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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.
Blue ribbon banners, stars and stripes forever, decorated generals, and
unconditional surrender from the enemies which required tons and tons
of radiation, this was the summon substance of the United States
victory in World War II!! The celebration on Times Square as well as
everywhere else in the United States suggests a national zenith!!!
America is on top right!! one thing, one agonizing and painstakingly
perverse thing..The period of adjustment!!..The actual celebration
ended when the bottle of champagne was finished..Now everyone needs to
get on with their lives...only one problem though...they have to get
new lives...the old lives are gone forever...Polite and pleasant smiles
had a fragile facade with a longevity of ice cubes in boiling water!!
Everyone of the characters in the movie is paraded by primal doubts,
and unable to masquerade a pretense about how nothing was seriously
wrong, for the simple reason that it was not true!!! Once sergeants,
and generals, and their wives, and daughters, and sons and virtually
all other Americans touched by World War II, were exposed to
disabilities, nightmares and recriminations of World War II and what it
really accomplished as well as negated, nobody was the same!! For now,
social and moral issues had a self serving interest...Frederick March
and Myrna Loy had to start over!! Dana Andrews realized that he should
never have been married to Virginia Mayo in the first place!!! Theresa
Wright has become painfully aware of the fact that she is
constructively selfish!! Las but not least, the character, Homer, is
about to get married and he thinks that everyone around him is as
devastated by his injury as he is, basically in the sense that they are
unable or unwilling to cope!!
The reason this film is so fabulous is because a happy ending was attained the hard way, once everybody recognized the new beginning of the new United States and the new world overall, tragedy from WWII was recognized, and things that were emotionally torn asunder were taken in stride, and dealt with accordingly!! Frederick March and Myrna Loy need to go back to chapter one in their marriage, Homer has apprised his new bride as to what it takes to be married to him (i.e. half the times, she will feel like a nurse) and Thresa Wright's involvement with Dana Andrews means that her entrance into adulthood has resulted in partial responsibility for breaking up a marriage...This is tantamount to learning how to drive a car to get your driver's license at the Indianapolis 500...The characters in the movie are the typical post WWII Americans in that they are stalemated by the rude awakening of coercive changes to their lives...Happiness no longer is afforded the luxury of the adjective cop-aesthetic...it is now about formidable conditions, and good winning out over evil by way of the less ugly choice!!...World War II did not just happen!! It will henceforth dominate the social patterns of American living!!!
The aggregate catastrophe of World War II has mirrored most Americans' feelings of personal human inadequacy as well!!I loved this film and so did AFI, probably for the reason that it brought out issues that were at one time unjustifiably taboo!!..Bottom line, see this movie!! Nightmares about combat, dilemmas about marital unhappiness and/or readjustment, coping with your life when stricken-ed by a disability and just basically acting human are portrayed constantly in movies and television today, HOWEVER!! this is 1946!! Very new to Americans then....REMEMBER THAT!! Director William Wyler has illustrated how Americans feel about the aftermath of WWII in the days when the movie industry has left him with one hand tied behind his back!!! Take that into account and you will probably realize just how sensational this movie really was!!
Best Years of Our Lives perfectly captures the era of my youth, and the feelings of that time. The cast was uniformly wonderful. This was possibly Dana Andrews best role of his career and he should also have been nominated for an Academy Award. There are so many wonderful scenes in this movie it is almost impossible to list them all. The cinematography is among the best of any film. This movie is a time capsule of what is was like in the 1940's. A must see movie for any true movie fan. Some critics have said this movie has aged. I disagree. The theme of human desires is timeless. And the obstacles faced by veterans returning from war will always be with us. This is just a great movie - one that can be watched over and over again.
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
The whole point of this film when it was released still makes perfect sense today, though I'm sure it doesn't have the same impact it did in those first years after World War II ended. Returning servicemen, with all kinds of backgrounds before and during the war, hit a wall coming home: wives who no longer loved them, jobs that had dried up, a culture that was foreign to them and that found them, these men, to be foreign themselves.
It wasn't a crisis to take lightly. These were the guys who were drafted to fight the enemy, and in going overseas they lost some of the best years of their lives, if not their lives. The country knew its debt in the abstract, but it also knew it in sons and husbands who really did come home and who had to face it all. This movie was both a reckoning for the sake of national healing and a brilliant drama that would be beautifully pertinent and therefore successful. And what a success, then and now.
