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"The Best Years of Our Lives" still remains a great film after sixty
years. I used to work at a grade school in the early 1990's where the
older teachers would weekly quiz each other about the film.
The acting with just a few exceptions is outstanding. Myra Loy is wonderful as the mother and wife. This despite the fact that she was only about thirteen years older then Teresa Wright, the actress that played her daughter. Fredric Marsh and Harold Russell deserved their Oscars for their performances of WWII "scarred" veterans. Russell is the only actor to receive two Oscars for the same role.
Teresa Wright as usual "the most beautiful image on any screen", is wonderful as Loy and Marsh's twenty-something daughter. She should have received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance. Wright and Russell gave the best performances in the film.
I recently gave my twenty-two year old student teacher the DVD of this classic film to watch. She told me she could only get through the first half hour before she would fall asleep. She felt that there was not enough "action" in the film. I told her that today they just don't make great movies like this anymore.
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.
It will not be difficult for me to describe my feelings and thoughts about this film. It is simply the best I have ever seen. Fredric March(the most overlooked of great actors) gives the greatest performance by a leading man ever, as the returning sergeant who was previously a banker. In real life, March was indeed a banker for a short while. Maybe that is part of the reason his performance is so elegant. This movie reaches so many areas of human behavior, by exploring the families reactions to the returning veterans and the later relationships between the men themselves, that it's apparent complexity is in reality the simplicity of the continued struggle for survival. Of course the rest of the cast is wonderful. Including the colorful Hoagy Carmichal as Butch, the local tavern owner, who also happens to play piano. Here's an interesting twist. In one scene Homer (the disabled vet) asks Butch if he remembers how to play " Up A Lazy River". After nodding, Butch starts to play the song and while he plays he questions Homer about why he's not at home with his family. Now in 1946, Homer's musical request must have been humorous to the viewing audience because Hoagy Carmichael wrote that song, and the audience must have known it. Carmichael was at the time a big musical star and wrote many famous songs, including "Stardust" and "Georgia On My Mind" (which was later recorded by Ray Charles) among many others. I have seen this movie many times and only came to the aforementioned conclusion during my last viewing about two months ago. That also brings me to a very important part of this film: the music. It is simply wonderful. I was under the impression (until I recently viewed it) that the music was written by Aaron Copland. Now please exuse me for being a bit tutorial, but Aaron Copland for those of you who are not familiar with the name is considered the first great American Symphonic Composer. Leornard Bernstein, the composer of West Side Story, studied with Mr.Copland. The music for the film was composed by Hugo Friedhoffer, a familiar name in many movie credits of the era. What's interesting here is that the similarity between Mr. Friedhoffer's score and Copland is deliberate. Now whether they couldn't get Copland to write the music and told Friedhoffer to make it sound that way on purpose or whether Freidhoffer did it on his own I know not. Either way the unique sound is typically (by now) and primarily American and this is a story about America. It is what we would now call "Americana" This movie is full of emotion. There is great tragedy, humor in abundance, moving music, disappointment, longing for love, peace and security, and even confrontation and violence. It is human in every way. It is the human story. It is wonderful and it is the best, (should I ? oh! why not) "movie of our lives".
I have never seen another movie that takes as much time to show the characters in normal, day to day ordinary circumstances, so that we get to know them slowly. Nowadays movies so often show the "good" characters early on put in certain circumstances (threatened, attacked, betrayed) in order to coerce us to respond to them. By contrast, this movie shows returning man going about his business, and each of the returning characters make the kind of small mistakes that make them more human, more approachable. More than in any other movie I felt I was meeting new friends rather than following a story. Yet the stories themselves are good. This movie is in my top 5. I found it similar to Its a Wonderful Life, which I love too, but less obvious and less overly dramatic. Other good things about the film -- you can learn about the 1940s dress, manner of speaking, sense of humor; the movie has more thoughtful dialogue than two average current movies; the cinematography is excellent, with especially thoughtful character positioning in group scenes; there's a cameo by Hoagy Carmichael.
"It feels as though we're going to hit a beach."
The second great armed forces landing in the 40's: Home.
