when the bank lends money to poor veterans it will be a financial gamble but "we'll be gambling on the future of this country".
The film's interweaving of the characters and their struggles never falters and is deeply satisfying. Even as Al and Milly, Homer and Wilma gradually move towards a happy resolution of their difficulties this positive strand of the film is counter-balanced by the focus on Fred, the courageous Air Force captain who, in the eyes of the commercial world is "unqualified", suitable only for a job at a soda fountain, and in the eyes of his war bride, Marie, is only wonderful when he's dressed up in his officer's uniform. Fred's situation seems only to deteriorate and at one point in the film, after he farewells his elderly father to leave town and look for work, the father finds the citations for Fred's medals and sits down to read them. As he reads the words describing Fred's bravery and dedication to duty while he was terribly wounded in his aircraft, Pat Derry's voice nearly breaks with pride and love for his son. The film beautifully juxtaposes Fred's unselfish conduct and willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice with the cold indifference of a country in peacetime that does not want him and seemingly has no place for him.
The actors are uniformly impressive and really make their characters come alive. Dana Andrews is especially outstanding together with two young actors making their debut, Harold Russell and Cathy O'Donnell, as Homer and Wilma. Personally, I loved Homer and Wilma's story the best among those of all the characters,and the resolution is a simple, sensitively shot scene that lifts the whole film to a new point of happiness, gratitude and release. Both Cathy O'Donnell and Teresa Wright are lovely, gifted actresses with a slightly understated style, that is perfectly suited to the film's restrained but powerful tenor. This is demonstrated especially well in the tense scene where Wilma tries to talk to Homer in the shed, and in the scene where Peggy confides her heartache to her parents.
One feature that adds significantly to the film's quality is Hugo Friedhofer's score. The music is remarkably fresh and undated, has a strong, classic sound, and is poignant without being too romantic or sentimental (a flaw often found in other 1940s film scores).
The producer, Samuel Goldwyn, reportedly said of this film: "I don't care if it doesn't make a nickel...I just want every man, woman and child in America to see it". Although I'm not American (I am Australian) I found this film, with its universal human themes and its portrayal of post-war readjustment, speaks to anyone who shares in this heritage of WWII. Tell others about this film--it is breathtaking, beautiful and brave. See it and remember.
In 2004, I wrote the following statements on an IMDb message board when
a user wondered if The Best Years of Our Lives was a forgotten movie:
***** To me watching this movie is like opening up a time capsule. I think in many ways "The Best Years of Our Lives" is probably one of the more fascinating character studies and it holds up extremely well as a look at life in the US in the mid-1940s after WWII. I believe "Coming Home" and "The Deer Hunter", both released in 1978, were the most recent films that were closest in capturing the numerous issues of military men returning from war that were brought up in "The Best Years of Our Lives".
What really impressed me was watching the movie in its entirety when I was in college around 1980-81 and many if not all of the college students applauded at the end of the movie.
This movie still packs a wallop and I'm very happy to read in other posts other users feeling of a movie that will definitely stand the test of time. *****
I'm very happy to see the movie ranked near the top 100 movies on IMDb and AFI. Also, though it was in competition with what eventually became a Christmas classic, It's a Wonderful Life, arguably, The Best Years of Our Lives' Oscar wins, including Best Picture, were very well-deserved.
I've just seen the film again in 2005 and after almost 60 years, The Best Years of Our Lives is still a powerful, beautifully acted and well-crafted motion picture.
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.
I saw the movie again recently. I always love it. It's touching, has great music, scope and complexity. The film is alive in its human details. But what especially stood out to me this time was how amazing Dana Andrew's performance is. His wife has cheated on him, he's suffering post-war trauma, and can't find a job--but he's still charming and funny. Even though his opinion of himself is pretty low, he keeps going ahead. I love how self-denigrating the character is, how he suspects he's pretty worthless, while his parents, friends and Peggy (but not his wife) see him as extraordinary. And Andrews does it all while being understated and real. Yeah, Dana!
I watch this movie every time it plays on TV. A simply brilliant film.
