The Best Years of Our Lives
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It's the hope that sustains the spirit of every GI: the dream of the day when he will finally return home. For three WWII veterans, the day has arrived. But for each man, the dream is about to becomea nightmare. Captain Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) is returning to a loveless marriage; Sergeant Al Stephenson (Fredric March) is a stranger to a family that's grown up without him; and young sailor Homer Parrish (Harold Russell) is tormented by the loss of his hands. Can these three men find the courage to rebuild their world? Or are the best years of their lives a thing of the past? Featuring a brilliant cast that includes Myrna Loy and Virginia Mayo, this postwar classic garnered* seven OscarsÂ(r), including Best Picture. Heart-wrenching, touching and "filled with emotional dynamite" (The Hollywood Reporter), it remains "one of the best films about war veterans ever made" (American Movie Classics). *1946: Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Writing/Screenplay, Film Editing, Music/Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture
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This film was directed by the legendary William Wyler (who also did the hallowed 1959 version "Ben-Hur") and the "Best Years of Our Lives" was immensely popular at the Box-office in America's immediate post-WWII period and went on to win numerous Academy Awards (in 1947) for Best Picture, Actor, supporting Actor, Director, Screenplay, Music-Score and Editing
The main strength of this film comes by way of its authenticity and willingness to present the more realistic and sometimes disheartening realities faced by Veterans (and former heroes) that have basically sacrificed everything for their Country - but unfortunately don't always receive a hero's welcome when they return home, and do their level-best to just try to 'get-on' with their lives and deal with the basics like holding down a decent job and simply re-acclimating into everyday society
The cast is excellent and includes much of Hollywood's A-Team at the time: Frederic March (who won Oscar for best-actor), Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Virginia Mayo and a novice (but amazingly-talented) actor in his first-role Harold Russell who in real-Life had lost both hands in an explosion during WWII and throughout the film uses his prosthetic-limbs to accomplish just about everything 'normal' hands can do - Russell also deservedly won best supporting-actor for this role.
Of course "Best Years of Our Lives" was released in 1946 and, therefore still approached the story from a partially 'old-school' vantage point (for example it doesn't directly-explicitly address the more modern highlighted issues of life-threatening PTSD or suicides, etc. although there are moments when some of the returning veterans do re-live/re-experience traumatic WWII flashbacks-nightmares)
But you still have to give this film much credit for going as far as it did (for the era) and I think it was the first Hollywood film to show vets with life-altering injuries-disabilities (resulting in losses of confidence that must be regained thru perseverance) and the idea that society did not necessarily welcome all vets back with open-arms and did not always provide opportunities for good jobs-good careers upon return - this is certainly true of Dana Andrews character 'Captain Fred Derry' an 'ace' bomber-pilot who attained the rank of Officer, but upon return can only qualify for the same type of minimum-wage job (i.e. server at a 'Soda-fountain') that he had as a teenager before entering WWII. And Harold Russell as 'Homer Parrish' who struggles to adjust to his prosthetic-hands and delivers the most moving performance trying to remain externally upbeat, but inwardly wrestling with issues of self-confidence that inadvertently cause him to coldly cast-aside his faithful pre-War girlfriend 'Wilma' played by Cathy O'Donnell (at least until Homer can fully come to terms with his new situation/reality and recognize his genuine 'good-fortunes' in Life)
This is a truly great film that makes you think about the hardships that nearly all veterans (who witnessed intensive-combat first hand) must directly deal with upon return (whether confronting physical or emotional traumas).
"Best Years of Our Lives" also makes you realize that even though the ultimate-objectives and moral-imperatives of WWII were crystal-clear and beyond question (I.e. resisting-defeating fascism and directly saving-defending pluralistic-democracy's very existence) returning WWII veterans still did not always receive the full-measure of welcome and dignity from society that they fully deserved = imagine how much more difficult it must be for the veterans returning today?
That bring us to the HBO edition, long out of print, but worth seeking out if you can find a copy, It offers subtitles in addition to superior image and sound quality, an isolated music track, cast bios, the trailer, poster, and brief interviews with Teresa Wright and Virginia Mayo.
The film deserves the full Criterion treatment, and we can only hope they will eventually turn their attention to this wise and extremely moving film. Until then, I advise avoiding the MGM disc and recommend the superior product from HBO . . . if you can find it.
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