The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) Poster

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An extraordinary, moving post-war film
steve-6427 April 2000
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 of WWII. It had an impact that was so strong that it's never left me--I've seen 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.
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Over 60 years old and still a classic!
GMJames22 February 2005
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.
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The People's War Veterans Return Home
bkoganbing23 April 2007
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.
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Highly structured but flawless and really moving drama about returning G.I.s
secondtake4 October 2010
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.
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Wanted to Hate It...Couldn't Help But Love It
ceb5912 August 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I disagree with those who only went so far as to call "The Best Years of Our Lives" one of the best movies about returning servicemen. I believe it is one of the best movies ever made, period. It alternates with "Casablanca" for my all-time favorite movie, depending on which one I have seen most recently.

The best compliment I can pay to this movie is that I hold it in such high regard despite having gone into my first viewing wanting to hate it. How dare this film win the best picture Oscar over my favorite movie (at the time) "It's a Wonderful Life," went my thinking. But when I saw "Best Years," I was blown away and I understood.

"Best Years" has an unbelievable number of scenes that bring a tear to the eye or a lump to the throat, with only a couple of those being the result of sadness, and with most being caused by beautiful depictions of love, loyalty, pride, patriotism, or the overcoming of personal adversity. I only need to hear the opening strains of the Homer and Wilma theme music before the bedroom scene to start losing it.

What I enjoy most about the plot is how steadfast all of the lead women are, each in their own unique way. I know Harold Russell and Fredric March won the Oscars-- and they were great-- but for me, Dana Andrews as Fred and the wonderful Teresa Wright as Peggy are the standouts. I find Fred's statement that Peggy should be put into mass production to be very apt.

One final aspect of the movie that fascinates me is how it can be such a perfect time-capsule of 1940s America, yet still not feel dated in terms of its human interactions.

I am on the clock, waiting for my next opportunity to enjoy this complete and utter masterpiece!
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Dana Andrews
ottoblom10 October 2004
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!
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Forgotten now that it was mildly controversial in its day
bill_mcclain23 September 2004
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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An Extraordinary Picture
ss592131 July 2003
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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Refreshing To See
smthrk13 August 2003
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.
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The ravages of war don't end on the battlefield.
Heiress25 April 2001
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 great 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 return to, with grown children and independent, working women along with a depressed economy, only add to the strife. It's the scenes just off camera and the unspoken dialog which resonates the most loudly, however. The awkward intimacy of Frederich March and Myrna Loy and his struggle to return 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.
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Arguably the best movie ever!
msalensky20 February 2016
Wyler's direction in nothing short of amazing. He brings the hidden internal conflicts of returning from war out in the open and gratfully puts it right in your face. These people in this film are real people dealing with real issues and it shows under his direction Andrews and Wright are nothing short of perfect. His is probably the best performance of his career and Wright is wonderful, matching her achievement in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. If you have read most of the reviews associated with this film you can understand why it is not necessary to look at each individual and their performance so i wont. An exceptional motion picture with the remarkable cast.

The best movie ever? Yeah I know. There are probably 10 or so films you could put that label on. But man....this one comes really, really close.
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Some of this film's greatest moments were scenes without a spoken word!
jackboot18 January 2001
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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One of the Best Films of Our Lives
kenjha5 February 2007
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.
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Window on an era
tomsview3 April 2016
This is one of the important movies.

It was when it was first released in 1946, addressing as it did the issue of veterans returning from WW2, and the affect it had on them and their families. It focused on three men, all psychologically scarred, and one who has lost both arms. They return to a small city in the U.S., but the themes of the film were universal.

That was 70 years ago, and over the years, the movie has tended to move into the background - there have been more wars and more veterans returning with their own issues.

However, I think the importance of this movie can't be underestimated now that the WW2 generation is fading away.

WW2 was well covered; we have millions of feet of newsreel film as well as towering stacks of history books. However, movies from the era do something quite unique; they get inside the emotions and the feelings - they represent the mindset of the time. Audiences identified with the issues through the stars in a way that was very personal. Hollywood did this job best - it was entertainment, but it was also a commitment to a generation.