Three men return home from war and try to return to civilian life with
difficulty. All three led opposite lives during the war (Executive Banker
became an army corporal, a soda jerk became an Air Force Captain and the
High School Football hero loses both his arms in battle)and now each must
reconstruct his life and connect with a new reality. The homes they
to, with grown children and independent, working women along with a
depressed economy, only add to the strife. It's the scenes just off
and the unspoken dialog which resonates the most loudly, however. The
awkward intimacy of Frederich March and Myrna Loy and his struggle to
to his place as leader (both at home and at work) are heartbreaking.
Dana Andrews is riveting as the handsome, decorated Captain who struggles to keep his life together without the uniform.
The film is filled with honest characters and each is portrayed by a gifted actor.
This film, however, took on a whole other level after seeing, "Saving Private Ryan." The reality and magnitude of what these men lived through for love and country......and obviously it didn't end on the battlefield.
This is an essential for any collection.
One of the great things about The Best Years of Our Lives that even
though it dates itself rather firmly in the post World War II era, the
issues it talks about are as real today as they were on V-E or V-J day
of 1945. The problem of how to assimilate returning war veterans is as
old as the written history of our planet.
And while we don't often learn from history, we can be thankful that for once the United States of America did learn from what happened with its veterans after the previous World War. The GI Bill of Rights is mentioned in passing in The Best Years of Our Lives was possibly the greatest piece of social legislation from the last century. So many veterans did take advantage of it as do the veterans like Fredric March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell who you see here.
All three of those actors played archetypal veterans, characters that every corner of the USA could identify with. They all meet on an army transport plane flying to the home town of all of them, Boone City, Iowa.
War is a great leveler of class and distinction. Bank employee March, soda jerk Andrews, and high school football star Russell probably would never meet in real life even in a small town like Boone City. But they do meet and war forges indestructible bonds that can never be broken.
March is the oldest, a man with two children and Hollywood's perfect wife Myrna Loy. He settles in the first and the best. He has some wonderful scenes, getting cockeyed drunk on his return and later with a little bit of liquor in him, tells the bank officials at a banquet off in no uncertain terms.
I also love his scene where another returning veteran, a sharecropper wants to get a bank loan for his own piece of land. Watch March's expressions as he listens to the man's pitch for money. You can feel him read the man's soul. It's what got him his Second Best Actor Oscar for this film.
Harold Russell was a real veteran who lost both his hands during service in the Pacific. He got a special recognition Oscar for his performance. Because of that it was probably unfair to nominate him in the Supporting Actor category which he also won in. His performance, especially his scenes with Cathy O'Donnell as his sweetheart who loves him with or without his hands, is beyond anything that could be described as acting.
Dana Andrews is the only officer of the three, a bombardier in the Army Air Corps. Of the group of them, maybe he should have stayed in. He also comes from the poorest background of the group and he was an officer and a gentleman in that uniform. That uniform and those monthly allotment checks are what got Virginia Mayo interested enough to marry him. The problem is that he's considerably less in her eyes as a civilian.
While Mayo is fooling around with Steve Cochran, Andrews has the great good fortune to have March's daughter Teresa Wright take an interest in him. They're the main story of the film, Andrews adjustment to civilian life and adjusting to the fact he married the wrong woman. Not all veteran's problems were solved with GI Bill.
Myrna Loy gets little recognition for The Best Years of Our Lives. My guess is that it's because her role as wife was too much like the stereotypical wife roles she had patented over at MGM. Still as wife to March and mother to Wright she really is the glue that holds that family together.
The Best Years of Our Lives won for Best Picture for Sam Goldwyn, Best Director for William Wyler and a few others besides the two acting Oscars it got. It was a critical and popular success, possibly the best film Sam Goldwyn ever produced. It remains to this day an endearing and enduring classic and will be so for centuries. It's almost three hours in length, but never once will your interest wane.
The best tribute this film received came from Frank Capra who had a film of his own in the Oscar sweepstakes that year in several categories. In his memoirs he said that he was disappointed to be skunked at the Oscars that year, but that his friend and colleague William Wyler had created such a masterpiece he deserved every award he could get for it.
By the way, the film Capra had hopes for was It's A Wonderful Life. The Beat Years of Our Lives can't get better praise than that.
