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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What more can be said about this movie that hasn't already been said?
"The Best Years of Our Lives" is William Wyler's masterpiece about
soldiers returning home from World War II, and their struggles to
adjust, along with the struggles of the women they love. Fredric March
won the Oscar for his portrayal of Al Stephenson, an upper-middle class
banker returning home to his lovely wife (Myrna Loy, who actually gets
top billing despite being in a supporting role), good apartment and
job, and two lovely children. Although March does a fine job, he's
actually not at his best here: although Stephenson has been changed by
his war experiences and seeing working-class people, his character's
adjustment is fundamentally less difficult than that of Andrews' or
Russell's characters. March's Al Stephenson is written as if he's being
filmed through a softer lens than the other characters; he doesn't have
nearly the sort of conflict and rough edges that March portrayed
excellently in a whole range of other movies (eg. "Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde", "A Star is Born", ""Inherit the Wind", and even a lesser movie
like "The Young Doctors").
The Best Actor Oscar really should have gone to Dana Andrews, who puts in a stunning performance as Fred Derry, a man literally from the wrong side of the tracks, who returns home to find that he lacks the skills to fit into the new world. He got married just before leaving for the war to a woman he doesn't really love (in fact being in love with Wright's character), and can't cope with either this or his inability to get a good job, being forced and humiliated into going back to his old job as a soda jerk.
Finally, we come to Harold Russell, who plays Homer Parrish, a navy man who lost both his hands when his ship was bombed by the Japanese. Russell, who had had no previous acting experience, does an outstanding job, portraying both the eternal American spirit of optimism (eg. In his comment about being lucky that he still has his elbows), as well as the conflict of trying to adjust not only to having lost his hands, but to the fact that the people around him treat him differently. Deep down inside, he still loves his girlfriend Wilma (Cathy O'Donnell), but doesn't want to be a burden on her. This conflict creates some of the most heartbreaking scenes in the movie, such as the scene in which Homer's father puts him to bed, and the key sequence in which Homer shows Wilma what she'd really be getting into if she married him.
As for the supporting performances, they're all wonderful, too. Myrna Loy hits all the right notes as the wife Al Stephenson comes home to (and the rest of us would like to come home to); Teresa Wright suitably captures all the emotions in her complex relationship with Fred Derry, from sympathy when he's having a nightmare, to the piteous nature of her intention to break up his marriage ("with an axe", as her father humorously suggests). Virginia Mayo does well as Derry's wife, the nightclub singer who still wants to live a high life despite having a husband who can't adjust; and Cathy O'Donnell plays off Harold Russell beautifully. Finally, Hoagy Carmichael provides light relief as Butch, the piano-playing bar proprietor uncle of Homer.
Gregg Toland handles the cinematography, and once again shows his mastery of deep focus, particularly in one scene where Andrews is breaking off his relationship with Wright via a phone call in a booth way in the background, while Homer, Al, and Butch are at the piano in the foreground; and another scene where Andrews and Wright meet again at a wedding. The only minor quibble I'd have is that sometimes one gets the impression that Toland is doing these scenes just to show off how well he can do deep focus.
"The Best Years of Our Lives" runs some 170 minutes, but it's one of the very few movies much longer than about two-and-a-half hours that doesn't feel as though it could benefit significantly by having scenes pared down. "The Best Years of Our Lives" is one of the ten great American movies, and rates a 10 out of 10.
There are not many movies that have such an emotional quality as "The Best Years of Our Lives". The story of three ex-servicemen returning from WW II and trying to readjust to civilian life is one of the best movies ever made.The acting is superlative: Fredric March,Myrna Loy,Dana Andrews (my favorite),Virginia Mayo and real-life amputee Harold Russell are not merely acting these parts,to me they are these people.Wyler direction is magnificent in his best movie. There are so many memorable scenes...Dana Andrew's breakdown inside a B-29 plane,Fredric March's first night on the town...to name some.The relationships the three men have with their families are so realistically conveyed that we easily can identify ourselves with the problems they have.If you have never seen this film you're in for a real treat.
This movie would qualify as great movie at any time. A superb story
intertwining the stories of 3 families lives together with top notch
acting throughout. While the film is timeless, we tend to forget or
take for granted about when this movie came out in 1946. It dealt with
the end of the war and readjustment and was released at a time when
those adjustments were taking place. Best Years dealt with several of
the most important issues of its day in an accurate, realistic and
uplifting manner. When you add everything all together, the story,the
acting, the timing, and this movies impact when it came out it is hard
to come up with a better movie in all regards.
How good was Best Years of Our Lives? Look at some of its competition for the Oscar in 1946. Two other great movies from that year are 'It's A Wonderful Life' and 'The Razors Edge'. 'The Yearling' was yet another top notch nominated film of that year. For all the competition, the fact that Best Years won the Oscar was not a surprise. Another fine film not nominated for best picture that year was "Notorious".
There is no finer depiction of post-war middle America than this thoughtfully engrossing black and white film. The men and their families hope against hope that for the survivors the war was left overseas, but they are changed forever. Grownups will cope in their fashion and that is the hopeful message. Was there ever a finer group of old Hollywood talent put to better use? Goldwyn and Wyler's best. Savor performances of Andrews (also terrific in combat film A Walk in the Sun), Wright, March, Loy and others. It is no spoiler to say the sight of Andrews character sitting in de-activated bomber is haunting. And we know from the first scene and movie history that Harold Russell essentially played himself -- a double hand amputee.