The consummate Hollywood director William Wyler shows in this fast, long movie just what a master he is at working the medium. With Gregg Toland at the camera, Wyler makes a highly fluid movie, visual and dramatic and weirdly highly efficient. With the three main plots interweaving and depending on each other, the drama (and melodrama) build but never beyond plausibility. Wyler knew his audience wouldn't put up with pandering or cheap mistakes. Casting Harold Russell as Homer, knowing the audience would hear about how Russell really was a soldier who lost both hands in the war, was a huge step toward creating both empathy and credibility. It even practices a key theme in the move--to go beyond your bounds to make a difference, to give these guys a break and help them assimilate.
It's interesting how singular this movie is, trying to show the truth in these kinds of situations. The other post-war films about army and navy men fall into two large and dominating categories--war films and film noir. And it is film noir that comes closest to getting at the problem of the G.I. not reintegrating well, making it a whole style, brooding and spilling over with violence. "The Best Years of Our Lives" has a highly controlled and even contrived plot structure, but it aims to be honest and representative.
That it's remarkable formally--the way it is shot and edited and acted, top to bottom--is not surprise, given the heights that Hollywood had reached by then, and given that Wyler is easily the slickest of them all, in the best sense. That the movie makes such beautiful sense and really works as a story, a moving and heartwarming story without undue sappiness, is a whole other kind of achievement. A terrific, rich, full-blooded, uncompromised movie.
WWII veterans return home and find it hard to adjust to civilian life. This superb drama is expertly directed by Wyler and beautifully filmed by famed cinematographer Toland. Despite its near three-hour length, it does not drag for a minute. The script by Sherwood features very human characters and great dialog. Andrews has perhaps his best role as a man struggling to make ends meet. Also good are Wright as a love-sick young woman, Mayo as Andrews' trampy wife, and real-life veteran Russell as a man who lost both his hands. However, top honors go to March and Loy as a long-married couple facing challenges while getting reacquainted with each other.
The Best Years of Our Life is often compared to It's a Wonderful Life.
They never should be. Their only commonality is the desire to make a
serious comment about a war that took millions of lives. It is hard to
know what value individual life may have. (How many people know that 1
in 22 people lost their lives violently in the last century? What a
statistic we have to live with.) Also our feelings about war have
changed in 60 years. We have progressively moved from thinking that war
is just if the enemy is the right one to believing that no war is
totally just, especially the ones that have been fought recently.
I have been a life long pacifist. I oppose all war. Not long ago I had that position tested. It occurred while I was on the USS Lexington, which is permanently anchored in Corpus Christi, Texas. The ship required a crew that is 3 or 4times the community in which I live. It is a powerful experience, moving around on her decks. She had seen a great deal of action. Someone granted me the right to be a pacifist and it was not cheaply bought.
I cannot watch The Best Years of Our Life without thinking about things like the Lexington.
Each of the three veterans paid their dues. And they paid mine as well.
No one of them got off any easier than any other. The Navy, Air Force and Army paid equally although in different ways. Each had problems directly related to the war. And each had to work terribly hard to overcome those difficulties. It took more courage to face their civilian surroundings than it did to deal with war, because each had to do it on his own. Each could understand and sympathize with the problem of the others: ultimately no one could help.
The moving part of the film (this could be the beginning part of the spoiler) is what follows when one of the male leads found someone who knew enough to give advice. The obvious case is when Derry told Herald to marry the girl. Don't hesitate, do it tomorrow. It is hard for Harold to believe that anyone could love him when he had been a football hero and athletic star before the war. But to his credit, Harold listens.
The other is when Al tells Derry to stay away from his daughter. The meaning was clear. Mend your relationship with your wife standard fair for 30's/40's films. Derry did not debate the point: he felt he was not fit for Al's daughter. So he agreed. The truth of the film comes out when we consider the daughter feels the same way about Derry. Real emotions from real people. I think our era has deep problems with feelings and sentiment and honor. I sometimes think we believe these values do not exist. That's perhaps why people looking at this film have problems.
Al is not free of advice he does not totally want. Any time his boss talks to him, Al gets tied in knots. And rightly so. There are some things that cannot be judged by the standards of occupation: they must be judged by huge general intangibles and only someone tested by the severities of life would understand what those intangibles are.
All of this leads up to a scene near the end where all the planes that fought so valiantly are stripped, stacked, stored, discarded and soon to be recycled: their function, worth and pride as translucent as Derry himself. He can overcome that translucency which he does, making him fit, in his mind, for the woman he loves.
I gave The Best Years of Our Lives a 10 and there are few films I feel that way about. This is not a film for popcorn. It deserves our attention. We are very privileged to eves drop on something so private as the lives of these wonderful people. We ought to be careful that we don't abuse that privilege.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Best Years of Our Lives is a film that slipped under my radar for
years--I had heard about it, but never had the opportunity to watch it.