At the end of the war and into the 50's, Hollywood addressed the aftermath - "Till the End of Time", "The Men", "My Foolish Heart", "The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit" and others, but "The Best Years of Our Lives" towers above them all.

The film could never really be remade. It was created by people who had experienced the war either in combat or on the home front. Many behind the camera had served including director William Wyler who had flown dangerous missions making documentaries about the U.S. Air Force; he was left nearly deaf from the experience.

The film tackled tough issues and attitudes. Sergeant Al Stephenson (Frederick March) returns from the Philippines, but he hasn't seen his kids for years and he seems out of step with them. Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) returns to an unfaithful wife and an uncertain future, he was good at war but what now? Real-life amputee Harold Russell plays Homer Parrish. He has much to overcome, but his girlfriend remains loyal, and he emerges as possibly the best adjusted of them all; he accepts what he can't change, and just gets on with it.

The film has a powerful score by Hugo Friedhofer. Friedhofer was not as famous as Newman, Korngold or Steiner but he was as good. He surpassed himself here; his music helped express the unspoken thoughts of the actors - there are sections of this score that bring a lump to the throat.

This was my parent's generation; my father was in the Australian army and fought in the war. And although this movie was about Americans, the story resonated far wider.

Of course you could argue that some issues were not tackled - and that also gives an insight into an era, but with that said, this film is a window on the ideas and forces that were shaping society at a critical time in modern history.

Seen that way, it's a movie that may never lose its relevance.
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A Great Film
jeromec-218 December 2005
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.
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A deeply personal motion picture...
Nazi_Fighter_David17 September 2000
Warning: 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 solutions—partial, temporary, personal—as 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...
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wonderful post-war epic
didi-511 July 2003
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.
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Among Best Films Of Our Lives
marcin_kukuczka11 November 2014
Not seldom have we seen veterans returning from wars in movies and certain assumptions are likely, but THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES occurs to be an exceptionally memorable treatment of the theme. Bosley Crowther in New York Times, soon after the premiere of William Wyler's gripping work, pointed out accurately that the film "visions the overflowing humors and the curious pathos of such returns, and it honestly and sensitively images the terrible loneliness of the man who has been hurt."

One of the major strengths of this film, therefore, does not lie in entertainment (though it does not lack it whatsoever) or any sort of heroic deeds worn in glorified patriotism (something that many movies of the time did not resist), but in the very empathy it employs to the theme and the characters. William Wyler speaks to the generation with clarity and modesty derived from his very experience with the men of Air Forces. Roger Ebert develops the thought labeling the central theme as "sobering at the problems veterans faced." He adds that "Wyler doesn't pump in superfluous drama" but actually IS with his characters and with/for his audiences. As a result, the story does not resort to the specific time of history but concludes in a rather universal, timeless insight into psychological and moral aspects of those troublesome torments and alienation therein endured. Ebert explains the fact why the movie so wonderfully passed a test of time with three adjectives applied to it: "lean, direct, honest." Let me highlight those features from the standpoint of the three veterans herein depicted.

The main cast do not only come from various backgrounds, do not only portray different personalities with common experience yet diverse backgrounds but truly surprise us at multiple levels. All of them truly deservedly credit.

FREDRIC MARCH, a very famous actor at the time, does a splendid job as sergeant Al Stephenson coming back home to his wife Milly (played with bravura and charm by Myrna Loy) and two kids, a daughter Peggy (played with subtlety by Teresa Wright) and a son Rob (Michael Hall). He is 'lean, direct and honest' in both merry-go-round scenes and serious moments but most captivating at the very adjustment to the family after the years of absence. The terrific ability to balance the hilarious with the serious is something that makes March's performance deserve particular attention. Although he has come back from war, much is at war within him...

DANA ANDREWS as a former bombardier Fred Derry is a totally different character to analyze and perceive in the very context of pre-war vs. post-war reality - something many viewers of the time could identify with and most viewers of our time can fully understand. His destiny is shaped in direction towards Al's family (he is in love with Peggy) and yet, distorted by the haunting past and wrong choices. Here, who calls our attention is his wife Marie (Virginia Mayo), a conceited, vain woman occupied with what one looks like rather than bothering to consider what one feels. Andrews is given much freedom on the screen to develop the character on a great scale for the time. He does well. But the most intriguing and perhaps the most identifiable character among them is...