This is one of my very favorite WWII films. It's both optimistic and pessimistic at the same time with it's look at the past, present, and future. The character of Homer is my favorite. Harold Russell was no real actor. He had no acting experience until his hands were burned off in combat and then he used that disability to help other service men and accident victims. I think the scene that gets me most is when he's in his room alone and it's night and he's looking at all the photos on the wall of his high school career as an athlete. He was prominent in football and basketball and he was what most people consider 'whole' and now he has only hooks for hands and has to live the rest of his life that way. But although he's the character that would probably be the most likely to feel sorry for himself, he's the one that is probably the most grounded in reality. Dana Andrews' struggle to come to grips with who he was and who he is now is excellent as well. All in all this movie is Americana at it's best with the worst scenarios I suppose you could say. The music is wonderful, bittersweet and thoughtful. The casting is pretty well perfect, and it's just a darned good movie to watch for everyone.
Humane, understated, believable and rare. These are just some of the
thoughts that come to mind after watching "Best Years...".
I think it is the mix of characters and the believability of their lives which makes for such a great film.
The events surrounding the return of the servicemen are not dwelled upon. What is very unusual, and what makes the film truly great, is the vision of the future that each of the main characters has. The world, following WWII, has changed them and notwithstanding physical and emotional traumas, it has changed them for the better. They are men united by service to a great cause, a just cause and the right cause. Having given so much of themselves they wish to see a better world on their return after victory.
Particularly at this time in 2004 that message resonates loud and clear to me. Another just war is taking place and the US and UK are again present, together, in the service of freedom and democracy. Let us hope that when victory is achieved that the world will also be changed for the better.
For me, Fredric March's portrayal of "Sarge" is so right that it should be considered among the great movie portrayals of all time!
All in all a marvellous film, that deserves to be seen again and again.
One of the benefits of subscribing to Netflix is that you can work your
way through older movies that you have not seen with no fear of wasting
money. Therefore, I was working my way through the AFI's Top 100 Movies
list and decided to give #37 a go, trusting the name Wyler.
Nothing could have possibly prepared me for the viewing experience. The Best Years of Our Lives is the finest movie I have ever seen. It is so close to flawless as to be unbelievable. I could write effusive paragraphs of praise under each of the following topics: direction, cinematography, lighting, editing, acting, and writing. But I will limit myself to one topic: emotional involvement.
The writing, directing, and acting add up to (almost impossibly) more than the sum of their parts. The effect is to draw the viewer into the the three interlocking stories to a frightening degree. This film packs such an emotional wallop that you will probably choke up at the least during one of the many moving scenes.
I personally relate most strongly to the character of Fred Derry. Los Angeles has too many Marie types and not enough Peggys. Are there any Peggys left?
Since I've seen the film, I ask every WWII vet their opinion of it. They all pipe up quickly and give praise, which, for the "silent generation", speaks volumes.
Whenever I get the feeling that the pursuit of acting and film-making is ignoble, immature and self-centered, I watch The Best Years of Our Lives and remember what can be done.
If you have not seen this movie and are a mature person of substance, then you have a unique experience ahead of you.
The memorable characters and story make "The Best Years of Our Lives"
an interesting and entertaining drama, and it is also worthwhile and
thoughtful for its portrayal of the problems of ex-servicemen and their
families. Although the specific problems in the movie might not be such
a widespread concern at present, it is nevertheless a thought-provoking
reminder of how easily we forget or ignore the problems of others, even
others who have served us well, and who have accepted risks and made
sacrifices in order to do so.
The cast is a good one, especially Fredric March and Myrna Loy. March's character is interesting in himself and also in his ways of reacting to the situations that his friends encounter. Myrna Loy excels as always in her interactions with March and the other characters. It is also hard to forget Harold Russell once you've seen this movie. Though he is inexperienced as an actor, he more than makes up for it with his sincerity and innocence.
The story is also well-conceived and well-directed. The characters are put in a variety of situations that not only reflect some very common concerns of the movie's own era, but that also provide insights into human nature that go beyond the specific situations themselves. Despite a long running time, there is ample material to hold your attention and to make you care about the characters.
When I saw the title of this great Oscar winning film of 1946, I
immediately thought of what our returning soldiers from the war had
gone through. Who would ever guess that the title emanates from the
likes of the character of Virginia Mayo, scolding her husband (a
marvelous Dana Andrews.) She had the nerve to tell him that she wasted
the best years of her life while waiting for his return. Actually, she
didn't wait, she had Steve Cochran,in a very brief part, to wait the
Who can forget that scene when Frederic March returns home and is greeted by his family. Myrna Loy didn't have to say anything. The way she stood there was forever memorable.
What did Dana Andrews have to do to win an Oscar? He was so good here as a returning GI but was denied a nomination. March was adequate and was rewarded with a best actor Oscar. I don't know why in a year, when Jimmy Stewart was up for It's A Wonderful Life, did March deserve the accolade.
The movie was timely as the war had just ended. Other poignant scenes dealt with Harold Russell, who had lost his limbs during the war, dealing with his handicap.
Unlike her undeserved Oscar for Mrs. Miniver, Teresa Wright, who died this year, was effective as March's daughter.
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.
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