The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Director:

William Wyler

The Best Years of Our Lives (aka Glory for Me and Home Again) is a 1946 American drama film directed by William Wyler and starring Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, and Harold Russell. The film is about three United States servicemen readjusting to civilian life after coming home from World War II. Samuel Goldwyn was inspired to produce a film about veterans after reading an August 7, 1944, article in Time about the difficulties experienced by men returning to civilian life. Goldwyn hired former war correspondent MacKinlay Kantor to write a screenplay. His work was first published as a novella, Glory for Me, which Kantor wrote in blank verse Robert Sherwood then adapted the novella as a screenplay.

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“The Best Years of Our Lives” Dana Andrews, Fredric March 1946 Samuel Goldwyn Company **I.V.

Critical response

Upon its release, The Best Years of Our Lives received extremely positive reviews from critics. Shortly after its premiere at the Astor Theater, New York, Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, hailed the film as a masterpiece. He wrote,

It is seldom that there comes a motion picture which can be wholly and enthusiastically endorsed not only as superlative entertainment but as food for quiet and humanizing thought… In working out their solutions Mr. Sherwood and Mr. Wyler have achieved some of the most beautiful and inspiring demonstrations of human fortitude that we have had in films.” He also said the ensemble casting gave the “‘best’ performance in this best film this year from Hollywood.”

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Film critic David Thomson offered tempered praise: “I would concede that Best Years is decent and humane… acutely observed, despite being so meticulous a package. It would have taken uncommon genius and daring at that time to sneak a view of an untidy or unresolved America past Goldwyn or the public.”

The Best Years of Our Lives has a 98% “Fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 37 reviews. Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert put the film on his “Great Movies” list in 2007, calling it “…modern, lean, and honest.”

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The ravages of war don’t end on the battlefield.

25 April 2001 | by Heiress (United States) – See all my reviews

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.

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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.

“The Best Years of Our Lives” Harold Russell 1946 Samuel Goldwyn Company **I.V.

An extraordinary, moving post-war film

Author: steve-642 from Canberra, Australia
7 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.

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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”.

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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.

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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).

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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.

A deeply personal motion picture…

9/10
Author: Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico
17 September 2000
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This American masterpiece came as near perfection as popular art contrives to be, from its beautifully equivocal and suggestive title to the magnificent performance elicited by William Wyler from the nonprofessional amputee Harold Russell…

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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…

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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:

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– 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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Post-War Angst Comes to Smalltown, USA.

10/10
Author: nycritic
18 December 2005
*** This review may contain 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.

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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).

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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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