Very glad to see that this excellent film gets such high marks from the users of IMDB. The Best Years of Their Lives remains the finest cinematic statement about veterans returning from war that I have come across. Easily the finest performance by the often overlooked Frederick March. In fact the entire cast shines, including music legend Hoagy Carmichael who treats us all with a subtle version of his classic Lazy River. I would recommend this excellent film to anyone who loves movies.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This American masterpiece came as near perfection as popular art
contrives to be, from its beautifully equivocal and suggestive title to
the magnificent performance elicited by William Wyler from the
nonprofessional amputee Harold Russell
The film epitomized both the dream and the reality of the postwar world This intimate engagement with the psychological facts of American life gave it an almost universal audience But, unlike contemporary and preceding "message" pictures, it was not a preachment It showed Americans as they are, presented their problems as they themselves see them, and provided only such solutionspartial, temporary, personalas they themselves would accept The picture's values are the values of the people in it
William Wyler, an outstanding director, triple winner of the best picture Oscar, adds an air of distinction to melodrama, epic and Westerns... With his distinguishing visual style and his taste for solemn material, he gained a reputation as a meticulous, serious artist... Wyler's most adept use of deep-focus reveals the real commitment to emotional content...
The film tells the story of three men coming home from war to a small middle-American community, and find it variously difficult to pick up where they left off... The three heroes are: a middle-aged sergeant (Fredric March), magnificent as the devoted family man who succeeds in breaking the ice with his family; an incisive Air Force captain (Dana Andrews) returning to an unfaithful wife; and a tormented sailor (Harold Russell) who has lost both hands in service, replaced by hooks in real life...
Winner of 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture, "The Best Years of Our Lives" is eloquent and compassionate, a deeply personal motion picture with touching wordless homecoming scenes:
- The first words of the sergeant's loving wife when he arrives home unexpectedly: "I look terrible! It isn't fair of you to burst in on us like this."
- The involuntarily sob of the sailor's mother when she first sees her son's mechanical hands... She blurts out: "It's nothing!"
With her dry-martini voice, Myrna Loy combines charmingly her wifely qualities with motherly ones; Teresa Wright is lovely as the sergeant's nice daughter who falls in love with the pilot; Virginia Mayo is harsh as the disloyal flashy blonde wife whose first loves are money and high life; and Cathy O'Donnell is wonderful and sensitive as the sailor's fiancée...
The situations and even some of the characters seem a little obvious, but this is a superb example of high-quality film-making in the forties, with smiles and tears cunningly spaced and a film which says what is needed on a vital subject...
This is a home-coming tale of three WWII veterans, returning to the same
small town. One was a bank clerk who rose through the military ranks
(Fredric March, who got the Best Actor Oscar for this, well-deserved) with
an understanding wife (Myrna Loy, excellent) and daughter (Teresa Wright).
One has lost his hands (Harold Russell, real-life veteran, putting in a
touching performance) and struggles to cope with this and with his
relationship with his girlfriend (Cathy O'Donnell). The other was a soda
jerk but has flown bomber planes throughout the conflict (Dana Andrews, in
one of his best roles) and is now heading back to his pin-up wife (Virginia
Mayo, a small role but an interesting one).
We follow them on their respective journeys, often meeting up in Butch's bar (run by Hoagy Carmichael, who gets the chance to play piano, etc.) and often finding their paths cross. The film comes in at around 3 hours, but it is time well spent. 'The Best Years' is not only perceptive and clever, with some great scenes, but also is innovative in some of its cinematography, thanks to the great Gregg Toland, master of the deep focus.
Sometimes, but very rarely, a movie tells a story so well that it almost becomes difficult. This movie tells several stories so well simultaneously that it was the first few times a movie I could not watch to completion. It was too real....and the characters SO STRONG that watching it became a personal struggle. Seeing these three men and their families deal with their hardships, one in particular, often hit me too hard. Now, I have watched in its entirety without interruption several times, and I realize what I always suspected. This movie is a masterpiece. The writing, the acting, the blending of several stories without being even the least bit choppy, everything about this movie is exceptional. Seven Academy Awards? No wonder, it certainly must have deserved them.
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