Thanks to TCM On Demand, I was able to watch it uncut and commercial
What surprised me about this film was how quickly it was made after the war. The film frankly deals with the people who were wounded in the war, both physically and mentally. It manages neatly to encompass nearly all the varieties of war experience within three characters.
We have the Air Force officer, who was a veteran of the early European bombing campaign. Because of the horrific attrition rate amongst the crews of the bombers, the Air Force at that time had a reputation for cranking out officers who quickly rose through the ranks. Such was case with this fellow who went from a lowly soda jerk in civilian life to a Captain and bombardier of his B-17. He also suffers from PTSD, called "battle fatigue" at the time.
We have the Army non-com who served in the Pacific, and suffered through the horrors of that campaign. His story is opposite that of the Air Force fellow in that he goes from a prestigious job as a banker to a lowly grunt in the Army and rises to the rank of Sergeant. From the stripes on his sleeve it is clear that he is the highest level of Sergeant, yet he is still on the front line.
Finally we have the Navy Seaman, who is part of the faceless support staff, commonly referred to as REMFs (Rear Echelon MFers)by the fellows on the line. Ironically, he suffers the worst physical wounds when working as a mechanic below decks on a Navy ship, his ship is struck, presumably by a kamikaze and is sunk with loss of 400 lives. He is pulled from the water but his badly burned hands are amputated and replaced with prosthetic hooks.
BYOOL tells the story of how these three meet on a transport plane they have boarded for home, and how they readjust into civilian society.
What impressed me most about this film is that despite the obvious issues that face the three protagonists, it never descends into melodrama. The Navy kid, played by an actual amputee, is placed into situations where we might feel sorry for him, yet the script never lets us feel that emotion. The Army sergeant is clearly an alcoholic, and the story points that out, but never dwells on it. The Air Force captain struggles with the loss of status when he is forced to return to the drug store he soda jerked in (now bought out by a large chain) and take a demeaning job to support his ungrateful and disloyal wife.
The script allows plenty of opportunities for all these characters to come to some dramatic climax regarding their plights, but it neatly avoids that. But for the overly dramatic score, the director has tread around exploiting the obvious.
In one scene that well represents the entire movie, the daughter of the Army sergeant (Frederic March) is having a discussion with her father and mother regarding the Air Force captain. Despite his marriage, they have fallen in love, and she is determined to break up the marriage which is obviously troubled. Now we've seen thousands of scenes typical of this where the father blusters angrily and the daughter ends up running away to her room in tears, slamming the door and falling on the bed. Later, Mom shows up, consoles daughter and offers words of motherly wisdom, and everybody lives happily ever after.
In BYOOL, this scene plays out completely differently than the cliché I have described above. Sure the conversation gets heated, but all parties are reasonable, and there is a serious and timeless discussion of the nature of relationships that has some of the best dialog I have seen.
Ultimately, BYOOL is a highly satisfying film, with honest performances from the entire cast. Technically, it is well shot, the editing and cinematography frame, but never overshadow the gripping narrative. Despite the score, which is cliché and over-dramatic, I give this film the highest rating that it clearly deserves
I learned about the movie from reading a note on the CD that had its music
as one of many great film scores. The note about the movie was so favorable
I had to see it. The music is very moving and subtle; it really contributes
to this fine movie.
The two finest scenes for me have not even been discussed yet...
- The scene where Fred Derry's parents are reading his award citation makes me cry. I am moved whenever respect is shown and appreciation is given; when there is an understanding of sacrifice and of honor. (The only similar scene which comes to mind now is that great moment from To Kill a Mockingbird when Atticus Finch leaves the courtroom after having failed to win Tom Robinson's freedom, when all of the black folks in the balcony (plus his own kids) stand to show him respect.)
- The scene in the cockpit, when Fred Derry is reliving his war experiences. The music takes over and he is overwhelmed with the intensity of the memories. This scene is big for me because I was a sailor and I did some neat things in uniform and was in on some intense action. After I left the military, I had a letdown - what is more important that waging war, defending your country and trying to save lives/minimize casualties? I had to realize that those feelings of contribution and worthiness and importance can never be matched again. (There are other types of worthiness, like being a dad and a husband - but these are very different.) Regular life is of a different pace, with more competing responsibilities. Its all about balance rather than objective.
So these two scenes meant a great deal to me when I first saw them and they still do.
What a wonderful film!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
At the beginning of this movie it seems like it is just going to be
another World War II movie, but it is not. There are no battle scenes;
there are only stories of the events from overseas. Not many movies
show the after effects of war. Many will just show a lot of violence to
try to do better in the box office. This movie focuses more on a
touching story. Also, for this movie to be released at the same time as
many soldiers were coming home, it was not only a timely movie, but it
must have been important to the soldiers for it to be accurate.