HAROLD RUSSELL as Homer Parrish, a sailor most hurt by the war. His artificial hands, steel hooks have become almost a symbol of the movie's most powerful anti-war aspect, and, at the same time, the reason why the story may be called "food for quiet and humanizing thought" (Crowther). His character moves us most and leaves us almost reflective because it embodies honesty. Homer Parrish is a living statement that evokes the indifference and arrogance of war. He is in love with Wilma (Cathy O'Donnell) but he has to confront the reality the war experience has given to him. He is no longer the way he dreamed to be. Yet, the awareness of being loved helps him go on. Consider the bedroom scene with Wilma and the genuine tears of joy at having heard she loves him. Deservedly Mr Russell got the Oscar for the role and there is no question about one thing: such a screen achievement may be considered one among the very best roles of one's life. In this character lies quiet, subtle, captivating heroism.

Among the female characters, great performances are delivered by Myrna Loy as Al's wife whose acting Crowther labels as "charmingly reticent" and Teresa Wright as Peggy who highlights trustworthy enthusiasm and youthfullness in difficult times. Virginia Mayo's "brassy and brutal" (Crowther) depiction also bears watching.

In all this achievement, kudos to cinematographer Gregg Toland who employs high contrast lighting with terrific visual resonance added to the the whole story and builds the scenes upon exceptional clarity. Along with the obvious contribution of the director William Wyler, no less appreciation should go to the screenplay by Robert E. Sherwood for the perfectly framed plot(s).

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES may undeniably be considered as one among the best films of our lives, an intense emotional link between the characters on screen and viewers where genuine feelings conquer heroic victories.
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Post-War Angst Comes to Smalltown, USA.
nycritic18 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Thirty years prior to THE DEER HUNTER came this movie, an excellent meditation on the effects of war inflicted on the American family as seen from both the war heroes and their wives. A truly ironic title, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES is anything but since those times have vanished into still images and all that is left is an uncertain future for those involved.

Truly an ensemble cast despite the top-billing of Myrna Loy, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES focuses more on the stories of the men. Al Stephenson (Fredric March) comes back to a household that has irrevocably changed as his sons have grown although he finds support from his doting wife Milly (Myrna Loy). Fred Derry, upon returning, cannot find a decent job despite being a war veteran and is trapped in a marriage that he does not want to Marie, a happy-go-lucky girl who wants more out of life and who increasingly comes to hate him. Homer Parrish, on the other hand, has greater problems due to his loss of hands at war and feels the entire world -- including the girl he loves and her family -- thinks he is a freak of nature.

At almost three hours of length, the film never seems long and drawn out. There is so much emotions happening even in small moments that the plot breezes by; nothing seems wasted or placed on screen due to a lack of editing. Not a performance rings false, though the standouts are those of Dana Andrews as Fred Derry, Harold Russell as Homer Parrish and Virginia Mayo as Marie Derry. Even then every character has his or her moment on film, and the time was right to talk about all the pain and suffering that until then had not been seen in American films (including the ones made around World War One, which did not dabble in such topics). While there is never any overt violence, it's all there, in the haunted expressions of the three male leads' faces, in the lot where the planes now reside, ready to be turned into junk (and therefore, forgetfulness), in the cynicism of the store owners who couldn't be bothered to employ these shell-shocked men who had seen battle or even worse, to goad them into wondering what was it all worth for. This is the film in which COMING HOME and BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY are indebted to. At a time when America fled from war films, to come up with this when the end of the Second World War was still fresh was a necessity in order to make a more honest film-making.
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An Excellent Film
harry-7622 December 2000
In a film as successful as this, it is difficult to single out any one factor. All departments work in perfect union to create on of the most moving human dramas ever put on film.