If 1946 was not like this, then it might as well have been, for once all of the WWII Vets pass away, movies like these will define the moment for all times.
A sailor is reunited with (literally) the girl next door, except that he has no hands to hold her. An airman finds that whirlwind airbase romances do not necessarily hold up to peacetime challenges. An army sergeant returns to an even better job than he left, but has more complicated battles to fight.
Seven Oscars were well deserved. A subtly solid cast, including Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Hoagy Carmichael and my new favorite actress, Teresa Wright. William Wyler and Gregg Toland save their tricks for the key scenes.
10 out of 10.
With WWII over, movie studios quickly rushed to focus on vets returning home. "The Best Years of Our Lives" was probably the best example. It portrays various people returning home and how they have to readjust not only to their pre-war lives, but to the overall changing world. Probably the most interesting cast member is non-actor Harold Russell. Having lost his hands in the war, he plays a man with hooks where his hands used to be, and reminds people that he wants to be treated just like everyone else; he went on to win Best Supporting Actor and a special Oscar for the role, making him the only person ever to win two Oscars for the same role. There will probably always be debate over whether this deserved Best Picture more than "It's a Wonderful Life", but I certainly think that they did a good job with it. Very well done.
Personally, my favorite of all time. the screenplay was exceptional. I think the performances were real as life, when taking into consideration what the our country had gone through at that time in our history. What more can I say about the performances exhibited by all involved in a truly memorable motion experience. Teresa Wright, Cathy Cathy O'Donnell Myrna Loy, Virginia Mayo, were at the top of their game with their performances. On the opposite male side, you had the usual excellent portrayals by Fredrick March, Dana Andrews, of the characters they were portraying. Harold Russell displayed a real gutsy performance as a lesson of the misfortunes of combat during war time in defense of our great country. In my opinion an all time classic in motion picture history.
Returning to life at home for our overseas fighting men was not as easy as we here at home may have assumed,and McKinlay Kantor thought it important to write about this fact.The novel caught the attention of Hollywood and soon we were seeing it well illustrated on the big screen.War changes a man to one degree or another,either physically or emotionally or perhaps both.The passage of time doesn't help either,and things at home change a little.Their children grow,and they were unable to be there to witness it firsthand.Again,this makes the adjustment harder.For 4 years,all they knew was war,and they find themselves faced with the impossible task of picking up where they had left off.It's a worthwhile story to engross yourself in.While much of what you see here represents a world that does not exist anymore,the difficulties of adjusting to life at home after war ring true still today.
All in all, I very much enjoyed this film. It tells of an aspect of the
WWII era that is very seldom mentioned in any Hollywood film of that
time period-that is how the returning veterans readjusted to the
The three main characters are not wartime buddies. They meet on their way home to the same small town. Each has a unique, but realistic situation. Fredrick March, as usual, is outstanding in his role as a typical suburban dad. The other actors give excellent performances as well.
As other reviewers have mentioned, the issue of disability is also brought up in this movie-another rarity for an old movie. (Heck, a rarity even for a modern one!) This calls to mind the true costs of war, which are brought up both in their physical and psychological aspects. But, this is NOT an anti-war film. It is a realistic portrayal of the proud members of America's "greatest generation." All in all, I highly recommend this movie, particularly for younger people how may benefit from an appreciation of what the older generation did for us all. With some sense of guilt I only rated this movie with an 8, only because some people, hoping for an action packed wartime drama, might be disappointed.
Why is this story so great? Because it is lean and thorough in revealing the numerous layers of personality to our three key characters, piece by piece, which makes them so real in a paced and timely way that sets up scenes to punctuate and surprise as it allows us to fully appreciate the depth of their individual struggles that must be overcome. IT is a great example of character development; portrayal within the given story context; and resolution delivered in a surprisingly believable way. It does this without any violence (except one scene of a man being duly punched); without any overt sex, and without any profanity. Merely the use of human interaction to all the key emotions of personal suffering, tragedy, fear of the unknown, pride, dignity, love and hope, as well as empathy and sympathy framed in the simplest but most memorable locations that harvest such believable dialogue which pulls us along with each of their lives until all three resolutions come together.
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