When we are shown Fred trying to catch a flight home in the opening sequence, he is not exactly welcomed with open arms. I can only imagine what that must have felt like to a returning veteran. Not only that, but also to come home and struggle to find a decent job and having no other choice but to return to work as a soda jerker would be a such a shame. That was hard enough for Fred, but Homer probably had it the worst. He came home with no arms and found his life was turned completely upside down because of it. I liked that in the end though things worked out for him. As for Al, he came home and had a pleasant family and his old job waiting for him. All three of them had different ranks from different branches of the military, but when they returned home they were just like everybody else trying to survive in the rat race, rather than the fox hole.
Even though it is definitely obvious that their paths will cross again early in the movie, I liked how the three stories intertwined. The film also builds suspense subtly, possibly without the average viewer even realizing it; like how we never see Homer's hooks uncovered until near the end of the film. Naturally, Greg Tolland does a great job in the cinema photography department. Deep focus is put to good use; they did not use it just because they could. The scene where Homer is playing the piano and Fred is in the phone booth in the background is a prime example. I also noticed a lot of creative shots done with mirrors throughout the movie.
I found this movie to be quite good overall. I usually do not like long movies like this unless there is something special or unique about it. What I liked most about this movie was good storytelling. That is what I always look for the most in a film and this one has it. I think the movie is deserving of the numerous awards it received.
There are several thoughtful reviews of this movie here already - most all
of which I concur with.
I'll try to add a couple of unique comments about this most wonderful of films.
It occurred to me that some of this films greatest and most touching moments are told without dialogue:
The scene so many readers here have already mentioned - when Fred visits the boneyard for all those bombers waiting for the scrap heap. Through the camera work and Mr. Andrews' acting, we too are transported back to his harrowing missions aboard one of these planes. The urgency, the fear, the terror, the danger are all palpable at once as though we're in the cockpit too, flying over Europe against great enemy resistance, even though it's a sunny day somewhere in America in a lot for surplus aircraft. When I watched that scene, I felt like I really knew what tremendous ordeals he had endured. I felt for Fred now that this plane, that had been so decisively important, just as he himself had been so important, risking his life in service to his country as part of the plane's crew suddenly no longer served any useful purpose.
The scene where Homer is just about to go to his girlfriend's, Wilma's, house as planned - but he stops and he watches her through the window as she works in the kitchen, and plainly, we see that she is dear to him. But instead of going in to see her, with great struggle he changes his mind and he goes home and to his room. What a sweet room it is! It's the room he left - just out of high school - to join the navy. It's a high school student's room, a boy's room in his parent's house, with his trophies and pennants on the wall. He looks around at his boyhood triumphs and - we see through the camera - he stops and looks at his posed portrait in his football uniform, his right arm cocked back holding the football, his left arm pointing towards the imaginary receiver his head up, proud, and his gaze confident and purposeful. And then he looks at an action shot of himself dribbling the basketball past defenders. I can't begin to assess what Homer could be feeling at that moment - feelings of loss? of uselessness? Is he thinking that he'll be forever a boy - dependent on his parents and that he'll never be able to be his own man? That sequence - all without dialogue - speaks volumes!
The kicker for me though, is the reminder that this is not merely a character in a story that has moved me, but this is also a real person who lost both his hands in service to his country. Those photographs of him holding the football and dribbling the basketball sure look to me like they are real pictures of the real person, Mr. Harold Russell, who plays Homer. What kind of courage did he have to look those things in the face for millions of viewers to witness? And how hard was it for Mr. Russell the person to make light of his character's and his own real life disability by playing Chopsticks on the piano with his "hooks" for everyone's amusement?
Those two scenes stick in my mind as the most powerful to me - but there are so many more in this movie. It's worth noting that they were so effective without any dialogue at all. An actor shares a soul stirring revelation and it is carefully captured and revealed for us with sensitive and skillful film making.
This is one of those movies that would go on a very short list of all time favorites. It's not perfect - when I can detach myself emotionally from the people in this story I can say that it could possibly be just a little heavy handed with it's message, but to watch this movie with all it's masterful performances from so many in the cast all assembled so lovingly and with great such great care by a great director - I have to think that it is very near perfect.
I read here on IMDB under Harold Russell's (plays Homer) bio that he sold his Oscar in order to pay for surgery for his wife!! He is still living, retired on Cape Cod. Someone, somehow should get his Oscar back to him. It seems so wrong!! He paid very dearly with flesh and blood and bone and then had to, while on display, stare his loss in the face for the benefit of the movie going public. Someone should return his Oscar to him - the Academy? Steven Spielberg? Tom Hanks? William Wyler's heirs? I don't know who, but someone should really do that for him. It seems like a small price to pay for what he gave.
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