The production is a tribute to the ensemble efforts of the writers, producer, cast and crew. To name but a few, the magnificent score of Hugo Friedhofer is a subliminal marvel, the subtle yet striking photography of Greg Toland, and the unbelievably effective direction by William Wyler all combine with an ideal cast to create an American classic.

The DVD format version is a special treat to view. What a pleasure to see "The Best Years of Our Lives" so beautifully preserved for generations to come to enjoy.
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Those Left Behind
gavin69421 December 2014
Three WWII veterans return home to small-town America to discover that they and their families have been irreparably changed.

Such a powerful film. At first the new lives of the soldiers seem to be facing small adjustments, such as their children's interest in "atomic energy" and "scientific efficiency". But soon we find that jobs are hard to find, and the wives and girlfriends sometimes met new people while the battles were fought.

Although a serious topic, the film has the right balance of entertainment and drama. It never gets outright depressing, and things like depression and suicide are overlooked. But it still remains a valuable lesson: as bad as dying in the war is, sometimes the transition back to normalcy can be just as damaging.

Although not one of the better known movies today (2014), "The Best Years of Our Lives" won seven Academy Awards in 1946, including Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actor (Fredric March), Best Supporting Actor (Harold Russell), Best Film Editing (Daniel Mandell), Best Adapted Screenplay (Robert Sherwood), and Best Original Score (Hugo Friedhofer). It still sits on the IMDb Top 250, just as it should.
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One Of The Best Films Of Its Kind
CinemaClown17 August 2018
Painting an authentic, distressing & heartbreaking portrait of post traumatic stress disorder and expertly led by riveting performances from its outstanding ensemble, The Best Years of Our Lives is a work of restrained craftsmanship that narrates its drama with deft composure and has a thorough understanding of its subject matter.

Crafted with care, narrated with flair & incessantly human in its approach, William Wyler's film's silent, thoughtful contemplation on PTSD is still as relevant today as it was at its time of release. Firmly grounded in realism & having stood the test of time all these years, The Best Years of Our Lives is one of the finest offerings of its kind.
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A worthwhile message that rings true still today.
SmileysWorld1 February 2013
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.
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The Troops are Coming Home.....
tim-764-2918569 May 2012
Though we had a plethora of films about troops returning from the Vietnam war and trying to re-integrate back into their societies, most of which were hard-hitting, angry voices against War, here is arguably the original - and best.

Definitely a family orientated movie (Cert U) this will appeal to and find favour with all ages, but don't start thinking that this is all gooey, slushy nonsense. There's some quite hard-hitting topics covered, even by today's standards and of course, with our minds on our current troops in Iraq/Afghanistan, equally relevant.

Multi-stranded, which each of the three G.I.'s immediate and extended families and friends being examined, it's about them coping, with varying degrees of success, with home life and getting jobs, now that the War is ended. It's the little observations and stories around them that are so fascinating, as the Heroes of yesterday are now anything but when it comes finding new purpose in a changed world.

The cast is exemplary, not necessarily the biggest stars of the day but the most believable and natural for their roles. Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy and Fredric Marsh are the ones most easily recognisable and their appearances convey a sort of reassuring familiarity and normality. They're all excellent, of course.

Though long, at nearly 3 hours, William Wyler's easy going but assured and tight direction keeps things flowing nicely and it never drags. This, my second viewing, is an enjoyable one as the first and if anything I'm more at ease with it.

Though obviously not as exciting or dramatic as other 'normal' war films, it's a tragedy that it's not more well known. I've never seen it to ever have been on TV, or to my recollection, even Sky Movies, for that matter. Any movie that won 7 Oscars and is currently no. 180 in the top 250 IMDb's films of all time, voted by its voters (us, the public) is hardly one of minority interest.

A friend I lent my DVD to watched it with his family and normally they only go for current films, or ones they know, but they not only enjoyed it, but felt enormously moved by it, too.

If you haven't seen The Best Years... yet, make a mental note to do so. Your life won't change by doing so, but it really is worth the 3 hours of it that it will take. You certainly can't say the same about every film out there....
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Neatly escapes every opportunity to be cliché and sappy
mcgriswald22 February 2007
Warning: 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 free.

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
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